Saturday, February 28, 2009

Just Business
There are times I think that my not living in Philadelphia might give me a little more perspective regarding the doings and decisions of the sports teams there than fans immersed in a rabid media culture that's particularly obsessive on the subject of the Eagles. This weekend is probably one of those times, as the team said goodbye to safety Brian Dawkins when the free agent signed a contract with Denver. On BackSheGoes, they're tearing their hair out; the comment threads to articles on are full up with "that team is dead to me" invective.

I get it. Dawkins is probably my all-time favorite Eagle too; I've told Annie for years that if we had a son, he'd be named Dawkins Westbrook Fischer. The team has more salary cap money than they knew what to do with, and Dawk did get a trip to Hawaii for his seventh Pro Bowl after the 2008 season. After an awful early-season performance in a Monday Night Football loss to Dallas, Dawkins turned in one of his superhuman efforts six days later in beating the eventual Super Bowl champion Steelers, and his trademark ferocity and leadership were on display for the rest of the season as an otherwise young defense grew up week by week to drag the team into the playoffs and two big wins once there.

On the other hand, the Eagles have been down this road before. They're unsentimental about their aging stars, and thus far they haven't been burned when those guys--Troy Vincent, Hugh Douglas, Jeremiah Trotter the second time--have moved on. At age 35--my age--Dawkins might or might not have one great season left; he probably doesn't have two, and there's no earthly way he has five, the ostensible length of the contract. (NFL contracts are not guaranteed, however, and essentially this is a two-year deal when factoring in the money that is guaranteed.) The Eagles have a player they like on hand to replace him, second-year defensive back Quentin Demps, and/or could move veteran corner Sheldon Brown to safety--though that's less likely now that former Pro Bowl corner Lito Sheppard has been traded to the Jets. So they created a hole, but have options to fill it that might be more palatable, if much less emotionally appealing, than Dawkins at age 36. And as Inquirer columnist Bob Ford points out, the Eagles did make an offer; the Broncos made a much more generous one, and Dawkins did what most of us probably would do in that situation. Just business on both sides.

The real criticism, though, is that the team has lost its heart--or, worse, knowingly cut it out. This is a tougher argument to refute. Dawkins was the unquestioned leader of that defense and the most popular player on the team, maybe the most beloved athlete in Philadelphia. It's dubious that the team would have made that 4-1 closing push to the playoffs without his contributions on the field or in the locker room. And Dawk's evident passion and bottomless commitment contrasts with fans' perceptions of the flaky and self-exonerating quarterback Donovan McNabb, the stolid coach Andy Reid, the insincere owner Jeffrey Lurie, and the heartless money man Joe Banner.

But ultimately this move will be forgotten if they succeed next season and held up as a moral, even karmic indicator if they fail. For myself, the push at the end of the year bought the Eagles back a good bit of credibility: they've now made the playoffs in seven of the last nine seasons, including five NFC Championship Game appearances. They do piss off the fans--but they also sell out every game and generate more attention at the end of February than the defending World F'in Champions of Baseball, who have just begun play. Much as I loved watching Dawk play all those years and much as I know it will bother me to see him in a Broncos uniform, in considering that track record I can't just immediately conclude they were wrong on this one.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I keep hearing about Twitter and the Amazon Kindle, and neither of them seem to have much purpose to me. Twitter evidently allows one to essentially text-message to a general audience a running answer to the question, "What are you doing?" But even the most self-obsessed person couldn't possibly think this is of general interest, unless perhaps you're a celebrity and/or public figure; I see that Obama used it during the campaign and once or twice since, but only for things that were redundant with emails they sent out. Now, I grasp that it's useful to let someone know you're running late--I do that constantly. But I do it through the conventional texting capacity. So really: what's the point of this other than whatever cachet it's supposedly acquired?

As for the Kindle... reading this review of the new device, I can see the potential value: editing documents while on the subway or in a car or waiting around somewhere would be very useful for me. And the reviewer's vision of the text-to-speech feature is potentially awesome (though I kind of like the idea of the Stephen Hawking/"Fitter Happier" voice reading, say, DeLillo as I'm falling asleep on a train). For now, though, I don't see the point; I'll just take the book wherever I'm going. As usual, The Onion seems to have the prudent take.

