Emptying the notebook on the NFL-Fox production in Dallas

May we dredge the barrel of such wretched hyperbole and mindless chatter that might still be left to dispense on the subject of the penultimate football game, Soupey XLV.

It was a borderline gem, just not quite all it might have been or as some expected. It was messy around the edges. You could argue the Steelers beat themselves. The officiating was erratic. All of which detracts from the portrait of greatness everyone yearns to proclaim.

But it was close enough. You expect no less from such royalty as the Packers and Steelers. St. Vincent must be beaming up in the Great Beyond although the fact that only five chaps got hauled off on their shields made it relatively tame by Coach Lombardi’s epic standards of manhood and virtue. Still in the end, there was enough true grit on display to satisfy everyone.

One never roots against the Rooneys, the best owners in football and maybe all of sport. But they can handle losing to the Packers, one suspects. If football has a Mecca, it’s either Pittsburgh or Green Bay.
Some other observations on Soupey XLV, which many are declaring “the last football game of the year.”
Fox unfurls the flag

Mind you, we don’t want to come on like too much of a stick in the mud, but did you too find the patriotic tub-thumping of the pre-game show – dubbed by ever agenda-driven Fox Network as a “Rally for America” – to be a bit thin, contrived, and artificial? The elaborate Declaration of Independence pageant, for example, was nice and it was swell to see old friends Artie Donovan and Jim Plunkett playing dignified roles.

But what precisely was the point other than to drape the NFL in the purest of national values as the implied protector of our freedoms in which role, of course, the Fox Network is pleased to be an equal partner? Not that one expects the ideologues at Fox and the NFL’s gleeful self-promoters to know better but it isn’t smart to mix your metaphors. There’s a time and place for everything and this wasn’t it.

Obama-O’Reilly bit a puzzler
In somewhat the same vein there was the Bill O’Reilly interview with the president at the White House and the essential question again was “Why?” There was no legitimate news purpose or value. Clearly it was intended only to promote O’Reilly and serve his colossal ego. Just why the president should feel obliged to co-operate with such nonsense is harder still to figure.

Understand that Biff O’Reilly – now the superstar of the Fox stable but once a relatively humble television back-bencher in Boston – is a redoubtable showboat. Having had the pleasure of working with him a couple of years, I claim the right to say so. So, given such a glorious opportunity, the Biffer rose to the occasion and hogged the show, interrupting Mr. Obama on every one of his answers with a sauciness that bordered on disrespect.

To those of us who had the pleasure of working with Biff, it came as no surprise and it surely must have amused the moguls at Fox, whose yearning to rattle the presidential cage whenever possible is indisputable legend. But there remains the question: What did any of this have to do with football?

Taking the measure of Roethlisberger
Then there was the matter of the Steelers’ quarterback who made himself a marked man. You can understand how much of America was doubtless delighted to see Ben Roethlisberger ingloriously fail in the end. Unquestionably, he asked for it. The business of passing such judgment may be awkward, but how can you quibble? He stamped himself a major league low-life with his craven off-season misadventures that humiliated the proud Rooneys and almost got him banned from the game. His season was laden with little acts of contrition but it wasn’t washing.

Nonetheless there are limits, even to a moral outrage that’s justified. During Soupeyweek in Dallas, Roethlisberger took his offensive line out to dinner and the group ended up in a piano bar where the quarterback dropped near a thousand bucks setting up the boys. The story – avidly reported by frothing sports journalists – briefly caused quite a ripple with various columnists climbing high on their high horse with their premise being that nightspots don’t bring out the best in Ben, a well-documented fact.

Now, this is no defense of him or his behavior, but based on my experience in the business I get uncomfortable when sports reporters pontificate about the evils of people hanging out in barrooms. Maybe the business has changed since my heyday but I’m not sure it’s a road the boys in this band should want to go down, if you know what I mean.

Despite all the problems Roethlisberger brought upon himself, he performed admirably on the field and led his team to the brink of another title. It was a tad remarkable under the circumstances. It would be in no way minimizing his mistakes to concede as much.

Then there was Sir Aaron …
On the other hand the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers, the new Galahad of the quarterback dodge, has a howitzer for an arm, does he not? Some of those passes his receivers seem to be dropping may have actually been uncatchable.

Deion? Ridiculous
Among Soupey-week’s lilting traditions is the anointing of new NFL immortals. The small (about 60 electors) group that makes the pro-football picks invariably boasts that its process is better than baseball’s, which is balderdash. With seven or eight choices guaranteed to make it every year, it’s easy to please everybody sooner or later.

This year they capitulated to the charms of one of the biggest frauds of his era. That would be the shamelessly bombastic cornerback Deion Sanders, who called himself “Prime Time” but who hasn’t yet made a clean tackle. I never encountered a true football man who believed Sanders was a great player. But the media fell for his bogus act and still do. For Sanders to get the call over a true talent and class act like Curtis Martin, the super running back of the Pats and Jets, is ridiculous.

Patriotism squared
For those who feared there were no more “firsts” left for Soupey to establish, there was the arresting spectacle of SB XLV becoming the first American sporting mega-event to be launched by two patriotic arias. First a brunette respectfully sang “America” and then a screeching blonde rocker attempted the national anthem, booting some words in the process. It was touching. Say this for the producers of Soupey: They can rarely be accused of subtlety.

March 4 looms large
Lastly, underscoring the entire week was the grim prospect of the labor showdown. Unmistakably, the owners have edged closer to a lockout next month with the all but official blessings of the commissioner. It was unfortunate that Czar Roger Goodell chose to make where he stands absolutely clear. All the world knows the commissioner is a pawn of the owners, but Goodell didn’t need to announce it from the rooftops and that’s what he did in Dallas.

In the course of the big week the players lost huge ground in their battle. Two rulings by special judicial masters – regarding players’ health insurance (denied) and the massive slush fund the T.V networks will afford the owners (upheld) – went against them and those issues were vital. All of this diminished the players’ bargaining position and if one believes they’ll never roll over this time, that means the chances of a settlement by March 4 have been dashed.

So, if it’s indeed the last game for a long time, they went out on a high note. Not the highest possible, but high enough.