Monday, January 30, 2012

Cry HAVOC! And Let Loose The Hounds Of Super Bowl Hype, 2:

Continuing my review of past Super Bowl posts...

Here's one that I originally posted on Super Bowl Sunday on the Colts/Saints year:

How will you watch the Super Bowl? Here's some ideas -- plus some oddly specific predictions for the game.


The other day, on the Dan Patrick Show, Jets Quarterback Mark Sanchez was asked how he would rather watch the Super Bowl: In person, in New Orleans, or at home. He said "At home," and explained that his reason was that it still hurt him that he wasn't playing in it.

Then, last night I saw on the news a story about a gathering of men who've never missed seeing a Super Bowl in person. These four guys (I'm not sure if they're a group, or just four guys who happen to share the same trait in common, that trait being an ability to spend a person's college tuition on seeing a game) have made it to all Super Bowls, from Super Bowl 1966 to Super Bowl 2010, where they were treated to a dinner by the NFL. (With ticket prices for Super Bowls in recent years averaging nearly $3,000 apiece, the NFL should've done more than give these guys some prime rib and a pat on the back.)

At the end of that story, which reminded me of the Sanchez interview, one of the men was asked about his prediction for the Super Bowl's score this year, and he said Saints 35, Colts 32; that comment in turn reminded me of an offhand comment Tuesday Morning Quarterback made the other day when he discussed things being "oddly specific" in sports and sports contracts. Tuesday Morning Quarterback (whose reviews of Brett Favre and Favre's performance would benefit from reading Malcolm Gladwell's article about how our attitude about a person can indelibly shape our impressions of that person's actions; TMQ's personal dislike of Favre makes him see everything Favre does through negative-colored glasses) commented in that article not only how he had predicted, in the beginning of the season, the teams that would make the Super Bowl, but also commented on the oddly-specific numbers, or numbers he saw as oddly specific, used in sports.

To TMQ, oddly specific includes setting a kickoff time for 5:28 p.m., as opposed to 5:30 p.m., and includes setting a contract at $451,000 instead of some other number.

Those numbers are no more, or less, specific than TMQ's preferred numbers, though: TMQ seems to think that there's something less specific about 5:30 p.m. than there is about 5:28 p.m., and he finds it absurd that someone would be so specific as to make a contract worth $451,000 rather than $450,000.

TMQ, in doing so, engages in the kind of uneducated snobbery he tries to decry; he feels superior to those people he claims are absurd for being so specific -- while not understanding that there's nothing more, or less, specific about either number: $451,000 is no more specific than $450,000. Both are numbers, and both are exact, specific numbers. $450,000 is an exact, specific number, and $451,000 is, too, and, for that matter, $451,929.32 is an exact, specific number, and it's no more, or less, exact or specific: In each case, the number is carried out to the same number of significant figures, and significant figures determine how specific you're being.

5:28 p.m. is exactly as specific -- because it's measured to the same degree -- as 5:30 p.m. What TMQ means is that 5:30 p.m. feels more general, and it feels more general because that's the number we all mentally round 5:28 p.m. to. If someone says something starts at 5:28, we all decide "that's about 5:30" and round it to that. Likewise, $450,000 seems less specific -- because it requires that we remember only two actual numbers plus placeholding zeroes, so we can easily remember it and it seems more general.

But people are oddly specific -- and they like to be oddly specific. Think of a number, right now, between 1 and 100. Got your number?

Mine was 43 (mine's always 43). I can't say what your number was (but feel free to leave it in a comment, if you'd like) I bet it was not a round number: I bet you didn't pick 10, 20, 30, or a number ending in 5, either; I bet you picked something ending in a 3, or 7, or 2 -- an oddly specific number, or one that seems so, anyway (because it's no more specific than 10, or 50). Ask others to do the same: I bet they'll never pick a number ending in a zero or 5 -- and they'll refuse to pick a "round" or not-very-specific number even though they don't know why you're having them pick a number.

TMQ, though, wants to make fun of people for picking oddly-specific numbers, so we can make fun of him for doing so because in the very act of making fun of the rest of us, TMQ has revealed that he's a pseudo-intellectual who doesn't understand the things he wants to mock. Numbers are specific only to the degree of significant figures they use; and people like oddly specific numbers, as evidenced by the score predicted by the Old Man Whose Been To All The Super Bowls; asked to predict a final score, the Old Man said Saints 35, Colts 32.