When I first starting thinking about how little , I worried it was a sign of impending old-man-dom: these kids and their newfangled devices, et cetera. But I'm not like this across the board: my wife is constantly disturbed by just how much I love the iPhone, for instance. It's just that Twitter seems really dumb, and the Kindle pointless, at least for the moment.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Three Pols in a Pickle
It's clear that the sour economy will be the biggest part of every political story over the next election cycle, exerting profound influence on voting outcomes through at least 2010 and probably beyond. Here in NYC, the downturn provided an excuse--though if that hadn't done, I'm sure another would have surfaced--for Michael Bloomberg to run for a third four-year term in office, thanks to machinations in City Council late last year. It's given focus to David Paterson's unanticipated governorship, now nearing its one-year mark. And of course it has dominated the first month-plus of Barack Obama's presidency. The sharply divergent fortunes of the three executive leaders offer some early clues about politics in the current recession.

Bloomberg is basically holding steady, with approval ratings and re-elect numbers either slightly declining or almost totally unchanged. Though the mayor is the only one of the three leaders whose tenure really predated the start of the downturn, nobody blames him for the recession; indeed, Bloomberg's record of fiscal stewardship in private business and public office, and perceived willingness to make the tough calls that the times will demand, comprise the justification for his third term bid. There seem to be two main threads to the case against him: the first is that Bloomberg simply doesn't care about any New Yorkers who fall below a certain tax bracket, and that his blindness to them drives policymaking in the city, and the second is that the mayor's stylistic demeanor--the political equivalent of bedside manner--leaves much to be desired. This encompasses his willingness to muscle aside the term limit law, an action that repulsed many good-government progressive types who gave enthusiastic support to the mayor's first re-election effort.

Personally I think there's at least a little validity to both beefs, given the main thrust and general tone of economic development policy over Bloomberg's eight years. At the same time, to conclude that the man altogether disdains the poor is to ignore the enormous amount of time and effort he's spent on reform of the public schools--a system not generally geared to Bloomberg's own social set--or the work of the Center for Economic Opportunity, which continues to pilot innovative programs to address the issues of entrenched urban poverty. And while Bloomberg's fairly transparent lack of regard for the norms and niceties of retail politicking can rankle, it's arguable both that this is a feature rather than a bug, and that it's vastly preferable to the reflexive pandering one would expect, and indeed already sees, from his Democratic opponents. My sense is that neither of them can take the Mayor--though that's not to say that he can't be taken.

And then there's Paterson. His polls are bad and getting worse, and he inspires no confidence--a terrible sign for a guy who hasn't yet run and won statewide on his own. Paterson is getting hammered every day by his putative allies: I receive daily e-mails from the Working Families Party devoted to statewide outrage at his evident reluctance to raise taxes on the very rich, and the powerful health care union is on the air seemingly every night complaining about his proposed cuts in that area. About the only folks who haven't come after the Democratic governor are the Republicans and the business community--groups that at the end of the day are very unlikely to support him. But as Paterson starts to wobble on some of his positions, they'll come too. A sure sign that Paterson has lost control is that colleagues are leaking on him, taking anonymous shots at his preparation and demeanor. His painfully inept handling of the U.S. Senate appointment marked the start of the governor's difficulties; the state budget situation could put him beyond hope for election next year. At this point I can't see voting for him, though if (God forbid) the choice is between him and the undead Rudy Giuliani, I probably will.

Finally, we get to Obama, whose non-State of the Union speech last night seems to have been very well received. I think thus far he's played the politics of recession very well: the public seems to buy into the notion that recovery will take some time, and they appreciate that he, and the Democrats in Congress, are at least throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. What I find interesting here is that for the better part of eight decades now, we've generally voted incumbents out when the economy sucks, and kept them in when times were good--a factor that probably distorted and exaggerated the political skills of every official, from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush to a lot of mayors turned Representatives or governors, who rode the wave in the mid-1990s.

But in a sustained downturn, I think the message is received that reflexive "vote the bums out" won't do anything more than provide a political sugar rush, if that. Franklin Roosevelt obviously managed to win re-election bids when the economy was still objectively bad (if better) in 1936 and 1940; locally, Fiorello LaGuardia won again and again. At the state level, Herbert Lehman held the governorship from 1933 to 1942. Bad times don't mean inescapable political doom, though the perception that one's up the job--a sense people seem to have of Obama and Bloomberg, but not Paterson--is a must.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Welcome to the Jungle
California's horrible budget squeeze was resolved this week with a compromise measure that included a pledge to put on the 2010 ballot a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would replace partisan primaries with an open-primary system in which the top two vote-getters would square off in the general election, regardless of party. The proposal, pushed for by a moderate Republican state senator named Abel Maldonado, is a top priority for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who sits in the Sacramento governor's mansion today only because he didn't have to navigate a Republican primary on his way to the office. (Ah-nuld won a special recall election in 2003, when Golden State voters retired Gray Davis in the wake of a budget crisis that was actually much less severe than what the state just endured.)

