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Hop on the Bus

by MICHAEL DONNELLY

I rarely listen to Air America Radio. The constant free pass Air America gives the Democrats and its studious avoidance of the Zionist elephant in the living room are too much for me to take. And, just how many Al Franken “stay the course” in Iraq lectures can one stomach?

But, yesterday, I was hoping to hear Jeff St. Clair interviewed so I tuned in. What I got instead was Ed Schultz’ unceasing calls for support for the Seattle Seahawks in Sunday’s Super Bowl. How refreshing — a liberal who does not dismiss sports and realizes sports’ place in the zeitgeist.

And, what a place! The Super Bowl is the fourth most watched event in the world; the second most watched annual one. The NFL coyly talks about how the game is broadcast to a potential audience of a billion. The real number of viewers is around 95 million. The European Football (the kind actually played with one’s feet) Final draws around 150 million viewers and, every four years, the Olympic Games draw about 127 million to the Opening Ceremony and another 96 million for the Closing Ceremony.

Judging by the expensive, tasteless advertisements that are rolled out every year, Madison Avenue sure appreciates what a huge number 95 million is. (What’s the Vegas over/under on many erectile dysfunction ads this year?) Of course, nothing this big goes without an entire industry of critics ­ from pastors railing against the idolatry and the affront to the Sabbath to a gaggle of Lefties decrying the “bread and circuses” diversion it represents.

Yep, they’re all right. And certainly there’s something creepy about the game being held in our poorest big city in a subsidized stadium named after the Ford family; owners of the woeful Detroit Lions and, of course, major shareholders in the Ford Motor Company, which just announced another round of job reductions to the tune of 30,000 lost livelihoods. But, “Why do Sports Matter” is another article and there’s no denying the cultural event the Super Bowl has become. Hell, The Rolling Stones are doing twelve minutes at halftime!

It was that Air America broadcast that finally decided for me whom I’ll be rooting for in Super Bowl XL. (Can it really be 40 years!? Can you believe they still use the pretentious Roman Numerals?) Like a lot of folks, I’ve been spending the last few Super Bowl game days watching with a few friends.

Since I grew up in Flint, I don’t really have a favorite team. Hey, the nearby Lions are oh-for-my-lifetime. And, I’m much more a fan of college sports than professional, anyway. None of us has ever had a real dog in the fight. So, usually these game day parties have been pretty tame and analytical.

But, this year, the Seattle Seahawks have made it to the big game for the first time (that makes the Lions one of only six remaining teams to have never made it.) Since I now live in Salem, Oregon, a four hour drive down the I-5 car-shed from Seattle, I was leaning to the Seahawks. But, a few things have brought me around to the Steelers.

The easy two word answer would be: Paul Allen. But, not really. Nor do I buy the easy “gritty working class city versus a latte-sipping, yuppie Eden” crap. From my small city perspective, all big cities have plenty of both such icons.

First and foremost reason I’m rooting for Pittsburgh? Jerome “The Bus” Bettis. Bettis has quietly carried the football for the fifth most yards of any back in NFL history. He gracefully accepted a demotion from his starting job three years ago and has been a mentor to the team’s younger running backs. This is his last season. He grew up in Detroit and still lives there in the off-season in a house he bought his parents. Since Detroit is the city where the game will be played; it’s a virtual Pittsburgh home game, as a result. The entire state is behind Bettis and his team in Bettis’ first Super Bowl appearance in his storied 13 year career. And, this is a state that has little use for Bettis’ alma mater, Notre Dame; the great rival of both the University of Michigan and Michigan State University.

Bettis almost didn’t make it this year. After the atrocious reversal of a teammate Troy Palomalu’s interception of Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning’s pass late in the play-off game three weeks ago and The Bus’ own blowing a tire and fumbling while going in for the game-clinching score with just over a minute to go, things were in doubt.

