EXCELSIOR! THE SUPER BOWL AGAIN                                ….

                                                         By   SySchechtman


         Sometime early in Februarythe nextinstallmentof the epic masculine struggleknown as the Super Bowlwill be upon us again.  Super Bowlnumber41(XLI)on Sunday, February Fourth, in Miami, at Dolphin Stadium.  Thegame is a total sell outand speculatorsare asking about $1,000 a ticket.The estimated televisionaudience will approach 90 million people ---by far the single largestTV eventever--and advertisers will pay more than one million dollars for a30 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 pocketlargecorporationsare lining up to sponsor this mega event again, even thoughthe fee has been raised somewhat over last year.  The audience involved, they feel, is a really good market, composedmainly of manyintent, involved people;even the women, about 20 to30%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 territorythat is traditionally football’s preserve because of their over expansioninto 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 inthe absolute literal sense, too,inthat25or 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. LouisCardinalsin the National league balanced by the St. Louis Brownsin the American league.   There was a two hour time difference between New York and this western outpostand we kids at that time waited agonizinglyas our baseball heroes from New York (Giants, Dodgersor Yankees) playedalmost past our juvenile bedtimes.Currentlywe have 30 teamsin both leaguesbutcertainly no commensurate increasein quality ball playersto staff these teams adequately.And even for eastern adultsLos Angeles or San Francisco starting timesare only for insomniacs.

    The  need for increased player personnelby both baseball and football—especially afterthe expansions-- is metdifferently by the two leagues.Baseball hasthe“farm system”’a large networkof teams ofyounger and less skilled players,owned and directed by the variousteams,in leagues gradedaccording to the player’s ability,whilefootballhas 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 equitabledistribution ofplayer strength in footballand the inhibition of long  lasting dynasties because of excessive spending for high salariedstarsbeyond thefinancial strength of some of the franchises,especiallyby 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 footballthere is a rigid salary cap,the total amountthat each

team can spend annually.     And, most importantly is equalsharingof TV revenue  among all teamswith the limited and larger TV markets dividing the revenue pie equally.    

         Unfortunatelyfor footballit is not possible to share the injury problemequally.    Andinjuries are far from uncommon in this “smash mouth”super contact sport.   Baseballhas it’s shareofserious mishaps too,but not the same as the planned bodily crunch style hits that good tackling and blocking entail.   Sunday is game day for mostof the NFL and Monday is not only an off daybut most probably   an almost universal stay in bed day for many playersand their black, blue and purple battle  scarred bodies.    Relatively controlled studies seem to showthat longevityis not affected by playing in the NFL,but the frequency ofdisabling arthritic joints andswollen and distorted limbs is very great.

         But comes the first autumnaltwinge in the air and the American human animal is conditioned to think football!  It has been said that baseballis the idealized pastime,with no time constraints as far as time limits, and is sometimes slow and boring;football isthe realistic present,the here and now,exciting and ever interesting—and somewhat dangerous.  Indeed, our presentSecretary of State, Condolezza Rice,is an avidfootballfan,and to herfootball basicshave a territorial reality, as befits a true diplomat, occupying the foes’ ground as much as possibleby many morefirst downs and thus bottling them updeep in their own territoryand thus making them ineffectual, far from the home goal line and territory.But football has also sardonically been characterized asgroup   sadomasochismpar excellance,each play being followed by the teamgroup meeting—called a huddle--to evaluate what further damageto inflict on the foe.  Baseball has its owntime allowed slow downs, butthey aremore drawn out,and there is no limit, seemingly,between the time allowed for each pitch, so thata pitcher can procrastinate in his war of nerveswith the batter.  But this is a many times boring, humdrum mental battle,notthe suspenseful battle of wits struggleit is touted to be.  Footballis a time constrained 60 minute game—with several rationed “time outs”—and the excitement mountsas the opponents “battle the clock”as well aseach other,even    unto that last second “Hail Marypass” that sometimes pulls the game outfor theseeming loser.

         But most importantlywe have aconsiderable heritageof aiding and abetting lawlessnessand violence  in our culture.  Thecowboyculture, glorified and venerated in the formation of the west (especially by Hollywood)was a gun tolerantsociety, and the local townsheriffthe heroic defenderof the townspeopleagainstthe predatoryrustlers and land swindlers, down to the last shootoutat the end.   But the culminatingshoot outswere against any of the Indian tribesthat happened to be in the area,almost always in war paint and portending villainousdeeds by theirvery presence.And allowing for almost peaceful and “legal”expropriationof the land from their Indianoccupiers. Andwhen that last land frontierbecame non existent ,  we sometimes looked the other waywhen 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 progenyin“normal” society.  

         But on a cool, crisp, sunny Sunday in autumnas we watch that uniquely shaped oblate spheroid known as a football, andmade only in America in Ada , Ohio,in the Wilson factory there,expertlythrown by the quarterbackin a beautiful tight spiraldown field fifty yards or so to the fleeing wide receiver or tight end,usuallyflanked by one ortwo defenderswaving vainlyor successfully toimpede its ultimate completion,our hopes and fearstranscend mere mortal limitations.  For a moment or twowe are distracted from the sight of the fallen quarterback, flattenedon his back first by the oncoming pass rush, and then eagerlyrisingto see if hispasswas 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,althoutransientgloryof theSuper Bowl.