The notion behind the reform is that partisan politics in California, and probably most everywhere else as well, tend to favor candidates who are more extreme in their ideology than most voters--simply because in a Democratic primary there's usually more incentive to run further to the left, and amongst Republicans the pressure tilts rightward. Nate Silver, who wrote (unfavorably) about this "jungle primary" proposal yesterday, has a couple good graphs that illustrate the point. Thus you wind up with a California House of Representatives delegation populated with the likes of Linda Sanchez and Lois Capps at the far extremes of the left, and Darryl Issa and various Duncan Hunters toward the rightward fringe. See this National Journal table for a clearer sense of how Cali's Democrats are further left, and Republicans further right, than is the norm: on a scale of 0 to 100 measuring liberalism in 2007 votes, just four of California's 53 Representatives fall between the numbers of 30 and 70 (and two of those are pretty much at 30 and 70 exactly). The same dynamic evidently plays out in state elections--which is a big reason why the California budget mess got so bad.

Early in Mayor Bloomberg's term, he tried to push for non-partisan elections in New York City. At the time, most of us regarded this as a sop to the Republicans to whom the mayor was then trying to show some bona fides; the measure was overwhelmingly defeated. (I'm pretty sure I voted against it personally.) The opposing argument at the time was that by removing party affiliations from the ballot, the measure would take from low-information voters a vital piece of information about a candidate's likely policy positions: you might not know what City Council candidate Jerome Shibotsky stands for, but if he has a D or an R after his name, that gives some clue. My understanding of the California proposal, however, is that party affiliation would still appear on the ballot: it's just that, in a strong Democratic district, the general election would more likely pit a moderate Democrat against a more liberal Democrat. If nothing else, that empowers the Republican voters in that district to support the former rather than waste their votes on the gay-hating gun nut who would be lucky to crack 20 percent.

Silver seems to dislike the proposal because he thinks it would lead to legislatures full of squishy centrists--and admittedly, life in the "Land of a Thousand Liebermans" is a pretty horrifying prospect. I don't agree. For one thing, his take both implies that ideology is the only determinant of who wins elections, and totally rules out the public-education/political-persuasion aspect through which a superior candidate can convince voters over the course of a campaign, and/or term in office. As an example, consider Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan in 1980: at the start of that general election campaign, Carter was pretty clearly closer to the the true middle of the electorate than was Reagan, and the polls had the race close or leaning to Carter through most of the summer and early fall. But Reagan was a better candidate, and obviously had far greater powers of persuasion... or, as some Dems of the time had it, obfuscation. That, combined with the lousy condition of the country, ultimately pushed enough voters toward the conservative Republican that he won in a walk.

Maybe more to the point, I think that the "jungle" system would at least produce officials more respectful of other views, rather than the current endless blood feud style of politics that characterizes the House. And more to Silver's point, a strong case probably could be made that for the Senate especially, this would come closer to the Founders' vision for the upper house than our current party-driven system. California's proposal seems unlikely to pass--both parties will oppose it strongly (if you're a far-left Democrat or far-right Republican, the interest you have in common is that the current system gives you a lot more cover), as will their supporting interest groups that get such solid representation by the more extreme office-holders. If nothing else, the campaign should be a great (final?) test of Schwarzenegger's own powers of persuasion.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

This Just In: Brooklyn Rules
Given my recurring agita this winter about where we live (most recently noted here), I found this article deeply heartening:

[M]y suggestion [is] that Brooklyn is America’s quintessential city, ahead of even Manhattan. First, Brooklyn reflects a much more holistic melding of complimentary land uses, with residential, commercial, institutional, recreational, and retail and entertainment in close proximity of each other in many of its neighborhoods.

Manhattan, on the other hand, is much more Balkanized, with its various land uses much more clustered together, to the point of edging out other, potentially complimentary uses. That is not to say that there are no residential neighborhoods in Manhattan per se: However, Manhattan, like many of San Francisco’s nicer neighborhoods, is a great place to live only if money is not an obstacle. Finally, Manhattan has a much-more transitory culture, whereas Brooklyn has become a preferred place for “New Yorkers” of modest to moderate means to settle down and raise a family.