Of course, why Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher didn’t take a knee three times and force Indy into using all their timeouts before taking that crack at the end zone on fourth down? But, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made a game-saving tackle on the fumble return and the rest is history. They got past Denver in a snoozer AFC Championship Game and now are at the big game.

 

A Football Socrates Really Does “Give Back”

But, it’s not even the many on-field accomplishments of the oversized, slow but determined Bettis that endear him to me. No, it’s two other things. One is his commitment to the Pittsburgh-based business group Urban Mortgage, a home loan company that make homes loans within the minority community. Certainly a guy with The Bus’ fame could have hooked up financially with one of the big boys and hauled in major money. But, he went with Urban Mortgage which was founded by another former Steelers’ running back, Chuck Sanders, a real-life Furious Styles.

Bettis also set up and runs “The Bus Stops Here Foundation” that works with poor, minority kids. The guy is using his fame and wealth to “give back” to his community, to use the usually meaningless jock cliché.

Bettis responded refreshingly when given the chance by Sports Illustrated to do that other jock persona: the God-panderer. He was asked about how, since the Steelers were just 7 ­ 5 and one loss away from play-off elimination earlier in the year, if he thought the he had a friend upstairs?

Bettis answered, “I do believe in karma, but only to a point. When I see what Peyton Manning has to go through — the guy’s been a great person, a humanitarian, and it hasn’t come back to him on the field — then that line of thinking falls apart.”

Not only did he tweak the usual jock-religion farce, this Football Socrates has cogent, kind words for a vanquished opponent. Even if Manning, in defeat, threw his own offensive line under the proverbial bus after the loss, I think this Bus has changed my view of Manning even!

Aside from the obvious ownership differences between the teams — Allen’s billions vs. the Rooney family’s long, faithful tenure — another reason I choose Pittsburgh came about when I saw a Steelers linebacker hold up and not level Denver quarterback Jake Plummer right as he threw the ball.

A lot of players would have taken the free shot. But, I notice the top teams and best players don’t. Denver safety John Lynch also showed the same sort of honor when he twice passed on opportunities to level Roethlisberger in the championship game. It’s not Lynch’s nor Denver’s nor Pittsburgh’s way.

A lot of the credit for such sportsmanship should go to Cowher and the other top coaches, who’ve proven that’s the way to win. Cowher is the longest-serving NFL coach (a testament to the Rooneys faith) and has a .632 winning percentage in his 13 years at the helm. So uptight, with constant teeth-grinding, he’s a walking ad for TMJ disorder’ Cohwer would rather lose than win by injuring an opponent with a cheap shot, quite unlike that other Pennsylvania-based coach John Chaney, who shamelessly has on numerous occasions intentionally sent in “goons” (his own term) to harm opponents of his Temple Owls basketball team. (How he keeps his job is beyond me.)

Of course, Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren is also a fine guy, another sports humanitarian and the type of coach any athlete would like to play for and a proven winner with the 1997 Super Bowl championship from his days as Green Bay coach. And, Seattle has its own humble, hard-working running back in Shaun Alexander, who has quietly scored an impressive 100 touchdowns in his six-year career. Ed Schultz can honestly back Seattle as the new kids on the block. Fair enough reason.

I’m supporting the team without the billionaire owner; with the woefully uptight, but decent coach; and with a humble, community-oriented, down-to-earth humanitarian back. Sometimes, you gotta take sides.

Now, if only Mick and the Fellas will break out with “Factory Girl” in honor of the venue…

MICHAEL DONNELLY like many, loved playing football in high school and has some nagging old injuries to show for it; but, wisely, stuck to basketball and track once in college. Now, he’s content with occasional watching. He can be reached at pahtoo@aol.com

 

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MICHAEL DONNELLY has been an environmental activist since before that first Earth Day. He was in the thick of the Pacific Northwest Ancient Forest Campaign; garnering some collective victories and lamenting numerous defeats. He can be reached at pahtoo@aol.com

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