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The Literary Side of This Year’s Super Bowl

11:30 AM, Feb 3, 2013 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
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And, there are the quarterbacks, neither of whom is named Manning or Brady.  Joe Flacco is in his fifth year and first Super Bowl.  Colin Kaepernick is even greener.  This is only his second year as a professional and his tenth game as a starting quarterback.  He represents the new, young breed of professional quarterbacks who will run on you if you take away the pass and visa versa and, with the possible exception of the Redskins’ Robert Griffin III, is the most electrifying of them.  One wonders what to expect the first time he escapes the pocket, starts to run, and looks up to see Ray Lewis bearing down on him, flames coming from his nostrils.

So, there has been plenty of material for the media and it has obliged by wringing just about all the juice from it.

Still, one theme that does not seem to have been sufficiently exploited is the literary nature of this particular game.  Consider: 

The Baltimore team calls itself the “Ravens.”  The unusual name is taken from the poem of that title because, while Edgar Allen Poe may have written it in either New York or Philadelphia, his bones reside in Baltimore.  The name was chosen from among those submitted by fans in a contest that followed the team’s moving to Baltimore from Cleveland.

The Raven is one of the few poems that many people have read.  It is about as universally known as a poem can be.  French literary figures like Baudelaire and Verlaine swooned over it when it was published.  Poe was paid $9 for the rights, a number that provokes a mild sense of vertigo when you put it up against the kind of money the licensing of the Baltimore team’s name and logo brings in, especially during a Super Bowl year.  Still, you have to like it that a professional football team took its name from a poem.

The Ravens’ rivals from San Francisco also have a name with a literary pedigree.  They are the 49ers after the prospectors who stampeded west after the discovery of gold in 1849, coincidentally the year of Poe’s death.

The gold rush became literary fodder for, among others, Brett Hart and, most conspicuously, Mark Twain who, while he didn’t make it to the gold country until more than ten years after the first strikes, first became famous for a story about life among the prospectors – The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.  

The California gold stampede could be said to exist in the popular imagination more through literary creations than factual history.  Just as most of us know the Klondike gold rush through the works of Jack London and Robert Service; not historians.

And, finally, there is the city where the game will be played.  New Orleans is both the most hedonistic and the most literary of American cities.  William Faulkner lived here, in Pirates Alley, when he wrote his first novel, Soldier’s Pay.  Tennessee Williams, of course, lived and worked in New Orleans and immortalized it in A Street Car Named Desire whose heroine, Blanche Dubois, evokes the city’s charms when she says, “Don't you just love those long rainy afternoons in New Orleans when an hour isn't just an hour – but a little piece of eternity dropped into your hands – and who knows what to do with it?”

Williams liked to dine at Galatoire’s, which is still there, and still among the finest of many fine places to eat in New Orleans.  Truman Capote is said to have enjoyed a cocktail or two at the bar of the Monteleone Hotel where he claimed to have been born.  Actually, the event occurred in a hospital but his mother was at the hotel when she went into labor.  The Monteleone figures in short stories by Hemingway and Eudora Welty and a novel by Richard Ford.

New Orleans is a presence – and a significant one – in the works of Walker Percy, John Kennedy Tool, Ann Rice, James Lee Burke, and others.  Fans who arrive early for the game and are looking for points of interest can join a literary tour of the city and imagine how, for instance, Faulkner would have written about the spectacle if he had been sent to cover the game.  He was commissioned in the early years of Sports Illustrated’s existence, to write about the Kentucky Derby and produced this opening:

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