Can you taste the excitement in the air?
No, me, neither.
For some reason, this year's Super Bowl seems a little underwhelming, doesn't it? In fact, the past several Super Bowls have seemed less than exciting. Steelers-Packers last year didn't seem, running up to it, like it would be all that memorable -- it seemed to me like the Steelers didn't really want to be there while the Packers seemed like they didn't know they were there.
And Super Bowls before that? Well, I had to go look at a list of Super Bowls to see who had played in recent years because while I can obviously remember the last Giants-Patriots* matchup and I can remember Colts-Saints, I can't think of who else has been in the Super Bowl recently, which in and of itself says a lot about how exciting (or not) the Big Game has become.
Going back a few years, there were Patriots-Eagles, Steelers-Seahawks, Colts-Bears, Giants-Patriots*, Steelers-Cardinals, Colts-Saints, Steelers-Packers, and of those, how many games were truly memorable for the game?
And more: how many were exciting in the build-up to the game?
I can think of only one, really: The Giants-Patriots* matchup where the Patriots* were denied a 19-0 season. That game had a lot of anticipation going into it, because the teams had played a great game to end the season, it was Eli's first Super Bowl, and the Patriots* were still mired in Videogate, plus the Giants had to put Brett Favre's Green Bay Packers out of the playoffs in a thriller just to get there, all of which set up an amazing storyline.
The runner-up would be Steelers-Cardinals, because Kurt Warner is a good story even if he's kind of a jerk himself, and the Cardinals hadn't made it to the Super Bowl before, and that was after Roethlisberger's troubles began, so there was a good-vs-evil component to that one.
But other than that, the storylines and setups to football games haven't been that compelling. The Saints winning was a good story, what with Katrina having happened to New Orleans and Drew Brees getting some respect, but they did that at the expense of the Indianapolis Colts and Peyton Manning, which, Manning is overpaid and himself kind of a jerk, I expect, but publicly the Colts were considered "good guys" back then, so it was good versus good, and what kind of matchup is that?
I mean, imagine if Luke Skywalker and Han Solo got into a fight. Wouldn't that be cool?
I thought of that. George Lucas thought of this:
And yet George Lucas is the millionaire while I sit around in my pajamas typing a blog post.
Anyway, no, a Han-Luke fight would not be cool, because they're both good guys, so the only way they fight is if it's one big misunderstanding, like the time Spider-Man and Superman got into a fight -- doing so only because they were tricked into it by Doc Ock and Lex Luthor.
Colts-Saints was Han-Luke: an upstart goodhearted kid against the cocky older hero but they were both on the same side, so it wasn't a fight we wanted to see.
Sports, to me, is entertainment -- and that means that I want someone to root for and someone to root against, and I want the outcome to seem to matter, even though it doesn't matter at all; the outcome of the Super Bowl is financially important to some people, and personally important to most of the players, but it's not important at all to me and you and the rest of the people who will be sitting around stuffing our fat faces while we deny basic protections to other human beings. Your life won't be any different at all tomorrow, no matter what happens today, unless what happens today is that just after winning the game, standing at midfield with the Lombardi Trophy, Belicheat rips off his mask, Mission: Impossible style to reveal that he's one of those Crystal Skull aliens, and roars into the microphone:
At last! I have the fourth Stanchion of Power! Minions! Open the Warp Rift and allow the fleets to pass through! Earth shall be under my dominion for all eternity! Bring me the heart of a newborn baby for my triumphal feast.
It could happen. And imagine the shock for those people who didn't bother watching the fourth quarter and only found out about the Earth being taken over by logging onto the Internet Monday morning to see what the most popular ads were.
There should be a storyline here, this week, and it should be a good one: After all, the Giants were the ones who denied Belicheat and Brady Football Immortality, costing them 19-0 and turning them into a punchline (because only in football can going 18-1 and losing narrowly in the championship turn you into a laughingstock -- I've said before and it bears repeating: it is better, in the NFL, to not make the playoffs at all than to lose the Super Bowl, and before you dispute me, answer this: Which team is more of a loser to you, the Buffalo Bills or the Jacksonville Jaguars?)
(See what I mean?)
