Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Super Bore?

Armchair quarterbacks and critics alike are denouncing this past Sunday's 43-8 drubbing of the Denver Broncos by the Seattle Seahawks as the most boring mid-winter classic ever. Even my mother who despises football complained to me about the lopsided outcome. It's not too surprising when something promoted up the wazoo doesn't live up to all the hype, it is subject to the same hyperbole as everything else that surrounds the event known as the Super Bowl. People forget that most NFL championship games fall short of the promise expected of what almost always proves to be the most watched television show of the year. Despite the lack of drama, this year's Super Bowl proved to be the most watched television show in US history. According to Nielsen, an "average of 111.5-million" tuned into this game which broke the record of, you guessed it, another Super Bowl. The Super Bowl is the only television show that consistently gains viewers.

Yes, I was one of those viewers. Truth be told, unless my team is in the big game, something that has happened exactly two times since I started caring about such things, I'm not all that interested in the Super Bowl. Like that other crowd pleaser the Academy Awards, I only occasionally tune in. My son however is a big football fan and for months he has looked forward to this game as it happened to fall on the eve of his birthday. In honor of him more than anything else, I watched most of the game from kickoff to the final down.

In honor of my daughter, I even watched the half-time show. This one featured the hyper-talented Bruno Mars whose high intensity performance conjured up the spirits of James Brown and the Temptations as well as allowing his own considerable charm and skills to show through. For some reason unknown to me, the middle of his performance was interrupted by an appearance of the ancient Red Hot Chili Peppers. Now I think they're a perfectly good band, deserving as much as any other big name act to perform in that high profile venue. I haven't a clue, and don't care enough to find out, but I imagine the reason The RHCPs were invited to crash Mars's party was that the brains behind the show believed the Bruno Mars label alone wasn't enough of a draw to prevent old timers like me from leaving the set and go into the kitchen for dinner. (Unfortunately, we did just that after halftime forcing us to miss Percy Harvin's brilliant kickoff return.)

Although the performers and producers handled the Mars/Peppers transition seamlessly, it seemed odd and unnecessary to include both acts. I feel the same way about the pre-game ceremonies featuring Queen Latifah singing America the Beautiful AND soprano Renee Fleming singing the Star Spangled Banner. Both performances were stunning but one would have been enough, either one. It seems as if the producers of the Super Bowl want to have a little something for everybody, just like the old Ed Sullivan Show. The only thing missing were the plate twirlers and Topo Gigio.

Those contrivances in a nutshell, are what I hate about the Super Bowl. There is not one single aspect, from the endless pre-during-post-game babble, to the halftime performances, to the most popular, talked about feature of the whole deal, the commercials, that hasn't been conceived of, debated, and packaged months if not years in advance. After the infamous Janet Jackson "wardrobe malfunction" ten years ago, it seems that the powers that be will go to any length possible to avoid anything that smacks of spontaneity. That's why last year's power outage during the game in New Orleans was treated with all the gravitas of a breach in national security. "HOW COULD THIS HAVE HAPPENED?" screamed headlines all over the country the following day.

There is only one exception to the no spontaneity rule, the game itself. That's exactly what makes sporting events such great drama; the means and the outcome are not pre-determined. Any thoughts that football or any other legitimate sport is not entirely on the up and up, had to have been extinguished this Sunday. After all, no one in their right mind would have scripted the game as this one turned out. All the hype about this Super Bowl pitted the perviously unstoppable Bronco offense led by the great quarterback Peyton Manning against the hungry, tenacious defense of the Seahawks. Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman made headlines two weeks ago in the NFC Championship Game by making the game saving deflection of a likely winning touchdown pass by San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick. Immediately after the game he made some boneheaded, self-aggrandizing comments which got him into hot water. Of course the hyperbole machine couldn't get enough of the nonsense:

Was Peyton Manning indeed the greatest quarterback of all time?

Would the self-proclaimed greatest cornerback of all time Richard Sherman back up his words?

Stay tuned...

In this case however the hype was justified. Just like the past World Series, the two teams that faced each other in this year's Super Bowl were the two best teams in the league, if regular season records mean anything to you. This game had all the makings of a matchup of strength against strength, the best offense squared off against a young, quick, and audacious defense. Most folks picked the Broncos, but the oddsmakers only gave the Denver team a two and one half point edge. It looked to everyone that it would be a game for the ages.

