February 5, 2012

The Super (Awful) Bowl

I love football. 

I played high school ball ten miles from the Hall of Fame. In the Fall, Saturday and Sundays are reserved for football. Come Springtime, it's the NFL draft and college recruiting.

But I hate the Super Bowl.

Don't get me wrong, I've watched every Super Bowl since I was five. The Pittsburgh/Arizona Super Bowl is the best football game I ever watched. And I fully intend on joining the Browns when they finally go (and, I admit, their zero appearances causes sour grapes).

So maybe I use the word "hate" for emphasis. Let's just say, it's my least favorite football game of the year. Here's why...

5. It Discourages History

The grainy film of Namath dueling Unitas is considered old-school football, but the Super Bowl is only 46 years old. Before that, the NFL Championship was around for over 30 years. The Bears, Eagles, and Browns were dynasties of the Championship era with 15 in total, but have one total Super Bowl victory between them. Conversely, the Steelers, 49ers, and Cowboys won 16 Super Bowls, but zero NFL Championships. (The Packers and Giants had success in both eras.)

It's common to measure the strength of a franchise
in Super Bowls, but doing so disregards half the league's history. Take the Yankees, who have an impressive 27 titles; over the past 46 years, they only have 6 (still impressive). Furthermore, if a player's legacy is shaped by their performance in the Super Bowl, what of those who came before? "Red" Grange. Bronko Nagurski. Y.A. Tittle. Jim Brown. The Mantles and DiMaggios of the NFL will be ignored Super Bowl Sunday because the name of the game changed after they retired.

"What I wouldn't give for a time machine..."

4. The Worst Championship Name Ever
I can imagine the young NFL exec pitching a revamped NFL Championship Game to the seasoned commissioner. 

"It's the only sport in America decided by ONE game. Make that one night a SHOW, THAT'S how we get the fans!" And the old commissioner sits back, listening to this twenty-something on his third cup of coffee rattle on about hundred-yard American flags and parades and movie stars.

The commissioner interrupts, "You mean... like the Rose Bowl?"

"Um... Yeah, but that's college. The NFL is the SHOW, this is THE game! Yeah like the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, but... bigger! Like a... super bowl! YEAH! And we'll get giant helmets that shoot FIREWORKS and fighter jets and - " And as the exec continues, arms flailing to emphasize just how super this bowl will be, the commissioner scribbles "super bowl" on a pad. Intended as a placeholder, it never got corrected.*

Uh oh! Shit's about to get super, y'all!

*All made up. I don't know why it's called the Super Bowl, nor do I claim this much logic went into the choice.

3. There's a Fixed Venue
It's the only championship in America without a home-field advantage. While plenty of New Yorkers and Bostonites have descended on Indy, the majority in attendance will be Colts fans. They may choose to root against their sort-of-rival Patriots, but they're probably too jazzed about hosting a Super Bowl to be a good crowd. And that's a shame because Indy fans are as knowledgeable as they come. When the NFL calls the Super Bowl site neutral, they mean the fans are equally ambivalent.

A Super Bowl appearance creates a logistical nightmare for a team's fan-base. 
Say the Bears rebound next year, win the NFC title, and earn a trip to New Orleans (next year's host). A Bears fan is at the mercy of brokers and locals who will charge $1000 per ticket (minimum; if they like him). And there's still the issue of the flight and hotel. He gets only 10 days advance to book, whereas reporters, network personnel, and the remaining sports world spent months snatching up spare seats and rooms.

Indianapolis is just the 3rd northern city to host a Super Bowl (the first northern game in a non-roof stadium won't be in 2014). Tampa alone hosted 4, while Los Angeles, Miami, and New Orleans have combined for 27. This despite the fact that most teams hail from the North.  I understand that a northern Super Bowl could be disastrous for the league if, say, a blizzard hit. But a fixed venue marginalizes the demographic who made the NFL what it is: blue-collar fans.

2. The Games!

It was best observed in Any Given Sunday: "The first time they stopped the game to cut away to some fucking commercial, that was the end of it."

The Super Bowl generally takes three and half hours to play. A regular season game is three hours. 
A 60-minute game of football - when accounting for halftime and other stoppages - can be completed in two and a half hours.

The sport is a game of stamina and discipline. To lose either is to lose the game. "Time of Possession" is so indicating because a favorable ratio indicates a well-rested defense; the more rested, the more gas they have down the stretch. Scoring and preventing points is obviously the goal, but the key to football's chess match is to force three-and-outs on defense and to avoid three-and-outs on offense. 

But the Super Bowl gets half an hour of fat through extended breaks. This allows the defense to catch its wind even if it's being gashed. While I can at least understand the aversion to northern Super Bowls, game strategy and conditioning are variables that should not be sold out. But it makes sense because -

1. The Super Bowl is a Pageant

It begins with pretty faces on the red carpet. Then someone important - a former President, an old football star, an astronaut - flips a coin to decide many a Vegas prop bet. A famous recording artist will honor America, then after a series of $3.5 million short films intercut with images of movie stars and supermodels, a bigger recording artist will lead a rousing twenty-minute performance to begin the end of the night. Then there are fireworks!

Quite a departure from the days of Lambert...

"I'd considered a career in European
modeling. By going to four Super Bowls,
you could argue I met it half way."

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