Why'd he pick those numbers, instead of any other two pairs of scores? After all, there are only a few scores a football game can't end in. A game can't end up 1-0 or 1-1, and that's about it; beyond that, all scores are possible. A game could be 2-0, or 3-2, or 4-3, and so on, with some scores being less probable than others. (4-3, for example, is pretty improbable because it would be one team scoring two safeties while the other scores only a field goal. Such a game is possible, but not likely.)

According to one no-doubt reliable source (an anonymous answerer on Answerbag), these were the scores for some unknown period of time in NFL games:

20-17 210 times
17-14 162 times
27-24 152 times
13-10 142 times
24-17 121 times

From that -- another set of Statistics That Sound About Right, a website I've really got to get around to creating -- it appears that the most common score in a football game, for one team or another, is 17; one team or another scored 17 points 493 times. 17 points is generally scored by getting two touchdowns, two extra-points, and a field goal (but you could get to 17 nowadays through three field goals, a touchdown, and a two-point conversion, or five field goals and a safety.)

The next most common score is 24 -- a team scored 24 in a game 273 times in that probably-not-very-reliable table.

So the most common scores by teams, according to that most-likely-fictional answer, are 24 and 17. If you were going to predict the outcome of the game -- any football game in the NFL-- you'd be smart to pick 24-17.

Which, by the way, was the final score of the first game the Saints lost this year -- to the Cowboys. They lost 24-17 in New Orleans, ending their hopes for an unbeaten season.

(Also, the Jets scored both the most regular scores in their playoff run: they put up 24 in a win against Cincinnati, and 17 losing to the Colts.)

With those articles floating around my mind, I decided to, for today, talk about how you might want to watch the Super Bowl by reviewing my own history of Super Bowls and how I watched them -- doing so because how I watched the Super Bowl in many cases, has turned out to be more memorable than the games themselves, at least insofar as I recall the details.

I don't recall details of almost any Super Bowl I watched since I began watching them back in the late 1980s. I can recall the teams that played, in most years, but I don't recall many specific plays or features of the games (or the commercials). Instead, I remember where and how I watched them, making those Super Bowls Past part of the history of my life, a yardstick whereby I can measure how I've progressed (or not) and see myself through the prism of time... and also give you (and Mark Sanchez) some advice on how to watch the Super Bowl, or not.

And, because remembering where and how I watched the games also brings to mind certain details of the games themselves that do stick out, I'll take my oddly specific memories of some games and provide you with some oddly specific predictions for today's Saints-Colts matchup.

I'll count them down from farthest in the past to most recent, and I'm not reviewing every Super Bowl -- just the ones that stick out in my mind. And I'm using not the NFL Numeral System preferred by the NFL, but the numbering-by-year system the NFL should use, because it makes more sense. Who uses Roman Numerals? It's impossible to remember which Super Bowl was which, using Roman Numerals, unless you count by year and then convert to Roman Numerals, and I don't want to get math involved in my football.


1. Super Bowl 1990:

Teams/Outcome:
49ers 55, Broncos, 10.

Where I watched it:
I watched this game sitting in the dorm room where my younger brother, Matt, lived while he attended UW-Milwaukee for about a semester before giving up on college. Matt lived in that dorm with a group of guys who had ridiculous nicknames -- names like Noodles, if I recall, and shortly thereafter left the dorms to live in an overpriced student house off campus, a house they shared with a ferret. I would have driven down to Matt's dorm from my parent's house, where I was still living in 1990, a fact I remember because I recall that in this Super Bowl, I bet against my boss, Todd, at the gas station where I was working, in Hartland. We'd bet on the game, and I got the 49ers. Our bet was that the person whose team won got $2 per point scored. What I recall about the game was that the 49ers just... kept...scoring, and I spent most of the game sitting on the uncomfortable desk chair that comes with dorm rooms, at one point making a call to my boss when the score exceeded 50 for my team.

Advice I can give you, and Mark Sanchez, about how to watch the game: Get plenty of seating, where ever you're going to be. The dorm room had a floor, two desk chairs, and two beds -- for a bunch of guys to watch a game. I staked out the desk chair early on so I wouldn't end up sitting on a bed next to a guy named Noodles, but either way, I was doomed to spend the game uncomfortably.

