Illustration by Brad Beatson
Denver (-2.5) vs. Seattle
First off, let’s get something out of the way: the Super Bowl is awful.
As garish and crass and corporate as football can be, as awful as the consequences of its on-field violence often are, I like to defend the sport. Football is exciting, its rules provide room for complex, ever-shifting strategies, and, as with any sport, you occasionally witness moments of transcendence that you can carry with you for years. There are a whole host of reasons that you might think the NFL is just the monetization of bloodsport, and you wouldn’t be wrong—though Mike Tanier of Sports on Earth has a great long essay up this week that provides reasons for “realistic optimism” about the game and the league. It’s worth reading, because the NFL deserves to be defended, just as it deserves to be attacked.
The Super Bowl, however, doesn’t deserve to be defended, not that I think anyone is volunteering for the task. It’s an overproduced, overhyped, overlong made-for-TV event that doubles as a national holiday celebrating shitty trucks, watery beer, and fried dough. Everything about it is polished and buffed until it’s gleaming and seamless—an utter and abject embrace of the biggest brands in the world. When an ad is rejected from the proceedings, it’s not because the product is controversially manufactured in occupied Palestine, it’s because it mentions other companies in a negative light. And when a halftime show that’s essentially a simulation of a sexual act crosses an arbitrary line and actually shows a flash of forbidden breasts, it sets off a massive controversy.
The Super Bowl is a plastic, oiled, nearly naked women gyrating on a stripper pole who screams at you constantly for having dirty thoughts. It’s a robot made of meat sitting on top of a mountain of money, and the money is on fire, and the robot is singing a song about how great America is. It’s a movie that goes on forever about a massive steel bowl that gets built in the middle of nowhere and then starts filling up with confetti, then the confetti turns into blood while everyone cheers. It’s impossible to describe the Super Bowl. Open your mouth to say something and your mouth will keep opening, impossibly wide, until a Chevy Tahoe comes rolling out of your throat.
The on-the-ground realities of the Super Bowl are grimmer and more grubby than the televised product: the lawsuits over ticket prices, the strippers flown in from Russia to entertain the visiting broligarchs, the fans unable to walk to the stadium or tailgate because of the rings of guns and men and surveillance cameras that surround every major event in America now. In person, the Super Bowl is a massive roiling wave of bureaucracy that makes everyone bitter. When you’re watching it on television, you’re removed from the traffic snarls and strange branded street fairs. But you have to contend with watching whatever jumble of imagery and holograms and Pepsi-produced inanity will be created by Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
I’m well aware that grumbling about Bruno Mars and the Super Bowl ads I’m coming off like a perpetually sighing dad who only listens to music in the car, with that music being at least 50 percent Springsteen. And like that dad, I think there’s something crass about this brand-focused secular day of feasting. What values are we lifting up on Super Bowl Sunday? We get together with our friends to stare at a TV and watch other men compete. We do nothing except gripe, or comment vapidly on commercials as if they were works of art. We get drunk, we stuff fatty food in our gullets.
Which isn’t to say that, like, every holiday marked on the calendars has to be full of volunteering and mindfulness and speaking to one another about feelings. But even as a bacchanal the Super Bowl is pure garbage. No one is going to work up enough emotion to properly feel wrath or lust—the sexuality on display during commercials and the halftime show will be of the glossy, unreal variety. The deadly sins we’re going with on Sunday are sloth, gluttony, greed, and maybe envy or pride if we get all wrapped up in the spirit of materialism showcased by the ads. That’s some lazy-ass sinning.
Even when we devote an entire day to letting our worst impulses take over, it turns out our worst impulses are basically all about lying in a half-drunken haze and watching whatever comes on after the game. (I think it’s the “The New Girl” this year.)
I don’t really have a problem with the Super Bowl being a quasi-religious event organized around football, but I do wish the ceremonies that came with it were better. Instead of having a pop star gyrate through a PG-rated dance medley while holograms of Elvis and the Beatles (both deceased and living Beatles) give everyone a thumbs-up, why not open the space to true rituals showcasing the agony and intensity of the game we’re witnessing and the power we can harness when we come together as one nation under insanity? Yes, get GWAR in there with their costumes and insanity, but why not also bring in a local elected official—I’m thinking Andrew Cuomo would do it this year—to stand on the logo at the center of the field, sacrifice an ox that has been prepared its entire life for this duty, then drink the still-hot blood from its throat as it dies? This would be strange the first couple of years, but then we’d get used to it and the crowd would go nuts for it, screaming wordlessly as something that looks like the scene from Apocalypse Now where Kurtz’s men sacrifice a musk ox unfolds on television, on perfect artificial turf.
“Now that’s something to look out for, if you’re a quarterback who’s never played in the Super Bowl before,” Troy Aikman will knowingly intone to Joe Buck. “All that blood near midfield—you gotta watch out so you don’t slip.”
Luckily there is, underneath all that pomp and weirdness, a football game being played, and a good one at that—the Seahawks’ defense, Peyton Manning’s offense, etc. There are loads of previews out there if you want to read about strategy and matchups, including Bill Barnwell’s and Mike Tanier’s, so I won’t go into that stuff. Those guys know more about football than I ever will, anyway, and I’ve just written 1,000+ words about blood sacrifices and meat robots, so it’s not like anyone is reading this going, Yeah but what about the Seahawks’ Cover 3?!
All I know is that, thanks to my Seattle roots, I care more about this game than I probably should. It’s slightly embarrassing to have an earnest emotional interest in a game that is just a shiny ball of brands; it’s like openly weeping during The Expendables 4. But football is a thing that, no matter how strange, a lot of us care about, even if that kernel of caring is buried under a lot of flashing lights and bullshit. The outcome of this Super Bowl will probably make some grown men cry, it’ll give children something they’ll remember for a long time, it’ll lead to a lot of whooping and raging and soul-searching, and a bunch of people in either Seattle or Denver will find themselves deliriously happy.
So hopefully we can remember that—the happiness, the celebration, the sheer intensity of the last 60 minutes of football we’ll see this season—while forgetting almost everything around it. The brands and Bruno Mars and the unambitious gluttony will stay with us for a long time, but football is over, at least for now. As silly as it sounds, I’m going to miss it.
Previous week’s record: 0-2
Overall record: 124-119-7
All lines taken from FootballLocks.com