Way back when, a Dallas Cowboys running back named Duane Thomas was asked, in the days leading up to the Super Bowl, what it was like to play in the “ultimate game.”
“If it’s the ultimate game, man,” the enigmatic Thomas said, “then how come they are playing it again next year?”
The question is still before the jury.
The reason they play the game, year after year, seems to have less and less to do with the game and more about the party. There is the halftime show, which, with your ordinary football game, is an opportunity to get up, stretch, hit the bathroom, and get another beer. With Super Bowl, halftime is a big production and in a good year, some aging entertainer might expose her bosom or do something to shock audiences just about as much as Captain Renault was shocked to find gambling going on in Rick’s Cafe.
Then, there are the ads. There are years when they are more memorable than the game. Some of the ads capture the attention and the imagination, most conspicuously the one for Apple that convinced millions of sentimentalists that the computer was the engine of resistance and would bring down Leviathan.
The world was younger, then.
The game must go on, it sometimes seems, to support the ads and, also, to satisfy a widespread need to wager. You can bet on just about anything having to do with the Super Bowl. This includes pedestrian stuff like, you know, who will win the game. Also stuff for people who will take any bet, like how the coin toss will go. (What makes someone a fan of “heads” and is there a cheer, Go heads. Beat Tails’ tails … or something?)
And then, there are the unique proposition bets. This year, you can wager on whether, or not, Marshawn Lynch will grab his crotch after scoring a touchdown. The line opened at YES being +400, and NO being -600. But so much money came in on YES that the line moved. YES, at this writing is 350 and NO is -500. Gamblers seem to believe that, given an opportunity, Lynch will go for the grab, even though the NFL has notified the Seahawks that it will cost them 15 yards.
What, one wonders, is the line on Lynch doing his signature move at a White House ceremony if his team wins.
Lynch has followed in the Duane Thomas tradition of not cooperating with press coverage of the game. It is a way to get yourself noticed.
As for the rival coaches, they are, as the wonderful country phrase has it, “the same, only different.”
Both are cheaters. Bill Belichick’s proven crimes – stealing a rival team’s signals – probably count as misdemeanors in the big picture. Pete Carroll’s were of sufficient gravity that his team – the University of Southern California “Trojans” – was obliged to forfeit a national championship, along with a number of athletic scholarships as a penalty. Carroll was gone from the school and coaching in Seattle when the hammer came down on USC. He professed himself to be “shocked, shocked” that there had been cheating going on.
Belichick’s team – and hence, he, as coach – is under a cloud of suspicion for something that the media is unimaginatively calling “Deflategate” and the less said about that the better. But that won’t happen.
Carroll, in addition to being a cheater, is a “truther,” which is to say … someone who thinks that 9/11 was an inside job. It is difficult to know just how deeply he has drunk of the conspiracy Kool-Aid because he is not especially articulate on the matter. Still …
It used to be that coaches came into the big game complaining about all the “distractions.” In this case, the coaches are among the more conspicuous distractions.
There are no feel-good, Cinderella stories to go along with this game. Neither team is a feel-good long shot. The Seattle Seahawks won it last year. The New England Patriots are in the big game, with Belichick as head coach and Tom Brady as quarterback, for the sixth time. They won three times. The two losses were among the most exciting and improbable finishes in the history of the Super Bowl and, no doubt, still gall the coach and the quarterback.
Both teams seem to think they have something to prove and maybe they do. Neither has to prove that it “belongs here,” and there is no real “narrative.” No big setback either team had to overcome (unless you count accusations of cheating) and no legendary quarterback or coach giving it one last go.