Specific detail of the game I can recall, and apply to today's game: That was the fourth Super Bowl for Joe Montana, and his first against the Denver Broncos, who came into the game with the much-heralded John Elway leading them. Joe seemed to take it personally, throwing for an estimated 53,000 yards, maybe to prove his point that he was the real great quarterback in the game. This year, everyone's talking about how great Peyton Manning is, and not commenting as much on how great Drew Brees might be by comparison. I therefore predict that: Drew Brees will take it personally, and will throw a touchdown pass of 68 yards.


2. Super Bowl 1991:
Teams/Outcome: Giants 20, Bills 19.

Where I Watched It: By this time, I'd moved out of my parents' house and into the mouse-infested apartment on 21st street in Milwaukee -- back when 21st street was still in the kind of terrible neighborhood where a serial killer could kill 17 people and not attract much attention. (That really happened, not far away from the apartment where I watched this game, and during the same period of time.)

I lived in that apartment with my friend Flan, who'd found the apartment and who'd taken the better bedroom. Flan, though, had gone to watch the game at his dad's house. I don't recall why I wasn't going anywhere to watch the game, but I didn't. I watched it at our apartment, alone, in Flan's room because he had a bean bag chair and the better TV and I assumed (correctly) that he wouldn't be coming home that night, so he wouldn't mind my using his room.

That game was before I really cared about the Buffalo Bills -- it was the start of what Cruella De Vil might call my magnificent obsession with them -- but I had them in my first-ever Super Bowl bet with my brother Matt. We'd bet $50 plus a team jersey, and I had the Bills.

I fell asleep in the third quarter of the game -- that was the start of my habit of doing that, too -- and woke up only for the final drive, where the Bills got the ball not-quite-close-enough for a final field goal attempt that went wide right, sending the Bills on to loserville for four years.

That's something funny about championships: Two teams make them, only one wins -- and the loser is often deemed to be terrible, the butt of jokes for years and years. The Bills went to four straight championships, lost all four, and are deemed synonymous with failure. Only in America, and particularly only in football, can you finish second four years running and be deemed a loser. Teams that never make the playoffs get more respect than teams that get there and lose, and America needs to do something about that. As Jerry Seinfeld noted, though, people hate silver medal winners and second place finishers: Silver medalists, he said, are awarded for being the best loser -- nobody lost ahead of them. "Congratulations," he said, "You almost won."

Advice I Can Give You and Mark Sanchez About Watching The Super Bowl Based On This Game: While Flan's bean bag was comfortable enough, and his TV nice enough, it was awkward sitting in someone's bedroom, without their knowledge, watching a game. I'd say not to do it.

Specific detail of the game I can recall, and apply to today's game:
Not being a big Bills fan -- yet-- I wasn't terribly upset when they lost because the game at least had an exciting ending to it. (I was more upset about the $50 plus the jersey. Those jerseys are expensive.) But I do recall the kick, that being one of the more dramatic moments in Super Bowl history -- and it was destined to be so, no matter how it turned out, because people think in terms of one-play outcomes (but that's for another day.) Missed field goals are a hallmark of this year's playoffs, too, and so I will make the oddly specific prediction that The Colts' kicker will miss a field goal, wide right, from 43 yards out.

(I told you, my random number is always 43.)


3. Super Bowl 1997/1999:

Teams/Outcomes: 1997: Packers 35, Patriots 21/1999: Broncos 34, Falcons 19.

Where I Watched It: I've lumped these two together because they marked the two of the three Super Bowl parties I've ever attended or thrown. I watched the Packers-Patriots Super Bowl with a group of law students at a friend's house, with about 20 or 30 people there, including a bunch of people I didn't know. I watched the Broncos-Falcons Super Bowl at Sweetie's apartment, about a year after we started dating, with a bunch of friends we'd invited over for the occasion.

In each case, the Super Bowl was less than fun; watching a game with a group of people, whether or not they're close friends, means distractions from the game, or, to put it another way, it means not watching the game. When you get a group of people together, they talk and make comments and a part of your attention is diverted from watching the game to conversing with them (and to making sure nobody takes your seat when you get up to get more snacks)(and to making sure that nobody notices how often you get up to get snacks.)