Like a model city, Brooklyn manages to accommodate its density extremely well. First of all, like San Francisco, Brooklyn is a city of neighborhoods. Bedford Stuyvesant, Bensonhurst, Coney Island, Flatbush, Park Slope and Williamsburg are some of the more notable among Brooklyn’s 32 neighborhoods. It is remarkable, given Brooklyn’s density, that much of its housing stock is comprised of three and four-story brownstones, along with mid-rise apartment and coop buildings. For example, Park Slope and Carroll Gardens, with a combined neighborhood population of almost 105,000 (slightly more residents than South Bend, Indiana and just under the population of Clearwater, Florida), have a wonderful scale both to their residential streets and their main commercial thoroughfare, 5th Avenue. They achieve a very walkable and synergistic mix of homes and businesses, as well as public and institutional uses.

I'm just starting to learn about land use, zoning, and (to a lesser extent) "urban form," ostensibly for a project I'm working on but more truly because it's friggin' fascinating. So this article might mean something different to me in six months than it does today. But if quality of life is like pornography--in that you know it when you see it--the part I bolded is the key, along with the "more holistic melding of complementary land uses" noted in the first graf.

And while I haven't seen numbers on this, I would be very surprised if the more extreme measures of inequality in New York City--we have the largest gap in income between the highest and lowest earning quintiles in the U.S.--are far less pronounced in Brooklyn, and the other outer boroughs, than in Manhattan. Not that income inequality is a huge problem in and of itself, but when coupled with relatively low rates of mobility--meaning that if you're born poor, you're gonna stay poor--it is a huge problem. This is a tougher point to get a quantitative hold on, though: the one study I remember seeing a few years ago looked at the whole country. (The news there was pretty grim.) My guess is that Brooklyn offers considerably more mobility than does Manhattan.

None of which is to say that the problems of affordability and preservation of community that the Center wrote about a few weeks ago aren't real and urgent. The most common refrain heard about critics of development in Brooklyn is that we must resist "Manhattanization": in brief, that Balkanization of neighborhoods and irresistible upward pressure on prices that characterizes the place across the East River. I think almost all New Yorkers would agree, however, that one Manhattan is exactly the right number.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Recessionary Diversions
Despite a schedule that affords me a lot of flexibility, I still usually find myself at the gym in the traditional after-work period, roughly between 5 and 7 PM. It's usually pretty busy around that time, and I've noticed it being more so this winter. A couple nights ago, though, I had some obligations during that part of the day and didn't get there until about 6:45. By the time I left about an hour later, it was so crowded I could barely walk through the place.

Business is booming for Netflix, another winner in our household--though that probably has to do more with Annie and me getting obsessed with "The Wire" than anything else. And I saw this article today suggesting that the video game sector is one of a very few sectors in New York City currently adding jobs; the piece also included a note that sales of games were up 19 percent for all of 2008. My brother manages a GameStop location outside of Philadelphia; he's told me all winter that you'd never know we were in a recession based on the volume of business they've been doing.

Clearly there's a substitution effect--or is it an income effect? Grad school was a long time ago--in operation these days. Obviously home entertainment is on the rise, and in light of what I wrote above I've recently found myself wondering if gym memberships--or even just actual gym use, as opposed to the common practice of getting a membership as a symbol of commitment and then never going--tend to rise when there's an economic downturn. At least in New York, this seems to be the case. (Evidently, however, our moronic governor has other ideas. What was that about rising lifestyle-related health care costs?) Meanwhile, theater and tourism are down, at least here in the city, and restaurants seem to be struggling.

The common trend here seems to be toward solitary pursuits: exercise, video games, even watching a movie at home. (This also makes me wonder if porn is counter-cyclical.) Movie attendance famously spiked during the Great Depression, though how that business will do this time seems less certain; some think it's recession-proof, others not so much. I think Andrew Sullivan wrote something last year about Americans in the current economic contraction, already in effect but then undeclared, again basically looking at a screen in the dark, but this time in their homes, by themselves or in small groups.

Friday, February 06, 2009

In the Middle of New York
CUF this week released a study on the challenges facing the middle class in New York City, marking probably the closest convergence to date of the Center's work and the life experiences of those of us who are employed there. "Reviving the City of Aspiration," which I didn't write but did spend a lot of time editing, has attracted a great deal of press: it was a featured story on this afternoon, had a feature, the New York Daily News ran a whole package of stories on the report, and so on. All the coverage is available from the page linked above.

