As an unreconstructed football fan, I believe the Super Bowl should be the most exciting game of the year. The entire production should enter your veins like uncut adrenaline. It should explode off your TV screen like the young Rolling Stones: searing, white-hot, and unbearably intense. Instead this year’s contest from the two hour pre-game show to the record number of commercials was more akin to the Rolling Stones today: bloated, bored, sagging, and in it for the buck.
With the Salem Witch Hunters at the FCC pressing pitchforks into their backs, the Super Bowl producers at Fox promised to a much more “family friendly” show than last year. America would be spared “four hour erection warnings,” flatulent horses, and the sight of Janet Jackson’s right breast. But I guess offensive is a question of taste as the opening commercial was for this viewer far worse than a gassy horse. The day sparked with a recruitment pitch aimed at Arabs and Muslims by the “equal opportunity employers” at the FBI. A man in a turban spoke about his great job as a decoder and translator in the “war on terror.” He was shown in an office working with friendly Anglos non-plussed by their brown-skinned co-worker. Clearly the FBI is suffering shortages of Arab speakers and experts in Islamic culture–amazing for an organization that has built a reputation over the last year of treating Arabs and Muslims with tremendous respect, always courteous with every home invasion and interrogation.
The game then kicked off with a tribute to Weapons of Mass Destruction–which surely did wonders for the FBI’s recruiting efforts. We were graced with the sight of an unnervingly sprightly George H.W. Bush and The Cadaver Formally Known at Bill Clinton marching to midfield as troops from Afghanistan and Iraq were shown at full attention on the Jumbotron. In Iraq they were watching from ‘Camp Victory’ because–we can only assume – ‘Camp Quagmire’ and ‘Camp FTA’ were seen as less inspiring locales. As warplanes flew overhead, I was never prouder to live in a country where remote controls feature mute buttons.
Then the kickoff, the main event, Patriots/Eagles, the reason we are all supposedly glued to the couch. Unfortunately, there was so much exhaust on the field from the military pomp and circumstance, the players seemed to be staggering around like they each had ingested a pack of unfiltered menthols. Everyone, both New England and Philadelphia, played with tightness, as if “The New FBI” was about to shut the game down at any moment. It was so slow going, I actually found myself looking forward to the halftime show. This event needed some spice and after last year’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction,” anything seemed possible, even with the billionaire Brit Paul McCartney heading up the festivities. Maybe Sir Paul would lose his codpiece on live TV.
But McCartney played it safe. He performed “Hey Jude,” which would have been very cool if only it was 1971. If Sir Paul had any nipple rings they were thankfully kept to himself.
The commercials were equally uninspired. The same sexism, cameos from stars of yesteryear, and cheap technology we have seen before produced little more than a collective yawn. Although I do wonder who would by a new car on the recommendation of “Doc” from the Love Boat.
When the second half began I held out hope against hope that maybe the game of all things would salvage this evening and not make me regret these hours on my deathbed. But the players seemed to feed on the boredom of the surroundings. Don’t let the 24-21 score fool you. This was over early in the fourth quarter, with the New England Patriots holding the game firmly in hand. The supremely talented Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb ran only once for zero yards. The MVP was someone named Deion Branch. Even the notorious Boston fans, were muted in their celebrations, utterly uninspired by a game that made McCartney’s exploits seem electrifying by comparison.
In the end the Super Bowl seemed to be in a kind of identity crisis. If its purpose is to show the best two football teams playing their best, then the two weeks of hype, extra long half time show, and field filthy with military exhaust would seem to not lend itself to goal. If the game is meant to be a sidelight to cheering on whatever military adventure the US is on that month, then broadcast it on the History Channel with the rest of the tributes to war and empire. If it is supposed to be a place where pop-culture mores are unearthed and turned upside down, then show it on pay-per-view in between ‘Girls Gone Wild: Vatican City, and ‘Howard Stern’s Butt Bongo Fiesta., I, for one, just want a great football game. I would bet my bottom dollar that most football fans would agree.
DAVE ZIRIN’s new book “What’s My Name Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States will be in stores in June 2005. You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact him at email@example.com.