Sporting events are strange that way: While you might get friends together for any number of let's-watch-this type of evenings, only sports are deemed "Things You Can Distract Others From Watching." Imagine if your friends invited you over for a movie night, and throughout the movie you kept talking, about the movie and the things the movie reminded you of and your job and how tired you were going to be the next day, and other movies you'd seen. They'd throw you out.

But invite friends over for a Super Bowl, and they'll talk. And talk. And, probably, keep track of just how many snacks you're eating. The idea, I think, is that you're not supposed to watch sports, really -- it's just a mechanism to get people into the same room, the way "lettuce" is a mechanism to get "salad dressing" into my mouth.

I don't like that -- when I decide to watch a game, I want to watch it, and I mostly only talk (just a little) about the things going on in the game. Granted, a football game doesn't require the same level of attention and focus that, say, the movie Memento does, but still: I want to watch the game, not talk about your dumb job.

Another note: For the Broncos/Falcons game, I invented a pool called "Super Bowl Bingo," a Bingo game featuring squares marked with stuff that could happen during the game or commercials, things like The AFC kicks a 30+ yard field goal. I thought that'd be a fun way to bet on the game with all our friends, more fun than a "Final score" pool. I was wrong. Super Bowl Bingo was a disaster, as it meant that nobody could watch the game -- they were constantly checking their Bingo Cards: Was that a 5-yard run? To the left? Did that commercial have a green car in it? And they talked more -- distracting me from the game.

Advice I Can Give You and Mark Sanchez About Watching The Super Bowl Based On This Game:
Don't watch it with others. And, if you do, don't worry how many Seven Layer Bars someone's eating. That's their business, not yours. Also: Make your Super Bowl bets simple.

Specific detail of the game I can recall, and apply to today's game:
I don't recall a single moment of the Broncos/Falcons Super Bowl -- Bingo distracted me far too much. As for the Packers' Super Bowl, the game began with a first-play, or early-play, long touchdown pass for Brett Favre's Green Bay Packers. But I've already predicted one of those. That game also featured Desmond Howard running back a kickoff for a touchdown, something that's happened in other Super Bowl. There have been blocked punts in the Super Bowl, too, but never a Blocked Punt Returned For A Touchdown, so I'm going to predict this: The Saints Will Block a Colts Punt, and Return the Punt 43 yards for a touchdown.

4. Super Bowl 2007:

Teams/Outcome: Colts 29, Bears 17.

Where I Watched It: This game, I watched at our house with the then-they-really-were-babies Babies!, who'd been born just a few months before. We watched it downstairs in our family room, on the big screen TV we'd splurged and bought for the family (justifying it, back then, by noting that Sweetie really liked to watch movies and The Boy and I liked sports, so it made sense for us to spend a lot of money on a big-screen TV for those purposes. Nowadays, though, Sweetie rarely watches TV downstairs, preferring, if she's going to watch TV, to do it up in our room away from the mess and noise. The Boy, meanwhile, used his own money to buy himself a Playstation 3 and a fancy TV and watches almost everything in his room. Our big-screen TV is mostly used, these days, to watch Little Einsteins.)

What I remember most about this game is that going in, I had my annual bet with The Boy in which we both, at the start of the playoffs, pick teams we think will win -- dividing the playoff teams up evenly and betting a t-shirt on the outcome. I had both the Colts and the Bears before the Super Bowl -- so I was guaranteed a win. But Sweetie was on The Boy's team (I had Mr F and Mr Bunches and Middle), and she likes the Colts, so I let them have the Colts anyway, but they had to give me odds -- if the Bears won, I'd get a sweatshirt, not a t-shirt.

Then, Devin Hester returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, and I celebrated and began rubbing it in: You're going to lose, I taunted The Boy, only to watch as the Bears faded away little by little, leaving me buying Sweetie and The Boy Colts' t-shirts.

Also, midway through the game, we had to go give the Babies! a bath and put them to bed, so I missed a chunk of it.

