EXCELSIOR! THE SUPER BOWL AGAIN                                   ….

                                                           By   Sy  Schechtman

         

          Sometime early in February  the next  installment  of the epic masculine struggle  known as the Super Bowl  will be upon us again.   Super Bowl  number  41(XLI)  on Sunday, February Fourth, in Miami, at Dolphin Stadium.   The  game is a total sell out  and speculators  are asking about $1,000 a ticket.  The estimated television  audience will approach 90 million people ---by far the single largest  TV event  ever--and advertisers will pay more than one million dollars for a  30 second spot commercial.     Indeed, at any given time if those who tune in and out  are also counted,  the total of viewers could well be over 140 million for the four hour show—including the spectacular half time show.   Many deep pocket  large  corporations  are lining up to sponsor this mega event again, even though  the fee has been raised somewhat over last year.   The audience involved,  they feel,  is a really good market, composed  mainly of many  intent, involved people;  even the women, about 20 to  30%  of the audience now,  are getting more than superficially involved.  Many south Florida hotels in the area have also raised their prices considerably for this event.

          The comparable competing sporting attraction in this country, of course, is baseball.   Seasonally they more or less complement each other.  Although there is now,   unfortunately, some overlapping, mainly because of baseball’s encroaching   on the autumnal territory  that is traditionally football’s preserve  because of  their over expansion  into the  western hinterlands.  Resulting in the baseball classic—the World Series—being playing in late October weather, perfect for a good football game.    Over expansion in  the absolute literal sense, too,  in   that  25  or so years ago there were a mere 16 teams in the majors, eight in the National league and eight in the American league.   And the “west” ended at the Mississippi river,  with the St. Louis  Cardinals  in the National league balanced by the St. Louis Browns  in the American league.   There was a two hour time difference between New York and this western outpost  and we kids at that time waited agonizingly  as our baseball  heroes from New York (Giants, Dodgers  or Yankees) played  almost past our juvenile bedtimes.  Currently  we have 30 teams  in both leagues  but  certainly no commensurate increase  in quality ball players  to staff these teams adequately.  And even for eastern adults  Los Angeles or San Francisco starting times  are only for insomniacs.

     The   need for increased player personnel  by both baseball and football—especially after  the expansions-- is met  differently  by the two leagues.  Baseball has  the  “farm system”’  a large network  of teams of  younger and less skilled players,  owned and directed by the various  teams,  in leagues graded  according to the player’s ability,  while  football  has the whole nation of college players who are selected in an annual preseason draft, with the weakest teams getting first pick and the most successful picking last.   The  “first shall be last principle”  has led to the more equitable  distribution of  player strength in football  and the inhibition of long   lasting dynasties because of excessive spending for high salaried  stars  beyond the  financial strength of some of the franchises,  especially  by Mr. Steinbrenner’s Yankees,   who have, in the last decade,  always finished in the playoffs and won four world series, and have always had the highest payrolls in the business.   Also,  in football  there is a rigid salary cap,  the total amount  that each

team can spend annually.     And, most importantly is equal  sharing  of TV revenue   among all teams  with the limited and larger TV markets dividing the revenue pie equally.    

          Unfortunately  for football  it is not possible to share the injury problem  equally.    And  injuries are far from uncommon in this “smash mouth”  super contact sport.    Baseball  has it’s share  of  serious mishaps too,  but not the same as the planned bodily crunch style hits that good tackling and blocking entail.    Sunday is game day for most  of the NFL and Monday is not only an off day  but most probably    an almost universal stay in bed day for many players  and their black, blue and purple battle   scarred bodies.     Relatively controlled studies seem to show  that longevity  is not  affected  by playing in the NFL,  but the frequency of  disabling arthritic joints and  swollen and distorted limbs is very great.

          But comes the first autumnal  twinge in the air and the American human animal is conditioned to think football!   It has been said that baseball  is the idealized pastime,  with no time constraints as far as time limits, and is sometimes slow and boring;  football is  the realistic present,  the here and now,  exciting and ever interesting—and somewhat dangerous.   Indeed, our present  Secretary of State, Condolezza Rice,  is an avid  football  fan,  and to her  football basics  have a territorial reality, as befits a true diplomat, occupying the foes’ ground as much as possible  by many more  first downs  and thus bottling them up  deep in their own territory  and thus making them ineffectual, far from  the home goal line and territory.   But football has also sardonically been characterized as  group    sadomasochism  par excellance,  each play being followed by the team  group meeting—called a huddle--  to evaluate what further damage  to inflict on the foe.    Baseball has its own  time allowed slow downs, but  they are  more drawn out,  and there is no limit, seemingly,  between the time allowed for each pitch, so that  a pitcher can procrastinate in his war of nerves  with the batter.   But this is a many times boring, humdrum mental battle,  not  the suspenseful battle of wits struggle  it is touted to be.   Football  is a time constrained 60 minute game—with several rationed “time outs”—and the excitement mounts  as the opponents “battle the clock”  as well as  each other,  even    unto that last second “Hail Mary  pass” that sometimes pulls the game out  for the  seeming loser. 

          But most importantly  we have  a  considerable heritage  of aiding and abetting lawlessness  and violence   in our culture.   The  cowboy  culture, glorified  and venerated in the formation of the west (especially by Hollywood)  was a gun tolerant  society, and the local town  sheriff  the heroic defender  of the townspeople  against  the predatory  rustlers and land swindlers, down to the last shootout  at the end.    But the culminating  shoot outs  were against any of the Indian tribes   that happened to be in the area,  almost always in war paint  and portending villainous  deeds by their  very presence.  And allowing for almost peaceful and “legal”  expropriation  of the land from their Indian  occupiers.   And  when that last land frontier  became non existent ,   we sometimes looked the other way  when established authority contravened our inmost venal urges, as with the corruption and crime associated with prohibition,  and today with the complete fascination we have with Tony Soprano and his crooked path between crime as a livelihood and respectability and acceptance for his progeny  in  “normal” society.  

          But on a cool, crisp, sunny  Sunday in autumn  as we watch that uniquely shaped oblate spheroid known as a football, and  made only  in America in Ada , Ohio,  in the Wilson factory there,  expertly  thrown by the quarterback  in a beautiful tight spiral  down field fifty yards or so to the fleeing wide receiver or tight end,  usually  flanked by one or  two defenders  waving vainly  or successfully to  impede its ultimate completion,  our hopes and fears  transcend mere mortal limitations.   For a moment or two  we are distracted from the sight of the fallen quarterback, flattened  on his back first by the oncoming pass rush, and then eagerly  rising  to see if his  pass  was completed.    

          And that is still America today.   Fascinated with the infinite possibility,   the potential,  even in the face of   great risk.   What we still call the pursuit of happiness.    And the supreme,  althou  transient  glory  of the  Super Bowl.