I think this attention is partly a reflection of the report's quality, and partly a fluke of timing: in a moment of nearly universal economic anxiety, the authors put their finger on the ur-worry of "losing the American dream" in a place that we at least--maybe in a fit of parochialism--consider to be the home of said dream. That the future of the middle class is very likely to be a big theme, maybe the big theme, of this year's mayoral election doesn't hurt either.

Probably because of the current recessionary context, the media coverage has focused on the bad news among the many data points the authors tracked down: the net domestic out-migration from the city in recent years, how much more we New Yorkers are paying for everything from phone service to auto insurance, our longest-in-the-nation commuting times, the fact that the median wage here provided access to the smallest share of homes, 10.7 percent, in any major metropolitan area of the U.S. There's an undercurrent of (fairly gentle) snark in some of the articles, amounting to "Costs a lot to live here, huh? Tell me something I don't know, smart guy."

But there are two points that I worry will get lost in the focus on bummer numbers. The first is that the bigger problem isn't that current "middle class" New Yorkers--a category that merits the quotes because we're really talking about couples and families with incomes nosing over the six-figure mark, who would be well off almost everywhere else but are effectively middle class here owing to the unmatched cost of living--will leave for someplace where their dollar stretches farther. This happens all the time, as Mayor Bloomberg said in his one remark about the report; it's not that big of a deal. What is a big deal is that the city doesn't seem to offer as much upward mobility into the middle class, for those who were raised here in worse circumstances, as it once did. I think we do a very good job of identifying some of the reasons why this is, but diagnosis is the easy part.

The other point, and I readily acknowledge that this is something I can write about here much more easily than the organization can, is that we all as individuals appreciate that numbers alone can't and shouldn't convey what it's like to live here, with its unique mix of pleasures and frustrations. The New York magazine blog post about the report actually got at this, commenting about a chart from the study (titled "Is the American Dream Out of Reach in New York?") showing the number noted above about the small share of homes that are within reach of a household making the median income:

Rough, right? Except that the chart may be a little mislabeled. "Is the American Dream out of reach?" Sure, we may not be able to afford buying homes here. But we grew up in rural areas, and our life goal wasn't necessarily to buy a home. It was to get the hell out of there and one day move to New York, where everything happened. We don't know about you all, but that was our American Dream.

I get that. But as someone who at least sort of fit that description--the Philly 'burbs weren't rural, but nor were they a place where anything, let alone "everything" happened--I also get that your motivations shift as you age and your life circumstances change. Much as I still enjoy aspects of living in New York, and Brooklyn especially, this cold winter has tested my patience with the city, exacerbating all the annoyances of high cost, limited space, and arduous transit that are always present and that the report details; if we ever do start a family, I think we'd want to go. And I hold that thought in my head alongside the memory that, after the last time I left New York in disgust with it eleven years ago, I couldn't get back here fast enough.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

A Taste of Things to Come
I got an e-mail around 4.30 this afternoon from an organization called Picture the Homeless, for which I went to one low-dollar fundraiser at a bar three or four years ago at which I must have written down my e-mail address, because I've been getting their stuff ever since. Usually I delete their stuff without a look, but this one was titled "BREAKING NEWS: Let Our People Go!" I thought that seemed worth a look.

It was. PTH was one of the participating groups in what the Times described as a "boisterous protest" Tuesday morning, culminating in arrests, at a breakfast event for business leaders where Mayor Bloomberg was speaking:

Mr. Bloomberg was about five minutes into his remarks when at least 100 people barged into the main ballroom at the Grand Hyatt New York hotel in Midtown, holding signs that read, “Mayor Bloomberg, Talk to All New Yorkers,” and chanting, “This is what democracy looks like.”

He stood stone-faced as the protesters filed in and surrounded several of the tables packed with bankers, developers and other business leaders who had paid up to $249 a head to hear him and others speak.
One of the protesters, Wanda Imasuen, of the Brooklyn-based organization Families United for Racial and Economic Equality, said that it was the exclusivity of the audience that spurred hers and several other groups representing low-income and immigrant city residents to disrupt the event.

“We don’t have a voice, we’re not at the table and we demand to be at the table,” Ms. Imasuen said. “We demand that the mayor gives us a meeting, not for corporate America to decide the fate of all New Yorkers.”