But there's no storyline at all -- partly because Belicheat and Crew don't ever talk at all about anything and partly because the NFL has so clamped down on any kind of interestingness at all that it would be amazing if the Giants or Patriots* even acknowledged that earlier Super Bowl existed, let alone that one or the other had something to prove here.
The Patriots*, in fact, are going out of their way to say that revenge isn't an issue, which is to be expected. Lots of Patriots* players are downplaying the revenge factor:
Wes Welker said:
"Does it take care of what happened (if we win this time)? No. I don’t think so... What happened, happened, and we’ve moved on. The only thing I am worried about is this game and doing what we can to win this game.”
While Belicheat, speaking carefully so as not to tear his mask on the spiky crystalline killing appendages it hides, said:
We are where we are now, and we’re different than where we were earlier in the season. The Giants are where they are now, and I think they’re different than where they were at different points of the season. To take it back years and years before that, I don’t think it has too much bearing on anything. I don’t think anything in the past has too much of a factor in this game.
But again, that's to be expected: they don't want to admit it got to them, don't want to give any "bulletin-board" material (because athletes playing at the highest level of the game in the most important game at that level for millions of dollars cannot be expected to give 100% effort unless you give them a quote to motivate them), and so they say "It was no big deal, the way they made us go from legendary status to laughable footnote in one game."
But what's surprising is that the media, which has a rooting interest in having a good storyline and which isn't 100% controlled by Roger Goodell's Homogenization Machine, is going along with it.
The Boston Herald -- the Boston Herald -- has a column in which a sports "writer" argues that revenge ought not to be a factor. (Also, in that article, a Panthers manager is quoted as saying that if you lose the Super Bowl, "you wish you never went," which backs me up about the benefits of making it to the Super Bowl only to lose.)
Other media outlets have focused on things like "Will Peyton play again next year?" and the like; in a week of Super Bowl hype, I actually heard very little about revenge and how that might motivate people in this game.
Which isn't to say there wasn't some. The New York Post is trying, hard: Google "New York Post revenge Patriots" and you'll find four different stories on the first page of results alone, including a column saying the 7 Patriots* from the 18-1 team who are still on the roster are lying about not wanting revenge, to a quote from former Patriot* Rodney Harrison saying of course the New England squad wants revenge.
But tabloid papers or not, there's no doubt that this year's Super Bowl is short on storylines, and so to give you and me and everyone we know something to root for or against tonight, I present you with this year's WHODATHUNKIT!?, the three best things you really want to know about the Super Bowl -- this year in the form of three storylines that will help you have a rooting interest in the game.
1. Bill Belicheat vs. Niceness: Football is a game played by large, athletic men trying to hit other large athletic men as hard as possible in order to make bad things happen to the other team -- so it's not what you'd generally associate with niceness.
But, with all that, still opposing defensive lineman occasionally help up the quarterback they sacked, and teams shake hands after the game, so football has room for a little sportsmanship and heart amidst the controlled (and sometimes uncontrolled) violence. That's why movies like Rudy and Brian's Song and Invincible exist: Because hidden among the injuries and sacks and bone-crushing, spine-mangling, concussing violence are tiny gems of heart, growing like a flower through the cracks of a slum sidewalk.
Except in New England, where the only hearts visible are those served up still spurting blood in sacrifice to Belicheat's remorseless winning machine.
Remember last year, when the world was all a-flutter because the Green Bay Packers weren't going to let their injured reserve players be part of the team picture? Well, take a back seat, minor kerfuffle of meanness, and consider this display of coldness that would make even Darth Vader go "What the H, man? Have some kindness.":
Wide receiver Tiquan Underwood has been cut by the Patriots less than 24 hours before the big game ...Underwood had three catches in five games this season.(Source.) With that, Tiquan Underwood became perhaps the unluckiest man to ever play in the NFL, and I'm including Scott Norwood in that calculation.
He was 24 hours away from the game that all NFL players want to make it to. 24 hours.
I confess to being a nervous type. I got my first partnership bonus this year at my law firm, and until the check was actually cut on New Year's Eve, I didn't think it would actually be given to me. In fact, it wasn't until I was actually holding the check in my hands that I believed it existed -- and even then I went to the bank to cash it immediately before someone could change their mind.
