Monday, February 08, 2016

Super Bowl 50 After-Action Report

Surprise, surprise, surprise....

I’ve never been so happy to be so wrong about so many things in my life.

For one, the Broncos were supposed to lose, at best by five points according to “Vegas oddsmakers,” whoever they are. A large part of the narrative pushed before the game was Old NFL versus Young and Vibrant NFL, with a not-so-subtle racial subtext between the quarterbacks. Whatever one’s feelings are on this, there is no denying the Peyton Manning, like all beloved elderly relatives, has had his good days and his bad. Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers were the highest scoring team in the NFL during the 2015 season. They were young and hungry. It did not look good for Denver.

I don’t know if it’s Denver’s new head coach or John Elway from the front office dropping some fatherly advice on on Mr. Manning, but it’s notable that Manning held frame in this game much better than he has in past games—and especially in comparison to his 2014 Super Bowl appearance, when he visibly lost his composure with that first botched snap and never got it back.

That in itself was refreshing to see, but, as with the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, it was the defense that won the unwinnable game. It became apparent early on that the strategy was, “We can’t score against them, but they can’t score against us, either. Keep them on the offensive!” That said, the defense of both teams played offensively, with a critical slap of the ball from either quarterback’s hands defining the action of the game.

This made for a draggy first half that was boring to watch. The second half moved slightly faster. In the end, Denver’s defense outlasted, and apparently wore down Cam Newton and the Panthers’ offense.

So screw the oddsmakers, and screw the WWF-style Narrative pushed by the sportswriters. Football is a team sport. The quarterback may set the tone, but it’s the best-trained and best-organized team that takes advantage of all available opportunities and wins the game.

Another welcome surprise was the lack of nag spots. Last year, no less than seven public service-type spots intruded upon the festivities that are the Super Bowl’s commercial time. With all the gravitas of your fat busybody aunt telling everyone to stop making so much noise at your birthday party while forcibly including her bratty child in games in which she has no interest, we were primly instructed not to permit our sons to drown in bathtubs, not to tell people they throw #LikeAGirl, not to send mean texts to one another, not to beat our wives, etc.

“How can you stand to watch your little
championship football game when I died?”
Several websites I frequent indicated we had at least one “domestic violence is bad, mmm-kay” spot to look forward to last night among the puppymonkeybaby zaniness most people count on for entertainment when they’re not watching the game. I was furious with this, because the Super Bowl is a party. It’s supposed to be festive. It’s supposed to be fun. It’s a time to forget our workaday miseries and yell at the TV. That there are people out there who feel obliged to quash any and all fun people might be having, and oh-so-smugly in the name of “raising awareness” is something I’ve yet to accept calmly. 

Like Peyton Manning, however, I am working on keeping frame. 

Super Bowl 50 was a wake-up call in regards to how I allowed myself to get worked up over these spurious reports. It turned out there was only one nag spot in the entire four-hour ordeal, all the way out in the fourth quarter block, in which Colgate urged us to Think About the Poor Third World Children and not to run the water while brushing our teeth. At least it wasn’t overtly insulting.

Apparently, the Powers That Be who run the Super Bowl paid no attention to the HuffPo pieces last year that insisted we “crave” such attitude adjustments. Thus, we found ourselves treated to babies and puppies and puppymonkeybaby and Willem Dafoe as a cranky-hungry Marilyn Monroe, as the entertainment gods intended. As embarrassed as I am for letting my jimmies get so rustled over nothing, I’m grateful clear-eyed common sense prevailed. 

As a result, I’ve dropped some writers and sites from my regular rage reading. I should lose the hate, anyway. It consumes far too much energy, and it’s not the opposite of love, besides. 
From last year. Dear “socially aware” crusaders....

Overall, Super Bowl 50 turned out to be a shockingly low-key affair, especially in comparison to previous Super Bowls. There was no melodramatic narrative reading of the opposing teams’ season history by Old Rugged Guy actors and voice-over artists. There were no CGI cartoons with the loud NFL theme playing. Even that NFL fanfare, so prevalent during the normal season, seemed muted when we did hear it during the Super Bowl. 

The graphics with the miniature players jostling each other over team and player stats were shelved. When the camera was on the field, that’s just what you saw. When stats or player info were shown at the bottom of the screen, they were done tastefully and unobtrusively.

I had no idea the people running this greatest and gaudiest of American circuses were capable of such mature understatement.

With so much of the usual ticky-tacky trimmed away, I felt like I was watching an actual championship ball game, as opposed to a gaudy Vegas laser-light show with bits of football wedged in among the funny commercials. I had been contemplating making this my last Super Bowl, as it seemed the NFL was falling to the Anti-Fun scolds in the culture wars, and I was tired of all the useless bombast that came with the games. 

Much could have been made of the Glorious History of Our Glorious People’s NFL, but they didn’t. That in itself was astonishing. I understand there was some controversy with the half-time entertainment, the choice of costumes, and so forth. All I noticed in the brief period I saw of that one-named diva chick they’d brought back was she’d put on the pounds—although, to be fair, those supposed Black Panther costumes made all the women who wore them look fat. I’m not sure. I was refilling my snack bowl before going back downstairs.

I noted yesterday that the Super Bowl halftime show has been ceded to “the womenfolk.” For clarification, I meant no disrespect to respectable womenfolk by that. I was thinking instead of the “basic” types for whom entertainment sites are their main news source, the kind who find awards shows relevant and exciting. 

Honestly, Coldplay, Beyoncé, and Bruno Mars? All self-respecting humans are out of the room doing something else while crap like this is on. It’s the halftime show. It hardly bears mention.
I’ve read more than a few breathless twinks declaring this to be the best part of Super Bowl 50. It seems everyone loses their minds around Beyoncé. What the hell. As long as the basics were entertained and kept out of the grownup talk, it’s all good.

The overall experience wasn’t perfect. The straightforward, low-key vibe unraveled quickly as Peyton Manning left the field in the fourth quarter. I was frustrated that the camera stayed on him, and we never got to see the last play of that game. The segue with the sportscasters throwing the ball to Stephen Colbert and his crappy late-night show was puke-tastic, and I didn’t click out of there fast enough. 

To be fair, they’ve never found a way to properly close the Super Bowl. When it’s over, it’s over, and we all change channels to escape the dull horror that must follow an event that’s been pumped up all day long. Like Christmas, so much is put into the anticipation of the day. Then it comes, and then it’s over, and you’re left wondering if it ever happened at all.

It’s a cultural thing with us, I suppose. We can’t bring ourselves to say goodbye, so we just leave it.

Football is so damn weird in February to begin with. As for the burning questions of the current soap opera—will Peyton Manning play one more season? Will Cam Newton get over losing? Will Denver and Carolina even have teams worthy of the playoffs next year? I can’t be fussed. We’re done with football until Labor Day, six full months and a spell of weeks away.

It’s good to live in the winning team’s country. That much is for sure, even as the glow rapidly fades, and the crushing ordinariness of everyday life grinds us through Valentines Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, and Drinko de Mayo ‘til summer, and the next Season of Celebration.

Might as well write a book while I’m waiting.