I actually attended an event last night at the New York City District Council of Carpenters building downtown, on "green jobs" and the federal stimulus proposal, at which a questioner mentioned this Bloomberg event today. Like many who speak up at such things, she seemed a little... well, let's go with "overwrought." The gist of her question was about why "labor wasn't at the table" in a conversation regarding the Future of New York City, which is how the conference was branded by Crain's New York Business magazine. The panelists weren't unduly upset; one of them, the political director for the Carpenters, stated "for the record" that, yes, the union was and is interested in the future of New York City, but they didn't worry that they wouldn't be a part of it because they weren't attending a breakfast that Crain's was doing. "Crain's has a lot of breakfasts," the director said.

But while some of us snickered at the exchange, the fact of this protest today makes me think she was onto something. People feel cut out of the action here: they see the mayor overturning term limits without needing any recourse to voters who had repeatedly supported the two-terms-and-done standard. They see Wall Street firms squandering unimaginable sums... and then getting billions more showered on them by the federal government with no strings attached. (I know there's another side to that story; I'm just talking about popular perception here.) The notion picks up steam that the rich and powerful--the people enjoying a swank breakfast at the Grand Hyatt New York hotel--are playing by a different set of rules. (As one admittedly oversimplified take on just how different, compare the state-of-the-art "Future" website, linked above, with that of FUREE, the group to which the protester quoted by the Times belongs. I could have designed and coded that thing. In 1999.)

If the whole game is rigged, the relative costs and benefits of doing something like barging into that room, waving signs and shouting slogans, start to look different than they do when you're convinced that you can get a fair hearing through the traditional channels. The eight arrests made at the scene, including someone from Picture the Homeless, will prove more than worthwhile to those detained given the publicity and, probably, fundraising surge likely to follow.

A few minutes later this afternoon, a colleague mentioned that Bloomberg has hired a prominent liberal advocate in the city to advise on his campaign. Reaction in the office ranged from "this proves he knows he's vulnerable" to "this is one more indication that he's just trying to scare potential opponents out of the race by co-opting key voices and locking up talent." There was also a bit of sentiment that this individual was "selling out"... though the person who raised that point also conceded that s/he might do the same if given the same opportunity, and that the advocate's likely next position--either in Bloomberg's third-term City Hall or his foundation--would provide a platform to do a lot of good.

As things stand right now, I don't see how Bloomberg loses this year; he's got too much money and too solid of a record, and the two guys most likely to run against him are, for very different reasons, fatally flawed candidates. (Personally, I'm still undecided about the race; the question remains unanswered whether a Bloomberg convinced of his own infallibility and ossified in his thinking is preferable to a Democrat who comes pre-corrupted by all the compromises New York City Democrats must make before they can get to that level.) But there is real anger and resentment in the city these days. I would be very surprised if Tuesday morning's protest is the last we see this year.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Thoughts from the just-concluded not-quite-four-hour sportertainketing extravaganza:

  • Watching the first quarter-plus, I was kicking myself for not having bet this game. The way I thought the Super Bowl would go was that the Steelers would find mismatches against the porous Arizona passing defense, Parker would run well enough to keep the Cardinals honest in defensive playcalls, and Roethlisberger would unleash some of his patented Elway Favre McNabb Roethlisberger magic for a few big plays. And that the Cardinals, confused by Pittsburgh's defensive alignments and unable to pass-protect against the 3-4, would make some mistakes and lose their composure. Up through the Steelers went ahead 10-0, that was the game.

  • Actually, pieces of that story--the Big Ben improvisations, the Cardinals making mistakes and losing their composure (in terms of penalties)--did persist. But Arizona made the Steelers pay for blanket-covering Larry Fitzgerald through the second quarter, moving the ball with ease. They should have gone into halftime tied or ahead; that they didn't was owing to one of the greatest football plays I've ever seen, Steelers jumbo defender James Henderson making an interception in the end zone and, with fantastic blocks thrown throughout, steaming the length of the field for a pick-six to end the first half and give the Steelers a ten-point lead.

  • This game might have represented the longest I've gone in my adult life watching the TV without changing the channel. I left the commercials on; I watched the halftime show. The trend of the commercials during the first half seemed to be selling products via entertainments that featured slapstick comedy violence that implausibly had no consequences. There were four or five examples, but the only one I recall clearly was a Doritos ad in which a man on a busy city street makes wishes regarding his surroundings as he eats Doritos chips: a hot woman's outer clothes fly off, a cop transforms into a rabbit, and so on. As the ad ends, he looks into his bag--no chips left. As he looks back up, a bus slams into him at full speed. Cut to black for text or product spot, then back through the front window of the bus, where our man is plastered but moving around unharmed. Oh, and there was a golfclub to the nuts in there somewhere.

