Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Super Letdown

NFL fans could not have asked for a better championship weekend. The Jets, Steelers, Bears, and Packers embody the history and passion that has made professional football more popular than anything in American culture. The games lived up to the hype, playing out in ways no one could have scripted. The Steelers and Packers, both having built their foundations on powerhouse defenses, held off second half comebacks to earn their way to Dallas. It was football at its finest, and now we get to feast on a dream match up to decide our champion.

Too bad the Super Bowl will ruin it.

In line with our, “Drive something good into the ground,” culture, the Super Bowl has become a bastardized corporate event. Super Bowl Sunday is as much about the game as an issue of Playboy is about the articles.

Let’s look at some figures.

  • $2.5-$2.8 Million. This was the average cost for a 30 second commercial during last year’s Super bowl. (It was $3 million the year before.)
  • 4.5 hours of pre-game coverage. Fox will begin at 2 p.m. and feature a performance from Keith Urban. (Because nothing screams “NFL!” quite like Keith Urban.)
  • $200 for a ticket OUTSIDE Cowboys Stadium. Viewers will watch the game on giant HD screens in lovely February weather. (Dallas will be expecting lows in the 40s Super Bowl weekend.)
  • $10 million. This amount made Bridgestone tires the official sponsor of the Super Bowl halftime show for three years.

Of all these gaudy numbers, the halftime show best represents Super Bowl exploitation. In our grand spectacle of masculine toughness and American character, the halftime show more closely resembles a Las Vegas song and dance production with enough glitz to make even Wayne Newton throw up. The rationale seems laughable. I would have loved the chance to be a fly on the wall during the 1991 meeting for Super Bowl 25, when game executives decided they’d seen enough marching bands.

- “This year’s gonna be great! Bills vs. Giants! Bill Parcels vs. Marv Levy! What a matchup!”

- “Yeah, but you know what would make the game even better? New Kids on the Block and Disney characters.”

“(gasp!) Brilliant! Why didn’t we think of this before?”

I can’t imagine how this might appear from the perspective of someone unfamiliar with the event. During what will hopefully be an epic collision between some of the most elite athletes on Earth, a 12 minute, outrageous performance from a hip hop band that didn’t find nationwide popularity until they added a hot girl and dumbed down their lyrics will be featured as well. This performance will require hundreds of people, and include stages, lights, and pyrotechnics (regardless of how it affects the playing environment). Makes perfect sense.

The 1993 Michael Jackson performance permanently changed the halftime show to an “A-list” concert event. No longer would the NFL give marching bands from local universities a chance to jolt civic pride into the city where the Super Bowl was played; choosing instead to ask Tony Bennet, Teddy Pendergrass, and the Miami Sound Machine to sing, “Can you Feel the Love Tonight” next to skits from Disneyland’s new Indiana Jones adventure ride. (To this day, this makes my mother cringe.)

The Super Bowl seems to be simply taking its place among the other symbols of the American male that are falling like birds in Arkansas. To reference the article, “Rest in Peace: The American Manly Man,” “...this is an age when even the great Tom Brady rocks a Justin Bieber side sweep haircut.” (

When the United States Supreme Court made its judgements to define obscenity in the 1964 Jacobillis vs. Ohio case, Justice Potter Stewart defined pornography with, “I know it when I see it.” Far be it from me to set a limit on an individual’s right to make a profit, but I know exploitation when I see it. NFL players, coaches, owners, and fans love to talk about their “respect for the game”, but has anyone thought to question how this gluttonous exhibition fits into their definition of respect?

I’ll watch the game because I have loved both teams as long as I as can remember. As a kid, I found a #92 practice jersey at UTK football camp and asked my dad if it might have been Reggie White’s. (I still have it. It’s framed.) When he signed with Green Bay, I was an instant devotee. My love of the Steelers began when our family doctor turned out to be a former member of the Pittsburgh medical staff and told stories about Greg Lloyd and Rod Woodson. This game is a dream come true.

Don’t let the flashing lights fool you. The game itself still has a heart, buried somewhere in the turf of Cowboys Stadium. You just have to search through all the glitter to find it.

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