Sweetie thought I was crazy -- but I bet Tiquan Underwood would sympathize. He even practiced all week for it. He's in the team photo. He's there in Indianpolis and they cut him.
That is cold-hearted. Tiquan Underwood has to fly home using his own money, having gotten within shouting distance of his life's dream.
I wonder if he'll watch the game.
If there's any justice in the world (and there's not, so this is a pipe dream) Tiquan Underwood will be signed by the Giants today and suited up for them.
Which isn't actually a bad idea: Tiquan Underwood is only 24 hours removed from game-day preparations and would be a pretty good catch for Tom Coughlin; he could suit up and help the Giants know what the game plan is. I doubt even Belicheat is smart enough to install an entirely fake game plan and feed it to a little-known wideout with the plan of cutting that wideout the day before the championship in order to get him signed by the other team just so that the other team would have false information about the Patriots*' intentions.
Or... is he?
Tiquan's loss is Defensive End Alex Silvestro's gain -- the Patriots* signed Silvestro from their practice squad, which means Silvestro just won the lottery in more ways than one: practice squad players are paid a minimum of $5,200 per week, but being on the roster for the Super Bowl will likely get either $42,000 (for losing) or $88,000 (for winning.)
But, put another (and far more sad) way: Tiquan also lost $42,000-$88,000, just 24 hours before he got the check.
2. Wings vs. Salsa: Over on Grantland, they've been running the enormously entertaining "Souper Bowl," an NCAA-style matchup of soups that sounds not at all fun, but the devil is in the writing, and the people writing about it know both soups and how to write well, so check that out after you're done here.
Soup, of course, is a terrible snack for the Super Bowl, because you've got to look at it to eat it -- you can't just put it into your mouth without thinking about it, you've got to watch the spoon going in and hold the bowl and all that, and if you're watching what you're eating, you're not watching the commercials around which the NFL puts a game. You've got to put some thought into what you're going to serve your guests.
(Me, I don't have guests, as I've found that having anyone around but my immediate family during the game tends to (a) interfere with my watching the game and (b) reduce the number of pizza rolls I, personally, am able to eat in five hours.)
Which brings up matchup number two: Wings vs. Salsa. Over on USA Today, wings have shot up to second on the list of Super Bowl favorites, polling at 23% -- so wings are the Mitt Romney of snack foods!-- second only to chips and salsa, which pulled in 32%. Trailing at 14% was pizza, which tied with "salty snacks," which brings up a major problem in that poll: aren't chips also "salty snacks?" So aren't chips actually 46%?
Questions about the legitimacy of their finish not only serve to emphasize the Mittitudinity of wings, but also bring up the question: Why are wings associated with sports? which brings up Why do people eat wings at all?
In short: how did someone somewhere manage to convince people that the second-least-edible part of the chicken -- I'll get to the first in a minute -- is something they not only should eat, but do such a good job of it that 23% of Americans would rather gnaw a chicken's elbow than eat a Dorito?
Over at The New Yorker, which is pretty much the only place you'd think would do a credible job of reporting on the origins of the chicken wing as food, Calvin Trillin did a piece way back in 1980 that attempted to divine the provenance of the wing-as-snack. The entire article should really be read on its own, as Trillin's a heckuva writer, but allow me to summarize for you:
1. Wings were invented as an hors d'ouevre because the Anchor Bar, which is credited with inventing the Buffalo wing, got a shipment of wings instead of necks and backs, the necks and backs being what the bar usually used to make spaghetti sauce, and now I'm never going to eat spaghetti sauce again without uncomfortably imagining that I'm eating a chicken back, and up until this moment I hadn't even considered whether chickens have backs, but obviously they do and we eat them which is gross and that's why I hate nature; according to this version, the wife of the Anchor Bar owner didn't want to use the wings for sauce and so made them into hors d'ouevres and they caught on, and that version comes right from the owner of the bar so it must be the truth except
2. The son of that man says it wasn't a mistake at all, he just came up with the idea of having something free to pass out to Catholic bargoers at midnight on a Friday, and his mom used wings because that was the part of the chicken that wasn't good enough to sell so they gave it away free.
