Everything about the Super Bowl carries a certain air of commerce. From the exorbitant ticket prices to the Roman numerals, the NFL has succeeded in making this one football game a billion-dollar event. Corporate sponsors have their name on, and fingers in, everything. Everybody wants a slice of this ever-growing pie. For better or for worse, it is, as Eazy-E once said, “a big money deal.”
To your left, ESPN has its merry band of analysts breaking down every possible blade of grass at the Taj MaJerry. To your right, the NFL Network is brazenly interrupting hordes of actual media to ask the truly important questions, like Kara Henderson asking James Harrision (you’ve seen James Harrison, right?) if he was bitter that the NFL (for whom she works) took a hundred large of his money. (Um, yes, Kara. As a matter of fact I am. Thank you for asking.)
Distractions abound. Every word is scrutinized for a hint of “disprespect.” For many, the central component to this circus- the Game- is often forgotten until somewhere early Sunday when they wake up and say to themselves, “Wow. We still have a Super Bowl to watch. Good times!”
Every Super Bowl is different. Some years we get a horrendous blowout. There seemed to be a string of these in my formative years, thanks to the NFC’s vast superiority at the time. The Niners, Redskins, Giants and Bears were really the only teams that mattered most of the time, and they proved it each January. More recently we’ve seen some classics played down to the last minute. The Greatest Show on Turf, led by Kurt Warner, won one by a yard and then lost one by a leg. Regardless, we know we’ll get some great plays, like Marcus Allen to the House, or Santonio in the corner. That’s what most fans remember- the play on the field. And even that fades pretty quickly for most.
But somewhere out there (cue the mouse), 106 men have their minds on only one thing: The Vince Lombardi Trophy. Super Bowl XLV brings us a unique matchup of two of the NFL’s most historically successful and relevant franchises. Each stakes a legitimate claim to the league’s ultimate prize. The Packers own it by name and origin; the Steelers own it by deed.
On Sunday, they will fight over every inch of a one-hundred yard gridiron for the right to lift that trophy above their heads in triumph and glory. This, more than anything, is the goal. Yes, the winner’s share is substantial, and the ring each receives is an impressive and meaningful momento. But the look in their eyes in the moment tells you that putting on the ring feels maybe half as good as lifting the Lombardi. As each man adds his fingerprint to his teammates’ in smudging the shiny polished silver, the trophy becomes a powerful metaphor for the depth and spirit of teamwork required to hoist it.
These guys find their limits, laugh at them, and break through. Those plays that look so pretty when executed with deadly precision are years in the making. Years spent doing tedious cone drills and watching more film than a projector technician at the multiplex. Years spent in the weight room. For some, years spent rehabbing some hideous, tendon-splattering injury.
Few people get to experience the pinnacle of anything. Fewer still experience the pinnacle first-hand, knowing that they maximized everything within themselves to accomplish an impossible task. I look forward to the celebration each year, because it brings out the best of the human experience: shared joy and achievement.
It is my favorite moment in football.
Happy Super Bowl Week, everybody. Enjoy.