Tuesday, February 1, 2011

How, Exactly, Super Bowl XLV Will Suck: A Preview

The Super Bowl is a gleaming structure of unnecessary media. The Super Bowl exists to sell ad space. The Super Bowl is a secular feastday. The Super Bowl is a softcore orgy. The Super Bowl is the Super Bowl of commercials. The Super Bowl is an oxymoron: mandatory entertainment. The Super Bowl is a paean to consumption, and an opportunity for everyone to consume. The Super Bowl celebrates the worst in music. The Super Bowl is, stripped of the fireworks and graphics and the overlong halftime show and the “buzzed-about” commercials and the week of parties attended by Hawaiian-shirted sportswriters and drunken corporate VPs looking for cocaine and underage prostitutes—at the bottom of the bottomless pit filled with shiny things and men with white teeth selling us cars, the Super Bowl is a football game, which is a problem.

The NFL schedule’s greatest strength is in excess. Every week there are way too many games for anyone to watch. You literally can’t watch them all, even if you plant yourself in front of your 55-inch 1080p flatscreen all Sunday, even if you have other, smaller flatscreens placed strategically around your living room playing different games. During football season, our Sundays runneth over with huge men hurting each other and doing amazing things in pursuit of a ball. Even if the Bills-Raiders contest is lousy, there are always other games, or you can turn to the Red Zone channel—brought to you by Old Spice or some shit—and watch touchdown after touchdown until your pupils dilate.

The Super Bowl reveals that a single football game is rarely interesting. There are long stretches when the ball is being spotted or when a challenge flag has been thrown where we’re watching the greatest athletes in the world stand around and sweat in their pads. Normally, we’d flip over to another game, but we can’t on Super Bowl Sunday. If the game is sloppy or one-sided, we’ll be stuck sitting glassy-eyed in front of the screen, drinking our Coors-the-official-sponsor-of-the-NFL beers and waiting for the commercials to come on. What are we going to do, not watch?

Then there’s the problem of the necessary media narrative. During the season, sportswriters have 32 teams to write about, and an abundance of stories. Most of them involve the Cowboys or Brett Favre, and teams like the Steelers and Packers—apart from a few injuries and rape allegations, mostly drama-free—are ignored until they are the only teams left to talk about, at which point the sportswriters have to figure out how to make the teams sound important. It’s not enough to say, “These are a bunch of men contractually obligated to play together, who have been talented, lucky, and well-coached enough to beat all the other teams. Some of them are concussed, some of them are not exactly Rhodes Scholars even without the concussions, and some of them you would not want to see walk into your bar, especially if you were a young woman. Now they will compete against each other for your amusement.” That’s accurate, but not dramatic enough for the news cycle.

So here are the narratives from today’s ESPN.com: position coaches are underrated; Donald Driver has gone through some shit and is now a Christian with a stable family; the Packers’ offense is very good; Clay Matthews has long hair. (That last one was written by Rick Reilly, who is literally running on fumes at this point, by which I mean he carries around a sock filled with paint he huffs from every five minutes.) I haven’t seen the inevitable article about the grand traditions and legends of both teams, but I’m sure some plucky, overweight scribe is typing that article out as you read this. Ben Roethlisberger might be written about in a serious, sort-of-sympathetic way—he will apologize for past behavior, pledge to be more mature and to face his demons. “I want to just focus on football now,” he’ll say. The sentence, “Forced himself upon a young woman in a bathroom stall while his entourage stood guard” will not appear.

(Oh wait, the sympathy for Big Ben has already begun, even before reporters ask him questions! “No matter what he says, it'll be a grueling day for the big guy.” Well, at least he won’t be sexually assaulted.)

After the narrative, human-interest stories have been exhausted, it’ll be time for the ritual of predictions. Will the Packers high-octane offense triumph over Troy Polamalu and the savage Pittsburgh defense? Will Big Ben’s precision passes evade the gloves of Green Bay cornerback Charles Woodson? The ex-athletes, sportswriters, and other men in suits on television will opine on these and other topics, then finish with something along the lines of, “In the end, though, I think Green Bay just has too many weapons on offense, and an underrated defense that’s going to stand up to Big Ben.”

They will say this extremely seriously, and then someone else will disagree with equal seriousness, like they are discussing unrest in the Arab world. Then the game will ultimately be decided by a botched call, an inadvertent hand wrapped around a facemask, a long pass just out of reach of a receiver, a flubbed snap, a missed tackle that turns a 10-yard rush into a touchdown. It will be a great game, or it will be an interminable blowout. Either way, confetti will rain down at the end, and the winning quarterback will be praised for overcoming adversity, whether it's Aaron Rodgers's concussions or Roethlisberger’s rape allegations. Trophies will be hoisted, rings will be awarded. A city in the middle of the country will be filled with honking horns and cries of ecstasy. No matter who wins, someone in an oversized Packers jersey will be weeping somewhere. We’ll all sit in a television haze, bloated and bleary. Glee will come on. The winning players, some still dazed from headshots, will be spraying champagne on each other like giant drunken children. Dallas will be flooded with prostitutes, drug dealers, and middle-aged fans roaming the streets. Sportswriters will file copy and head to the bar. Prediction: Pittsburgh 24, Green Bay 17

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