Either way, the wing was born at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, as an enterprising bar owner sold you garbage and offal and made money off of it, which brings me to chicken paws, which are this:
and which are simply chicken feet, but which, when deep-fried, are considered a delicacy in other parts of the world, other parts of the world being places where they eat bugs and things, too, because they have not yet discovered the joys of processed food and never knowing where your food came from. If I never have to eat a deep-fried thing that looks like a chicken hand, I will be a grateful man.
Chicken paws aren't just disgusting; they're also behind some of our big international disputes: in 2009, the US shipped $648,000,000 worth of chicken paws to China, in what can only be described as brilliant foreign policy: the Chinese loan our government money to pay for Dennis Hastert to have a $900,000 a year office to do nothing from, and in exchange, we ship them the parts of the chicken we find too disgusting to even think about (but not too disgusting to picture on a blog.)
Also: Maybe the whole Buffalo wings/Anchor bar story is bunk after all: Trillin goes on to note that a guy named John Young had a restaurant named "John Young's Wings 'n' Things," which served wings in "mambo sauce," and that he registered that name about the same time the Anchor claimed to have accidentally invented this snack food by trying to foist off garbage on its patrons.
In any event: If you are eating wings, you are exemplifying the American dream in that wings are a way to eke money out of you by selling you something you didn't want and didn't know existed, but also keep in mind: Salsa is still number one, so there's another American job taken over by a foreigner. Thanks for nothing, NAFTA.
3. Cars vs. all the other crap advertisers want you to want to buy:
And speaking of selling you things you didn't know you wanted or needed, consider this: According to ABC News, 1/3 of all the ads you'll see tonight are car ads.
From Ferris Bueller's triumphant return:
To something about Volkswagen and dogs:
To other car ads, what America will be watching tonight will largely be car ads, and what Americans will largely be thinking tonight, if they're smart, is
"Why would someone pay millions of dollars for a Super Bowl ad and then release the ad ahead of time, thereby spoiling the surprise and virtually guaranteeing that you will not actually watch the ad during the game?"
That's what I was thinking, anyway, when I saw that some carmaker had stolen my idea for Ferris Bueller's Next Day Off and then, not wanting to wait until the game to actually show the ad, had simply put it online -- I watched that ad Tuesday, sitting in front of my laptop, with Sweetie telling me "this is my favorite Super Bowl ad," nearly a week before the ad "officially" aired.
In fact, Hulu has an entire channel devoted to watching Super Bowl ads -- and it's up already.
What's behind this trend? Maybe it's what I said -- having a party detracts from actually watching the ads, so advertisers want to make sure you see them anyway; in that sense, what they're purchasing, by spending millions on an ad slot, is not eyes during the game, but media coverage of their ads prior to the game -- getting their ad to go viral in a completely nonviral way.
Or maybe it's that Super Bowl ads no longer spend much time advertising the product -- many of the best Super Bowl ads are memorable for the ad, but not for their product. What, after all, was Terry Tate advertising for? And what were those cats being herded trying to get you to buy? In some cases, the ad becomes memorable for the ad, not for the product. You probably know Whassup! but you have to think to associate it with a product.
I watched the Ferris Bueller ad, but I never actually realized what car it was advertising. (It's Honda; I checked.)
Or maybe it's because most Super Bowl ads don't actually do much. This article notes that it takes controversy (or junk food) to make a Super Bowl ad worth all the expense. An Eau Claire study found that sexy ads particularly do not do much (although the king of sexy ads, Go Daddy, has benefitted from its stupid Super Bowl campaigns). That same Eau Claire study found that firms get a small boost in stock prices in the week after a Super Bowl ad airs -- which isn't the same as being profitable, because stock price increases benefit shareholders but not necessarily the company, so maybe it's that Super Bowl ads are used to make the company seem more valuable to investors without actually increasing the value of the company, a particularly American innovation -- we'll pretend to sell you goods so that our company will look more worthwhile to investors, while not actually increasing our sales or our worth.
Those same Eau Claire researchers are going to be on Twitter tonight, trying to use Twitter to measure advertising reactions for another new study, which is another one on the list of all-time jobs I wish I had: Super Bowl ad researcher.
Enjoy the game!