  • Bruce Springsteen played four songs--two old warhorse tunes from "Born to Run," a new song that he segued into without introduction that was obviously meant to suggest continuity between his classic and contemporary stuff, and "Glory Days" which he somewhat clumsily rejiggered with football-ish lyrics and some in-song banter with Sylvio Dante. He and the ban were entertaining, as always; Springsteen is a legitimately superb entertainer. Annie loved it without reservation; I, being something of an ass, went back and forth between thinking it was great and resenting the whole notion of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band playing at the Super Bowl for quasi-Bolshevist and other irrational reasons I can't fully articulate.

  • The Steelers were a little reminiscent of the Eagles throughout the game: they couldn't quite close the deal in the red zone, settling for field goals when they could, maybe should have had touchdowns. Then, up 13 in the fourth quarter, they couldn't win battles on the line and grind down the clock, despite John Madden's repeated declarations that we were about to see "Steeler football," which evidently means running the ball.

    • Don't get me wrong: Madden did a good job, as he always does. Calling a Super Bowl is an interesting assignment: on the one hand it's a pinnacle of football that the big fans are immersed in, so you want to point out the nuances of an offensive lineman's footwork or throw in details about how safety Troy Polomalu is often out of the play because he's neutralizing Larry Fitzgerald down the field. On the other, the audience is literally a few dozen times larger than a regular-season game, so you have to keep a lot of neophytes engaged, if not fully informed. It takes both the right type of broadcast personality and the right instinct as to when to add analysis and when to let the action talk to pull that off and make it work for both audiences. Michaels and Madden did this better than their CBS or FOX colleagues usually do. (And I'll admit to a little pride at NBC, where I worked when they last aired a Super Bowl eleven years ago, doing a great job with the broadcast.)

  • Meanwhile, the Steelers must have gotten frustrated at Kurt Warner's ability to make plays even after they took away Fitzgerald, because I think they started zoning or single-covering Fitzgerald... who's the greatest receiver I've ever seen in terms of being a force in play, and seemed to be willing the Cardinals to victory late.

    • As Fitzgerald made play after play in the fourth quarter, NBC cut to his father... not in the stands, but in the press box. Larry Fitzgerald Sr. is a sports columnist in Minneapolis, and he did not crack a smile or pump a fist as his son took over the game. The rule is no cheering in the press box; when I was in the business, at NBC events or sometimes just because I could get a seat, I had a hard time always keeping it, and I never had any flesh and blood in uniform. i really couldn't have been more impressed by this.

  • After the Cardinals registered a safety of Roethlisberger with about four minutes left to cut it to 20-16, I really thought they might win; after Fitzgerald's second touchdown I thought they actually would. But Ben Roethlisberger, faced with basically the same situation Donovan McNabb was in two weeks ago--trailing the Cardinals by one score with time short but sufficient in the fourth quarter--was pretty much perfect. He evidently wasn't named the MVP, but I thought he should have been--and you just know that McNabb is going to suffer by comparison to both quarterbacks, who admittedly were great pretty much throughout.

  • Speaking of which, I dislike Cardinals QB Kurt Warner in large part because of his relentless, obnoxious proselytizing in his post-game interviews, etc. As they were coming back, and particularly when they cut to his perhaps even more obnoxious wife, I kept thinking about how I imagined both Warners were giving it up pleading to Touchdown Jesus. I believe I limited myself to only two or three Where's your God/Messiah now, Warner?s over the course of the game, but it was fun to have as a little sub-narrative throughout.

  • This was the fifth out of the last six Super Bowls, excepting only the Colts/Bears game two years ago, that turned out to be pretty thrilling and competitive. I wouldn't have guessed it--my prediction was Steelers 35, Cardinals 17, and I thought it might actually be more of a blowout than that--but there you go. Arizona's coaches and players put together a deeply improbable run that, if they'd finished it, would have been comparable to what the Giants did last year; ultimately a good story and some drama is all you can hope for, something that justifies the bombast and money and hype.

So now the two-plus weeks until spring training, the true dead zone of sports. I'll have to somehow entertain myself.