And behold, it came to pass that there was the Super Bowl.
And it was good.
Or sometimes it was. In the first one, back in 1967, Green Bay beat Kansas City by 25 points. Kind of a romp.
But sometimes it was good. Two years later, Joe Namath promised poolside that the New York Jets would beat the Baltimore Colts, and then they did, which temporarily lent the Super Bowl a faux counter-cultural flavor that probably made Vince Lombardi gag. That was kind of fun.
Since then there have been tense games, games that have turned on acrobatic catches, games in which a dubious call seemed to break one team’s will and give the other team hope. There was the 1986 Super Bowl, which the New England Patriots lost by 36 points. They probably felt pretty bad, at least until four Super Bowls later, when Denver lost to San Francisco by 45 points.
Somewhere along the line, the game became a small part of a big phenomenon in the way that no other championship has done. The World Cup is still about soccer, the Final Four is still about basketball, and the World Series is still about baseball, but the Super Bowl is about excess. It generates ever more expensive and more thoroughly discussed and dissected television advertising. Commercials are an annoyance to be muted, except on Super Sunday, when they are eagerly anticipated.
The Super Bowl is about flyovers and flags and a halftime show more appropriate to the festival of nations the Olympics represents than to the championship of a game which is monstrously popular in one country. Or perhaps even more appropriate to the end of a war. Or the beginning. Autopsies of former players have helped encourage 4,000 NFL alums to sue the league for failing to inform them of the risks of brain damage on the job. This week brought news of a UCLA study that’s discovered physical evidence of brain damage in a small sample of living ex-NFL players.
The great marketing triumph of the National Football League is that in the Super Bowl, it has built a glamorous phenomenon that outshouts all that and cannot be avoided. Pilots on flights bound for Fiji will announce the score at halftime. Super Bowl-related stories will pop up in news pages and food shows and other forums that otherwise have nothing to do with our games. In some of them, hosts and guests will poke fun at the Super Bowl. But the barons of the NFL will have the last laugh, because whatever the tone of the chatter, the subject will be the glitzy centerpiece of their industry.