Super Bowl? They shoulda called it the STUPOR Bowl! Hyuck hyuck!…aw, kill me now. Please.
So I’ve had sports on my mind a lot lately. In the last week, I’ve cranked out a bunch of sports articles—a big piece on Atlanta’s 790 the Zone radio station for Atlanta magazine, a column for ChopTalk on spring training, a piece for Richmond magazine on former Richmond Braves (written expressly so my mom could have something to show off to her friends in Richmond), a piece for Bluff on poker-playing ballplayers, and a future cover story for ChopTalk on the Braves who’ve stayed in Atlanta—Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, and John Smoltz—despite all the lures from, say, Yankee Stadium. It’s one of those this-is-a-good-job weeks—I’ve gotten to hang out in the tiny batting cage under Turner Field, and tonight at dinner I had this conversation when my cell rang:
Me: I gotta take this.
Annie: Who is it?
Me: Aw, just one of the Red Sox.
Annie: Stop trying to act all casual. And sit down. It’s dinner time.
Me: …I guess he can go to voice mail.
So, Gabe Kapler, if you’re reading this…sorry. My wife ain’t a Sox fan.
Anyway, along with all my own sports work, I kicked back on the Unofficial American Holiday and watched the…wait, who was playing in the Super Bowl again? The Steelers, yeah, but…who else? Some blue team, right? I just read that this Super Bowl drew 90 million viewers, and was the most watched program since 1996. (Yeah, even more than Nick n’ Jessica Entertain the Troops.) And I’ve gotta ask—was everyone else as over this whole Super Bowl thing as I am?
Don’t get me wrong, I love the game. I love ANY championship—hell, any playoff game. I actually start taking an interest in hockey once the playoffs roll around in August or whatever. And I’ll always lay a few bets on the game—this year, I lost 3 of 5 prop bets to Riley and ended up out fifty cents. And yes, the hype has overwhelmed the game pretty much ever since the days of the first Steel Curtain. But the masses have always cottoned to the whole Super Bowl Experience thing, lapping up the commercials and gleefully buying into the hype.
Not this year, though. This year was the year that EVERYBODY seemed to figure out that a massive event whose entire existence depends on asserting just how massive it is actually has the mass of cotton candy. After two years of three-point wins (some dynasty, Patriots), we had the typical Super Bowl crapfest, where one team buckles under the pressure and makes the entire country wonder how the hell they ended up here. (Atlanta in 1998, anyone?) And the ads long ago swallowed their tail, focusing far more on scoring high on opinion polls than on pushing product. But this year, everybody—sportscasters, teams, advertisers, fans—everybody seemed to be going through the motions before, during, and after the game. (Hey, did you know the Rolling Stones are old? No, really! And Jerome Bettis—did you know he’s from Detroit? Oh, the irony of it all!) Nobody seemed that interested in the ads, nobody seemed to care much about the game, and three months from now, I’d be surprised if half those 90 million could name both teams that played in the game.
There are certain moments, certain tipping points in media history, after which we don’t ever perceive the medium in the same way. The Nixon-Kennedy debates, Who Shot J.R.?, the assault on Baghdad in Gulf War I, the O.J. verdict—these were instants where we as television viewers were changed, where we lost some sort of innocence, whether real or feigned. It’s a bit obscene to compare a football game to a war—though it’s certainly done often enough—but I’ve got this strange feeling that Super Bowl XL represented one of those media tipping points. We all saw the hype for the farce it was—and we won’t get fooled again.
Unless the Falcons make it there next year. Then I’m gonna lap XLI up with a soup ladle.