Apparently it’s not killer bees, sleeper cells, or flesh eating viruses we are supposed to fear this week. According to the mainstream media, it’s the Super Bowl that’s hazardous to our health. The LA Times ran an article this week titled, "Sports is a strain on fans’ hearts". "In Germany," the piece opened, "a study finds a spike in heart attacks on soccer game days. Super Bowl viewers, take heed." It seems that the adrenaline and heart pounding passion of Super Bowl Sunday could send the hundred million viewers into a pulmonary panic. Balderdash. If you want to know if the Super Bowl will strike you dead, don’t ask a doctor. Ask a sports writer.
The NFL Championship is many things, but a white knuckled adrenaline overload aint one of them. In other words, any heart attacks this weekend are far more likely to come from undigested animal fat than adrenaline. Before it is anything else, before it’s even a football game, the Super Bowl is first and foremost a two week entertainment festival for the rich and shameless: a corporate Woodstock with suits and sports cars subbing for ponchos and patchouli. Less free love and drugs, more hookers and scotch.
One headline preceding the big game read "Phoenix Faces Super Bowl Parking Woe: Where to Put Gulfstreams?" As the article stated, "The Arizona host committee expects 800 to 1,000 private jets, or more, to use the airports before Sunday’s game. That will be at least double the number when nearby Tempe was the site of the Super Bowl in 1996.” Giants co-owner Steve Tisch spoke about the pugilistic plutocrats at the airport. “’When that game’s over and a lot of people who’ve flown on private planes want to go home and everybody feels that they’re entitled to be the first to take off, that’s when it gets interesting. A lot of people are saying to their pilots to tell the tower, “Do you know who I’ve got on my plane?”’
What a terrifically charming slice of life. Is now an appropriate time to tell Mr. Tisch that 21.2% of children in Arizona live below the poverty line? Or 40% of Native Americans? Can he hear me over the jets? The thought of corporate execs swinging their egos to get their planes out of an airport hangar is a perfect snapshot for the excess that’s smothered the game. The Super Bowl has become a place to see and be seen. Q ratings matter more than quarterbacks. And spectacle has triumphed over sport.
Consider the 2004 game between the Patriots and Panthers. It will be remembered for eternity as the day Janet Jackson flashed the world, even though it was probably the best quarterback duel in the history of the game. Tom Brady set a record for completions, driving the Patriots down field for a last second Vinatieri field goal. But what I remember against my will, after Jackson’s Action, was the sight of so much smoke, and haze from the halftime pyro, it was hard to see what was happening the first five minutes of the second half. The game looked like it was being played on the back streets of London’s East End, with Jack the Ripper ready to slice up an unsuspecting Antowain Smith.
No question it’s the spectacle that drives the spectacular ratings. Of the 20 most watched shows in history, 10 are Super Bowls. For the overwhelming majority of the public, this is a day to rank the commercials, grade the halftime show, and eat enough trans fats to make a goat nauseous. But one thing it is not, is a place to invest any kind of passion in the game itself.
Here’s a modest proposal. Let’s start playing the Super Bowl at the home stadium of the team with the best record. Imagine this Sunday, instead of playing on the fast tracks of Arizona, in front of an audience text messaging in between martinis, the Patriots had to prove their worth in the Frigidaire of New England. Imagine if the fans were those same beautifully hateable minions that have been slogging to Foxboro all year. Imagine the excitement as the Giants would attempt to win a fourth straight game on the road. Imagine Eli avenging the Mannings in front of the Foxboro faithful (and just imagine…I’m from New York). Instead both teams have become scenery, some athletic bursts of poetry around which to sell us erection medicine, beer, and tires that are allegedly being produced by African child labor.
But exhilaration just isn’t part of the program. Like a burly sous-chef pounding a chicken breast into flattened submission, the audacity and excitement of the great game of football have been pummeled out of the contest. A great way to avoid dangerous over stimulation this Sunday would be to take five hours… and watch the game.
Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to [email protected]. ??Contact him at [email protected]