Last night’s Super Bowl was a Roman Vomitorium of odious spew. This wasn’t the good, the bad, and the ugly. It was the dreary, the vile, and the insipid made only palatable by the thought of Mike Ditka in a dark bar drinking whiskey shots, chased with the salty discharge humans call tears.
The game itself, even more than most Super Bowls, ill-served a thrilling NFL season. Despite opening with an electric Devin Hester 92 yard kick off return, it quickly devolved into sloppy boredom as the ball and steady rain combined to create something closer to the Poseidon Adventure than a football game.
Color Commentator Phil Simms told us early on that the “weather wouldn’t be a factor.” Not since we were told the “insurgency is in its last throes” has my dear, innocent television emitted such idiocy. At the NFL’s recommendation–perhaps on advice from the geniuses at Halliburton?–the field was left uncovered all day. As a result, there were eight turnovers in the game, with five first half fumbles. Even worse, despite CBS’s investment in 47 High Definition cameras, the lenses were continuously fogged. It was like Cujo was attacking the screen, trying to slobber all over my pretzels.
Yes, the game was close, but when the graphic came on screen that the Colts had 20 first downs to the Bears’ four, it only confirmed my impression of what was really happening: a dingy mismatch.
As often occurs in Super Bowls, the Bears got desperate in the second half, which meant their hapless quarterback, Rex Grossman, started winging his famous dying quails all over the field. He threw so many of these lame ducks, he’s lucky Dick Cheney didn’t emerge from the stands to shoot him in the face. At that point, there wasn’t a bookie in Reno who would have let you bet that Rex would throw a disastrous game changing interception, which is exactly what happened when Kelvin Hayden with 11:44 left in the game, returned one for a score.
If the game was a bust, the equivalent of Titanic if it had starred Jim Nabors (Manning) and Tara Reid (Grossman), the halftime show was for me a let down of epic proportions. I love Prince. Repeat: Love Prince. I went to college in the Twin Cities, saw His Purple Highness live, and knew women who went to college in the area just because they thought they might meet him.
Perhaps I had unrealistic expectations that Prince would do Janet Jackson one better, and make her flashing of the infamous nipple look like a Pax TV special. But Prince has in recent years become a Jehovah’s Witness, denounced profanity and begun to carry himself in a way that makes Tony Dungy look like Marilyn Manson. So I didn’t expect the profane Prince of “Head”, “Get Off,” or the sly pansexual genius of “If I was Your Girlfriend”. BUT Prince, in his 2004 album Musicology, has a brilliant song about anti-Arab racism, called “Cinnamon Girl.” So I thought we might get something with some kind of political content. My hopes were too high. But to call his performance, as ESPN.com did, “Badass: start to finish” makes me wonder how far the badass bar has been lowered. Yes he looked great with that purple guitar, but he played a cover of “Proud Mary.” Dang, I would have settled for “Little Red (Freakin’) Corvette”!
America may have swooned for The Kid, but more than a few hearts were broken along the banks of Lake Minnetonka.
If Prince was a letdown, the commercials – always a highlight – were insipid. Rather than catalog the collectively banal, nihilistic, K-Federocity of it all, I want to focus on one: the Snickers ad where two men accidentally kiss and then proceed to tear out their own chest hair in an effort to recover their “manliness.” This stood out as the most tired, homophobic exercise I’ve seen on television since Rick Santorum explained to America how gay relationships could be likened to “man on dog” love. (For the record, I would hate to die and be reincarnated as the Santorum family pooch.) It was the nadir in corporate America’s yearly over-hyped orgy of wasted talent.
The night was turning like mayonnaise left on the radiator, until the commercial break at the start of the fourth quarter. In the middle of this river of waste, was a moment–a kernel of joy–that made the 39 hours I spent in front of my television worth the while.
Appearing on screen was a very regular looking guy with the tag line,
“Jonathan Powers, Iraq War Vet.” He said, “When it comes to Iraq, America’s divided.” My hackles immediately were raised. It’s the Super Bowl and I was convinced that I was about to be told that we all needed to give Bush a Chance.
But then Mr. Powers faded off the screen, replaced by another vet named Brian Van Ripe who said. “On one hand, you’ve got two thirds of the American people…” Then another vet, Robin Eckstein saying “A bipartisan majority in congress, the Iraq Study Group,…” then another, Joshua Lansdale: “And veterans like us all opposed to the escalation.” Then another named Robert Loria, an amputee, saying, “On the other hand, there’s George Bush, who supports escalation. If you support escalation, you don’t support the troops.” Finally a last vet. Andrew Horne, saying “Join the troops. Stop the escalation.” (See this starkly powerful ad at votevets.org)
It seems that this ad was regional, in the DC/Virginia/Maryland area, and not national. In other words far more people were exposed to Kevin Federline than this collection of brave men and women. But this one spot had more genuine drama and humanity than the other 38 hours and 59 minutes of treacle combined. My house of rowdy revelers was struck silent. Announcers speak of football players like they are soldiers in some kind of war. It was bracing and even beautiful to see the day’s collective bombast humbled by the calm breath of reality.
DAVE ZIRIN is the author of the forthcoming book: “Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports” (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact him at email@example.com