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.


Chris said...

At least Warner is one of the Super Jesus guys that funnels his ideas into things like charities. Dude actually gave over a million bucks?!

Though I sense he probably sent money for Prop 8.

David said...

Didn't know that. Yeah, point in his favor. (As if he cares what some godless jerk on Teh Internets thinks.)