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One last turn: Reflections on a gridiron rout

Out of a sense of obligation if nothing more, and in deference to America’s second most favorite secular holiday (right after Halloween), we offer some (hopefully) last observations on Soupy XLVIII, laced (naturally) with the usual snide asides.

And we are left with this question: “Is it too soon to begin dreading Soupy L, just two years hence?” Given the craving for wretched over-statement that the marriage of the NFL and Network TV happily features, the 50th may eclipse the Bicentennial in terms of sheer bombast. Here’s betting you can hardly wait.

Otherwise, what can you say about an alleged big game that was essentially over eight seconds after it started? Not much, nor will we try. Sorry, Seattle! Cakewalks are pretty for those on the right side of the score. The rest of us prefer a genuinely tight and dramatic championship ballg ame worthy of the name. Wonderful defense wins championships but in the end, beat-downs are boring. East of the Cascades this one will be forgotten, and real quick.

On the other hand, had it not been for a near ludicrous 20-some seconds of pure Bronco folly – that would be the first eight of the first half and the first twelve of the second – there might have been the faint chance of something amusing. Some games aren’t as close as they seem; others not as awful. This one wavered somewhere between said weak extremes.

But circumlocution is unnecessary. Denver was dreadful. Period! How much of that was of their own making and how much ought be credited to the Seahawks’ terribly swift and smashing defense, which played near perfectly? ‘Tis ever the question, rarely easily answered. When a team ingloriously flops, it makes the other guy look much better than the case may be. Maybe we should demand a re-match.   

This was the most pathetically one-sided Soupy rendering since those pre-Kraft-Belichick-Brady era Patriots were brutally humiliated by the re-incarnated Monsters of the Midway, the Chicago Bears under the benevolent aegis of Mike Ditka, in Soupy XX (1986). In that one, it was memorably Bears 46, Pats 10 and every bit as gruesome, on the field, and dreary, in terms of entertainment, as Seattle’s giddy romp over Denver.

And in further terms of never having been – for more than eight seconds – remotely a true contest, it was almost as awful as the shocking 73-0 romp of Chicago’s original Monsters of the Midway over the Washington Redskins in the 1940 championship showdown. I remember it well.
Now to the footnotes:

Admit it, my dear Patriots’ fans. You squirmed when you saw the irrepressible Pete Carroll guffawing and cartwheeling on the sidelines, looking like those USC pom-pom-waving cheerleaders with whom he spent a decade re-tooling his act after failing in Foxborough. If Pete now bestrides the gridiron world, in our town he’ll always be the amiable messenger-boy who passed the baton from Maestro Parcells to Maestro Belichick. Doubtless, he now couldn’t care less.

In a pre-game interview that was otherwise notable only for interviewer Jimmy Johnson’s fawning approach, Coach Carroll essentially predicted that Percy Harvin would be his “secret weapon.” The Broncos should have been watching.    

Regarding Soupy Week: Likely jarring to the owners, if otherwise little noted, was the latest tidbit leaking from the US District Court bench of Judge Anita Brody, who is in charge of the Super Fund deliberations that have so far ordered a $765 million settlement for lingering injury claims by retired NFL cannon fodder. The judge has re-opened the case and it’s increasingly clear she has concluded more is needed. But how much more?

In the midst of all the big week’s merriment there was word that Brody now fears the $765 million will only provide 10 percent of what would fully meet the ex-players’ legitimate claims. Does that mean she may order payment of about $7.6 billion? The initial sum was a pittance. This would be serious money, even for high-pocketed NFL moguls. The issue remains negotiable. But you can bet such rumors may have ruined the lodge brother’s Soupy Week.

IV. Having Joe Namath emerge from the closet to declare to CBS that he fears he’s experiencing growing dementia from old football trauma likely added to their displeasure. Near a half century after his magic moment, Broadway Joe still enjoys special stature. If his grievances aren’t as tragic as those of anonymous linemen, the distinction will be lost on the sporting public. Joe’s now attempting to back-pedal. It won’t wash. To those who knew him when, it’s clear he’s slipped.

V. An interesting stat: The average price of a ticket (presumably not including the more outrageous scalping) was $2,645.12. In an odd headline, the New York Times proclaimed this “a bargain.” A closer reading indicates the price plummeted to relative “bargain” levels in the last few days, hence the headline. But in a world full of shocking disparity, the price could only be termed “obscene.”   

VI. Even more interesting stats: The game easily reaped the usual numbers in the vital TV ratings, widely considered by eternally business-like America to be far more important than the final score. Well more than 100 million watched, as usual. But don’t get too cheeky, NFL. The estimated television audience for the finale of Soccer’s last World Cup was 700 million.

VII. And my favorite stat: According to a researcher, who apparently has nothing better to study, the number of workers who fail to show up the morning after the game is seven million.  Only in America, Bunky!  

VIII. As for the invariably insufferable four-hour pre-game show, a random sampling totaling no more than a barely tolerable hour confirms that no network can be more relentlessly vacuous nor enamored of the trivial than Fox. Their “red carpet” bit, which they flaunted mercilessly, gave new meaning to the term “banal.” Fox excels at making its on-air talent look silly. They were at their best in XLVIII. It’s possible that in my brief survey I missed stuff of genuine substance. But it’s safe to assume it’s unlikely.

X. As for the pre-game brush with reality – that saucy Bill O’Reilly’s “live” interview with the president of the United States – let me say this. I had the “pleasure” of working with Mr. O’Reilly back in his apprentice days in Boston when he was better known as “Biff.” Let’s just say that what some may regard as the impertinence of his manner in the interview with Mr. Obama came as no surprise to those of us who know good old “Biff.”

XI. Is it not now time to concede the NFC is better than the AFC?

XII.  Back to the game! Such was the totality of the Broncos’ defeat that no one person or single facet can be pinned for the bulk of the blame. Denver’s meltdown was total. But there will be efforts to make Peyton Manning the goat. Bank on it!

It’s hard to know what motivates Manning’s determined detractors, many from our own backyard. If he has, in their opinion, failed again on the Big Stage, it only marginally diminishes what he has accomplished in Denver at age 37, after spinal fusion surgery plus four more surgical interventions in the nerve networks of his neck. It seems to me that anybody who admires sheer guts should appreciate the grace with which he has handled all that, while politely declining to discuss it, let alone complain about it.

So the argument will now rage, none to his benefit. There seems a curious need to tear down an admirable fellow mainly because he oddly remains committed to civility and good manners in a game that’s all about mayhem. But on the statistical evidence, he cannot be denied. It’s as if they don’t really buy a guy so obviously determined to remain the All-American boy even as he advances on middle age. Manning had a bad game in Soupy XLVIII, but it’s largely because the team around him crumbled.
It’s interesting. When the Bears crushed the Redskins in the hitherto noted 1940 version of the Super Bowl, Washington’s quarterback was the immortal Slinging Sammy Baugh, whose repute remained deservedly untarnished.

It’s not always all about the quarterback!