Its noises become the soundtrack to our autumn. The grunts, whistles, cheers, the sharp crunch of two swift bodies violently colliding. It's all part of the mix tape that echoes and hums inside our stadiums, classrooms, households -- and in our heads --over the course of the fall.

As a cultural force, the sport has become omnipresent. Football inspires passion in this country, the kind of passion that is difficult to find outside the realms of politics or religion. Its strategic and yet barbaric beauty brings together men and women from every walk of life, and in many cases, it crosses racial and economic lines to help foster a sense of community.

Football forms connections between the rich and poor, old and young, bold and timid.


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And though the sport's intensity swells throughout the fall until it crests with the Super Bowl, each day the game shapes the lives of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of those unable to ignore its allure.

It can be found in the faces of the parents who stand breathless on the sideline as their son takes his first handoff in a youth league.

You can see it in the cheerleader who paints her cheeks and practices back flips as she choreographs the homecoming game's halftime performance.

You'll find it in the die-hard fan who skips work to drive to another state and tailgate in anticipation of the big rivalry showdown.

And you'll see it in the eyes of the aging NFL superstar, the one who ignores his aching muscles and his stiff joints, and prays, as he puts on his helmet each Sunday afternoon, for one last taste of fame and glory.

Beginning today and continuing every Sunday until the end of the year, The Sun will present a series dedicated to the people who help make up the varied aspects of America's game. You'll experience the glamour of an NFL superstar's life, the thrill and anguish of a gambler trying to master his trade, the quiet dedication of a high school cheerleader and tireless efforts of an anonymous equipment manager.

Our first installment, about Maryland's Andrew Crummey and the injury he suffered Oct. 6, begins here.

[KEVIN VAN VALKENBURG]