Super Bowl Forty

Well, as almost appears inevitable, The Big Game was a letdown after all the hype. Super Bowl XL (“Extra Large”, as the marketing grads predictably and unerringly labelled it) in scenic Detroit was a 7-3 dud at halftime, and not that the defences were Steel Curtains or particularly ‘hawkish. Mainly, we were treated to dropped balls and nervous-Nelly penalties, whether incurred by hypertastic players or anxiously hankied by jittery officials (like the Seattle touchdown that was called back).

I feel for the players, though. No, really! Huge contracts and unhealthy levels of fame aside, they’re still athletes and have to work under some serious handicaps. The build-up to the game is a Monster. For all their “We shocked the world!” bravado – which is an even more narrow definition of the planet than baseball’s “World” Series – the athletes are overwhelmed when the larger world (well, of entertainment and fashion and Corporate America) pays its most greedy attention.

The pre-game festivities are sombre and endless. (Football gets socially relevant: Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King are remembered, for a minute or so.) Aging legends are trotted out. My son couldn’t stop laughing during the anthems, Dr. John and Aaron Neville and Aretha Franklin having been so accurately sent up the night before on Saturday Night Live. (But it was, after all, the Detroit-remembers-New-Orleans-not-only-for-its-musical-heritage-but-also-for-its-tragic-hurricane angle.) Of course, more aging stars at halftime made the break about twice as long as the normal one, so coaches can think and talk more and the players can get more antsy and more stiff. (Obligatory Rolling Stones take: they are definitely old, and it’s a bit like seeing your grandmother shaking her booty-licious charms, but they can play. It was just a bit creepy, but so much better than the Black-Eyed Peas at the Grey Cup.)

And as someone who played a high school season at quarterback before Coach Woody sighed and gave the reins to the grade 10 kid, I see the balls as the ultimate symbol that the game itself doesn’t much matter anymore. They bring in a new (read: shiny, slippery) loaf for every play, so they can give away a hundred footballs that were Actually Used In The Super Bowl! I’d like to think that they go for charitable causes, but I’ll bet they end up in fat-cat living rooms and boardrooms. (Things baseball does right: they don’t let Spiderman movie ads on their bases, their bats are made of wood, and they have every game ball rubbed up with dirt so they are game-ready.) Weird stuff happens to a game when the needs of its most skilled performers, in this case the QBs, are given such obvious disregard. Imagine if the NHL required the fastest game on earth to be confined to an archaically small ice surface where relatively unskilled players can dictate the pace! (Oh, wait, that’s what they do. My bad. Mind you, they are actually calling many of the penalties in the rulebook this year, but will they in the playoffs? Not counting on it. Hope I’m wrong.)

Clearly, I did not consume enough beer during the match, but I watched it all. Surely that counts for something. And the football did get better in the second half, but once again, the Game Itself was pale compared to the Grey Cup game for Canadian football. “Perhaps too much of everything is as bad as too little,” said the American writer Edna Ferber, and she never even saw a Super Bowl. (And looky there! A literary quote from a dead chick! And you never even saw it comin’…)

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