The Super Bowl is more than just a big game. Not only does it determine each year's NFL champion, it seems to hold a mirror up to the American soul. The sport is as bewildering to most outsiders as Americans themselves, but, there's no questioning its influence on their culture. Heroes are created, myths are born and billions of dollars are spent to help grease the wheels of the economy. 'Broadway' Joe Namath became a household name after leading the Jets to Super Bowl III while the result of the game even seems to influence the performance of the stock market and economy for the rest of the year. It also serves as a moral barometer. The nation was so outraged after 'nipplegate', when Janet Jackson had her wardrobe malfunction, that the whole concept of live broadcasting changed forever. The first Super Bowl following 9/11 featured the WTC flag being planted at midfield.We've come a long way since the first hastily organized championship that resulted from the merger of rival leagues in 1967. The upstart AFL had formed in 1960 and became the AFC, bringing new ideas and a more wide open style of play to compete against the venerable NFL, today's NFC, and the more traditional, smash-mouth game. The battle between progress and tradition has mirrored America to this day and Sunday's 44th version, matching the presidential number of Barack Obama, will be no exception as America sways to the Super Bowl's rhythm. But really, having the immaculate reception is enough, do we really need to talk about conception?
It all comes down to Sunday's match up between the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints. Making their first Super Bowl appearance, the Saints will be looking to complete a story book season that many observers are paralleling with the rebirth of their post-Katrina city. Interestingly, it is thanks to the
vote buying lobbying of Congressmen that the Saints even came into existence. Senator Russell Long's vote, which was necessary to obtain an antitrust waiver to allow the merger of the NFL and AFL, was purchased with the promise to locate the next expansion team in his home state of Louisiana, allowing the Saints to appear the following year. The Colts meanwhile are looking to repeat their performance from four years ago when they won the franchise's second title. On paper it's a dream final for the fans as it pits the #1 team from each conference against each other for the first time since Super Bowl XXVIII that saw my Dallas Cowboys clobber the Buffalo Bills. That's where the comparison end though as both those 90's teams had run first attacks featuring Emmitt Smith and Thurman Thomas, while Sunday's game should be a pass happy affair. The league has definitely seen a ground shift towards the pass in the last couple of years and Sunday should provide ample evidence.
Neither teams backfield gets the credit they deserve as they are overshadowed by the passing attacks, yet both teams have the ability to hurt you on the ground. Joseph Addai is the featured Colts running back and took the rock to the house 13 times this year, good for 6th best in the league and he's ably backed up by rookie Donald Brown. Over the regular season the Saints running game turned into every fantasy football players nightmare - the three-headed monster. While it may not have done any good fantasy-wise, in real football it means Pierre Thomas, Mike Bell and oft-injured Reggie Bush suffered less wear and tear over the year, leaving them fresher now when the games count. In fact Reggie Bush literally took over the divisional match up against the Arizona Cardinals amassing 217 all-purpose yards and scoring on an on an 83-yard punt return and a spectacular 46-yard run. Look for him to once again make the most of his limited touches.
Defense? We don't need no stinking defense! With the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens eliminated, the defenses will be an afterthought come Sunday. Damage control will be the key; neither defense will be able to stop the other team, so the winner may be the one who slows the other down just enough. Most likely though, with the two teams so evenly matched, it'll all come down to turnovers. Last week, the Saints were beaten in all aspects of the game but one, fumbleitis, as the Saints were the beneficiaries of six Minnesota Vikings fumbles and two Brett Favre interceptions. If I had to name a difference-maker for the game on this side of the ball it would have to be Darren Sharper, after all he tied for the league lead with nine interceptions. Even more impressively, he had a total of 376 return yards on those int's, oh, and he took three of them back for touchdowns!
As usual, the game will actually play second fiddle to an even bigger event for many - the Super Bowl commercials. The ability to reach a third of the American audience, around 100 million folks, most of whom having entered a salty snack and beer induced stupor that leaves them more prone than ever to propaganda techniques, leaves advertisers, and many viewers, drooling. In a year when it's become fashionable to have your commercial banned from airing by the network as a way of creating buzz, the biggest stir is being created by one that shouldn't have been accepted, starring a quarterback who's yet to even take a snap in the NFL. In case you missed it, