Alison came with me to a Super Bowl party at Teji’s and Anjali’s place. She’s not much of a football fan, but she was game to meet some new people and put to the test my warning about Teji’s predilection for cayan pepper. I was right to warn her, because Teji apparently got distracted while pouring the cayan into the gumbo – it was fun finishing her bowl and enjoying the burn inflicted by my friend’s enthusiastically Indian palate.
This Super Bowl was a good game. The pick-6 by New Orleans with just over three minutes on the clock was a real surprise – it looked like hero time for Payton Manning – and fun. The commercials (potentially another post) and the announcers’ ridiculous commentary (definitely another post) were generally entertaining. The company was certainly fantastic.
Let me be very clear: I’m a huge sports fan. I love watching people do things that I can’t. According to Popular Mechanics, an average-sized defensive back in the NFL (5′ 11″, 199 pounds) can deliver up to 1600 pounds of tackling force, and hits frequently range between 30 and 60 g’s. By contrast, figher pilots regard the maximum g-force at between four and six g’s, at which several seconds of exposure will cause them to black out. Football players sometimes sustain hits of 100+ g’s. Pads don’t make that any less impressive over the course of a five-month season.
Basketball players can execute spectacularly graceful maneuvers considering their weight and length. Hockey players manage to appear more nimble on thin blades against a surface with little surface friction, than I could appear on asphalt and glue on the soles of my shoes. Even professional baseball players, whom I regard as barely a step above professional golfers in terms of real athleticism, can accelerate their bulk remarkably quickly to chase down a ball, and can (sometimes) hit a 3-inch object traveling 85-95 miles per hour and moving laterally and/or vertically at the same time.
Nevertheless, I’m left feeling a little strange about some of the commentary and masturbatory hyperbole by the players after the game. This long-suffering-fan mentality makes me question the idea of *being* fanatical about a sports franchise. It’s not a new observation that fans sit around in $100 seats, in their Redskins hats and Redskins jersey, eating three hot dogs and drinking five beers they bought from vendors who kick back to the Redskins. And they complain about how overpaid the players are, how they’re prima donnas who don’t care about the fans. For professional sports to exist, there has to exist a dichotomy between the obvious conclusion that it’s a business, and the fans refusal to believe that it’s just business. It’s the suspension of disbelief that allows it all to be fun.
The Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, for the first time in 86 years. Their fans had been bemoaning the “curse of the Babe” for decades, when they should have been bemoaning a radically underperforming team and management structure. Sports is a visceral experience so people tend to reduce everything to soundbites and highlights. Boston fans revile Bill Buckner for dashing their hopes in 1986, when his mistake came in Game 6, not 7 – one oops-a-daisy through his legs did not single-handedly cost them the series. They revile Steinbrenner’s Yankees for buying all the best players every year, ignoring the fact that except for a brief period in the mid- to late-90s, Boston has been in the top three clubs in terms of total payroll for 20 years. In 2004, the nation could get behind a team that “was due”; when they won it again in 2007, everyone yawned because another major-market team had spent a lot of money and done what they should have been able to do.
It’s these imagined factors that make sports fun in an indefensible way. The Baltimore Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984 and are still introduced in Baltimore, when they play there, as “the Indianapolis professional football team.” Side note: I met Bill Hudnut, the mayor of Indianapolis who lured the Colts away, and it was one of the proudest moments of his career.
There are a lot of examples of the suspension of logic I could name in sports, so I won’t belabor the point. Except to return to my unease with the rhetoric about the Saints’ win in this Super Bowl. Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005 and led to classically tragic images of people trapped in the Superdome and the highest cost of any storm in US history – 80% of New Orleans was flooded and more than 1,800 people died. The Saints think they fixed all that by winning a football game. Everyone toed the line that “this one was for the residents of New Orleans,” which is reasonable – they’re paying your salary, and your profession is to entertain them. But many went on to say that they’d turned around the things that were wrong in New Orleans.
To be fair, I don’t think that the Saints were in it for the money. The franchise had never been in a Super Bowl before and the wags will tell you that you never win it the first time. I don’t think people that do anything professionally have money in the forefront of their minds when they’re faced with a chance to be the best in their field. I also understand that a football player’s career is short and their life afterward full of arthritis and making up for their real focus in college. But I’d be remiss to point out that the bonus for winning the Super Bowl, per player, was $78,000. Just making the playoffs is worth $18,000-$20,000 to everyone that does. I didn’t hear anyone saying that their Super Bowl bonus was going to help rebuild, though. If you’re trying to rebuild with your win, dedicate something besides self-glorification to get the job done.
I recognize I may have my guy card revoked for all of this, but let’s keep a little perspective. We can love our teams and we should respect the elite talent required to do what the players do. We can take pride in wins. In a sense of fun, we can go after rivals when “we” beat “them.” I like all of that. When players or promoters try to portray a game as a crusade, it’s time to STFU. I can’t subsume logic far enough to put up with that shit.