Sunday, February 05, 2006

Duane Thomas on XL Island

"If it's the ultimate, then why are they playing it again next year?"

--Duane Thomas, Cowboys RB, just before Super Bowl VI, 1972

That quote was offered up 34 years ago, by an infamously silent guy. Like Kevin Smith's Silent Bob, apparently Thomas was just saving his breath until he had something to say. And, like Silent Bob, the message was largely treated as fodder for guffawing journalists, not to be taken seriously. [Though honestly, I don't think Smith's/Bob's monologue explaining what Chasing Amy meant has aged as well as Thomas' unprovoked prophecy.]

But, as someone who's been watching Super Bowls since Dallas and Pittsburgh went at it in SB X thirty years ago, and critically observing the Big Day since probably the Pats vs. Pack game in '97, I can say that Thomas' rare comment totally (and unintentionally) nails it in 2006: The Super Bowl hasn't been about being the Ultimate Game in years and years.

Super Bowl Sunday is now a season's worth of reality show for people into "event television", stretched out over about 10 hours of TV time. The Playstation 2/ Football pigskinoscenti got their rocks off two weeks ago, as the game clocks were counting to 0:00 in Denver and Seattle. So, when someone tells you that what's going on this Sunday "isn't for the casual fan", they're right; Super Bowl Sunday's for the non-fan, and it seems to be presented by a bunch of non-fans, too.

What else explains the influx of aging Euro-rock in the American Spectacle? Why should these aging, nearly-irrelevant acts (with U2 treading on thin ice) get fistfuls of comp tickets into a game they could care less about? Because I'm now convinced most football fans out there could care less about going or really even about watching the game, that's why. Actual football fans, from the hardcore devotees to the novice observers who just like the uniforms or Tom Brady (or if you're my weird-ass wife, unemployed coach Steve Mariucci) are paying more attention to the commercials than the musical acts or the actual game action. (And I'm not saying that in the big picture, this is a bad thing. If the league and the TV networks had come up with the British Invades Halftime idea when the Dolphins were going undefeated in 1972, they probably could've gotten the Beatles back together for 10 minutes at least. Or at least gotten a much better incarnation of the Stones.)

Classic example of the Football Fan being stampeded by the Big Show of it all: Patriots/Panthers, two years ago: My wife and I decided to invite pretty much everybody over for a Super Bowl Party (or as we called it back in the Stone Age, when Steve Young was still playing, inviting people over to watch the game). I watched exactly zero plays in the game. From about the time the player intros were starting, my job title was Gregarious Host of the Party, and so consumed was I in completing my assignment that it was as if the Ultimate Game wasn't going on. And that's probably the way the NFL likes it; an entire nation of people with the game playing on their TV, whether they care about Duane Thomas' Ultimate Game being played or not, whether they care about Matt Hasslebeck or not.

Still don't believe me about the Rest of the World overwhelming the Super Bowl for the Sportsgeek? Go back and re-read this alleged "Super Bowl post". Re-read it and note the absence of anything close to an observation, a prediction, or even a careless whisper about the Steelers, the Seahawks, or whatever else may be going on in quarters one through four on Sunday.

Heh. Careless Whisper. Wham. Now that's some Old Country entertainment for halftime next year...


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