Until the first play from scrimmage that is. If you saw the game, I don't need to tell you what happened. If you're one of the 200 million Americans who didn't see it, you clearly don't care and probably gave up on this post long ago.

Despite the terrible beginning (a safety after a bad snap), I'm sure all 111-plus million people watching the game, myself included, had every belief this was a mere speed bump on Peyton Manning's road to his second Super Bowl Championship.

But it was not. Things went from bad to worse for Denver as the Seattle defense found solutions to everything in Manning's bag of tricks, mostly by getting in his face before he had a chance to throw the ball. Denver wasn't able to convert a first down until mid way through the second quarter. Finally as they were driving deep into Seattle territory, Manning was hit while throwing a pass which was picked off by linebacker (and game MVP) Malcolm Smith who ran the ball back 69 yards for a touchdown.

Despite all that, and trailing 22-0 at the half, at least 110 million of us still had faith in Manning's ability  to pull this one out. Then came the aforementioned Percy Harvin kickoff return on the first play of the second half, and at that point, oh maybe 80 million of us started to lose hope.

Peyton Manning was able to mount a successful drive by the end of the third quarter which led to a touchdown and two point conversion but by that point it was all academic. His counterpart, second year man Russell Wilson had a good game even though he didn't really need to, his team's defense and special teams together put up enough points on their own to handily defeat the Broncos.

So was the game boring? Well it certainly wasn't an edge of your seat, nail biter if that's what you mean. But that doesn't mean it was lacking in drama. There was an epic quality fit for Greek tragedy in Peyton Manning's downfall. Certainly one of the best quarterbacks of my lifetime, if not the game's history, and one of the most recognized and likable athletes in the game, Manning's achilles heel it seems is the ability to win the big game. His record in playoff games is now 11-12. Pretty impressive if you compare it to say, me, but when compared to his peers in the top echelon of NFL QBs, well not so much.  Incidentally, Manning is 1 and 2 in Super Bowls, that one victory coming at the expense of Rex Grossman (himself not on the list of all time great quarterbacks), and OK everybody say it in unison, the Chicago Bears.

But give credit where it's due, the real story of this game is the Seattle Seahawks, a team that as they say, was running on all cylinders. Their win over a great Bronco team was devastating on every level. It was truly a magnificent performance, one that is certainly worthy of accolades. Anyone who appreciates the game of football has got to admire the team, including Richard Sherman who more than redeemed himself, and its coaches.

In case you're wondering, no this wasn't the biggest blowout in NFL history, that one came in 1990 as the 49ers and Joe Montana (himself on the short list of all time greatest QBs) beat another great quarterback, John Elway and the Broncos, 55-10. For the record, this Sunday's game came in fourth.

And which game came in second on the list of Super Bowl blowouts you ask? OK maybe you didn't ask. Why of course the most memorable Super Bowl of all time, game number XX in 1986 when ahem, the Chicago Bears defeated the New England Patriots 46-10. Was that game boring?

Certainly not if you were a Bears fan.

So the real question is, if you're not a Seahawks fan, or someone who had money riding on them, was this game boring? Well frankly for me, an underdog team (if only slightly) shutting down a tremendously successful offense, beating them and their future Hall of Fame quarterback in every aspect of the game was very impressive. Beyond that, it was very satisfying that they did it in such an unexpected way, flying in the faces of all the speculators and pundits, and especially the producers of the event, who most certainly would have planned if they could to have, for the game be more of a contest.

Just how unexpected and outrageous was the Seahawks beating the Broncos 43-8?

I'd say maybe as unexpected as a team from Seattle winning any kind of major sports championship.

Possibly it was as ridiculous as a Super Bowl played outdoors in New Jersey.

Or maybe even as outrageous as...

Bob Dylan in a commercial selling cars.

Naw, that could never happen.

1 comment:

Michael said...

I am in awe of how the Maidson Avenue hucksters have managed to entice America into watching the Super Bowl by teasing us for several weeks with hype for the commercials. What genius! I have to admit that one of the big reasons I stayed tuned in was not the game, not Bruno Mars, but the anticipation of new, innovative, entertaining and controversial commercials. I was not disappointed. BTW, pitchers and catchers report in just a couple of weeks!