Bowled Over


Super powers show they have the biggest stick in the playground just like Super Bowl competitors exhibit their super muscles. This year, I watched the Super Bowl not from the warm and crowded Tampa, Florida arena where tens of thousands made their religious pilgrimage to this year’s holy shrine, but from a friend’s garage on a super wide plasma screen.

On this realer than life screen, I watched General David Petraeus representing the military. Dwarfed by the giant players surrounding him, he offered embarrassed smiles for the cameras. “Why isn’t he in Afghanistan?” asked one of my fellow viewers.

“Priorities,” responded another. “What’s more important?” No one answered him.

Following the coin toss, I awaited ads from banks that have lost billions in the Wall St. scandals. Passes, runs, kicks, commercials, penalties, fumbles, interceptions – and the folksy John Madden discussing these themes as if they belonged in a course in the philosophy of football, one step down from business ethics.

Who to root for? Every spectator needed to pick a favorite. Ben Roethlisberger, the Pittsburg Steeler quarterback and Harley Davidson motorcycle fanatic, or Kurt Warner, the Arizona Cardinal’s playmaker who told the public before the game that God would decide the winner? I live in neither city, but recall the Cardinals once played in St. Louis like their baseball brethren. I rooted for the refs, but they would disappoint me as well.

Christmas, Yom Kippur, Easter, Thanksgiving and Super Bowl Sunday have become the nation’s religious holidays, the host announced, to explain his reason for throwing a party in the midst of serious economic malaise. Metaphorically, the game symbolizes a clash of disciplined athletes who will show the less powerful how they too can become insensitive to pain. The very words “Super Bowl” should renew men’s religious faith, “and their potential for idiocy,” said one woman in the small viewing audience.

Most of the women sneered at the prospect of watching football and retreated to another room to see the final Austraila Open match between Federer and Nadal. NBC had its token woman doing “color” reports from the sidelines during the actual game.

Women have yet to try to do the dangerous things men do on football fields. Women “serve” football as cheerleaders for those meat wrenching contests and are supposed to know how to emit proper sounds of approval and disapproval during the course of the game. “That was a super play,” said one young woman trying to impress her boyfriend after a receiver dropped a pass. He looked embarrassed.
Men discuss strategy. Most women don’t – and shouldn’t – care about such exclusively man-made “sports.”  Football, like war, needs battle plans and is played under certain rules — enforced by “officials.” Men focus their aggressive energy – no it’s not sexuality — against each other’s bodies for the duration of the contest. Each player uses his flesh, muscle and bone in ways that would cause normal (untrained) people to suffer serious injury or death. Officials penalize teams only when their players make premature advances or unleash “unnecessary” violence. For example, a tackler can spear a receiver in midair, in the midsection before he comes down with the ball. The sound of the collision is audible as the tackled player falls heavily to the ground.

I watched a Cardinal wide receiver leap, catch and get speared by a Steeler defensive back. I flashed back to August 12, 1978, when Jack Tatum, an Oakland Raiders’ defensive back, hurled his body through the air into Darrell Stingley of the New England Patriots, during a pre-season game at Oakland’s Coliseum. Stingley lay unconscious on the turf. Tatum’s body force had compressed Stingley’s spinal cord and fractured two of his vertebrae. The refs ruled Tatum’s “tackle” as “legal.” Subsequently, the NFL made a minor adjustment to penalize the kind of tackle Tatum administered. Tatum later proudly described his “hard hit” in his autobiography, Final Confessions of NFL Assassin Jack Tatum. (Stingley became a quadriplegic and died in 2007 at 55)
Almost thirty one years after that painful collision, I watched several similar body impacts on the HD screen. Luckily, the hard-hit players managed to force the cobwebs out of their brains and ran or limped off the field. Dozens of injured heroes from the Steeler and Cardinals sat on the sidelines or watched from hospitals as their steroid-riddled brethren — juiced by injections of speed – showed the world what “competitive” means.

More than one injured player eagerly received a Novocain injection to mask the pain so he could keep playing. “That shows heart,” explained the announcers, referring not only to the recently injured player but to those who had endured seventeen games of mutual battering, bone breaking, concussions, torn cartilages and sprains.

Half time! During the intermission at Super Bowl 38, Janet Jackson had also showed heart, well, a breast that accidentally slipped from its flimsy covering. CBS paid huge fines for their insult to public decency even though Jackson discretely replaced her exposed milk gland so the players could resume their publicly decent mauling. That’s clean sport!

The guys dressed in black and white striped shirts called several “unnecessary roughness” penalties, including roughing the passer and the holder. One wit suggested a penalty for “roughing the football.” In other words, it’s “legal” to hit a rival hard enough to knock him out, or paralyze him, as long as the hit is made during the play itself and doesn’t involve “dirty” play, like punching or kicking. A player can use a shoulder or forearm to administer a knockdown blow, but not a karate chop.

This year, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band with Steve Van Zandt performed 12 minutes of boring tunes with indecipherable lyrics; but with high energy and enthusiasm. As the 60 year old rock laureate slid across the stage on his knees in an act of rock bravado, NBC executives breathed a collective sigh of relief. Bruce had no mammary glands to fall out of his costume.

The super famous Springsteen had opened the inaugural festivities. By signing him to “party” at the Super Bowl, NBC could use his name plus the ritual itself to sell more than $200 million worth of advertising. Advertisers spent $100,000 per second to market their brand names.

During half time, some of the women who were watching tennis came in with 3 D glasses to watch the commercials on the wide HD plasma screen.  I saw them with the 3 D glasses and still don’t remember them. But they were impressive! Subconsciously, I’ll probably think of Doritos when I get images in more than one dimension. Hmm, nice and salty!

In the past, I have viewed the great football ritual in sports bars, hardly comparable to Romans watching a live performance of lions chewing Christians. Like many in the viewing garage last week, I slipped a chip into some dip and raised my beer glass without ever taking my eyes off the screen, because I didn’t want to miss a super athletic feat or at least a super act of violence. Hey, I live in a Super Nation – well, it used to be.

No other empire has such super football teams or such a super military apparatus. So what they haven’t won a war since 1945 – that one with a little help from the Soviet Union to defeat Hitler’s armies. So what they had to drop two atom bombs on Japanese cities!

The super economy, however, has sunk into recession or worse. How sad to see a super mall with lots of empty parking spaces and few customers in mall stores, which have laid off employees, to benefit from post holiday super sales, and super discounts!

Less affluent sectors, however, still experience super emotions in the realm of psychic and material deprivation.  Think of the spiritual uplift tens of millions received from ingesting the strength generated by the protein-laden heroes of The Super Bowl, the most watched television event in the country.

Medical experts say more men will suffer heart attacks and strokes from eating too much fat, drinking too much and feeling depressed over the loss of money they had wagered on the Cardinals. A small price to pay for super sports culture! We love sports. We play them when we’re kids and bet on them ever after.

Luckily at my friend’s party, no one drank too much so we didn’t have to witness someone’s wife reading a riot act to her husband who got overly inspired, albeit vicariously, by the antics on the screen. What a super experience, watching a Super Bowl, living in a super power and getting to witness such competitive sport in high definition! Wow! Maybe next year the Pentagon will allow us to watch the war in Afghanistan as well!

SAUL LANDAU’s films with Fidel are available on DVD from roundworldproductions.com. His A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.

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SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.

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