Advice I Can Give You and Mark Sanchez About Watching The Super Bowl Based On This Game: Have your Babies! bathed ahead of time, and set the game to tape. You may not think you're going to get pulled away from the TV, but what if you are? And you miss the most dramatic moment in Super Bowl history? And the next day, everyone's talking about it and you have to say What? I missed that, I guess. That always happens to me. (It happened, in fact, with the Janet Jackson halftime show -- which I watched most of before going to get more food, missing Nipplegate. I didn't even know anything had happened until after work the next day, when I heard something on the radio while driving home.)

Specific detail of the game I can recall, and apply to today's game: Devin Hester's runback, which I'm pretty sure was the first play of the game. That was the fastest score ever to start the game. I'm going to go opposite, here. The longest time passed in a Super Bowl before a score, ever, was 26 minutes, 55 seconds (The Panthers vs. the Patriots*, Super Bowl 2004). I'm going to predict that The First Score Won't Happen Until 2 minutes Into The Third Quarter.

5. Super Bowl 2008:
Teams/Outcome: Giants 17, Patriots* 14.

Where I Watched The Game: Again, I watched it in my own house, with just the family, including the Babies, who were now 1 1/2 years old. The two most memorable things about this game were that, first, I was rooting against the team I had in the bet: I'd ended up with the Patriots* as my entry, and I didn't want them to win, because they're cheaters. I'd never liked the Giants and Eli Manning very much, so I found myself in the odd role of having to root for a team I didn't like, with a quarterback I didn't like, against a team that, if they won, I'd get a t-shirt. (But they'd be 19-0 and I didn't want cheaters to get rewarded, so I rooted against them.)

The other thing I remember is that we had to be very quiet in rooting: Mr F was almost a year-and-a-half, and was becoming a bit of a nervous boy who didn't like loud noises. We didn't know that, yet, as Mr F hadn't been exposed to a great many surprises in his 16 or so months of living. He was, that night, when Eli Manning threw that great pass and David Tyree made that great catch, and we all jumped up and cheered and yelled and Mr F burst into tears and tried to go hide. After that, we all had to cheer quietly, so as great things happened, we'd whisper Yeah! or Excellent! while being very careful not to startle Mr F.

Advice I Can Give You and Mark Sanchez About Watching The Super Bowl Based On This Game: It's very hard to whisper a cheer. Practice it. Or put a movie on for the Babies! upstairs, so they can watch without getting scared. I'm surprised I didn't think of that.

Specific detail of the game I can recall, and apply to today's game:
The David Tyree catch, of course, sticks out in my mind -- more so than the touchdown reception that put the Giants ahead for good shortly thereafter. It was an improbable, thrilling, spontaneous moment that came at a time of the game when tension was high, earning it a spot in the most-memorable-plays pantheon. How many Super Bowls can you say that about?

In all the Super Bowls I've watched, only a handful of plays stick out: Wide right. Tyree's catch. Santonio Holmes' TD last year against the Cardinals, arms outstretched, toes dragging. Favre's long pass against the Patriots, and his run down the field to celebrate. Don Beebe chasing after Leon Lett to knock the ball out of his hand just before the end zone -- a startling, admirable display of effort in a foregone game. That's about all that springs to mind. So the odds are that there will not be a memorable play in this game -- after XLIV Super Bowls, I can only remember a few great plays, making great plays a statistical improbability in the Super Bowl, but I'll go ahead and predict an oddly specific great play, anyway -- and, like I always go for 43, I'm going to go for my usual suspect here, too: The Fake Punt. I therefore predict that there will be a fake punt for a TD, and that it'll come from the Saints. In the fourth quarter. With 5:33 left on the game clock. On fourth-and-two.

(How's that for oddly specific, TMQ?)

As for where I'll be watching the game, I've applied all my lessons, and here's the plan for the game: I'm watching it at home, on our big-screen TV, with just immediate family. We've got plenty of seating: Two couches and two chairs. We've got snacks ready to go, the kind of food that just needs to be heated up or put in a bowl and the kind of food that can be piled on a plate to reduce the number of trips to the kitchen to get more, reducing the people monitoring me. I've already set the game to tape, ready for Babies!-style distractions of any sort.

Which leads me to my final oddly-specific prediction: I predict that during the game, there will be three spills on the carpet, at least one of which will leave a stain. There will be two times that The Boy complains about me pausing the game to go take care of the Babies!, one of which pauses will be engendered by Mr F being pantless. And there will be three commercials about which Sweetie declares Terry Tate was better.

She's right: He was.



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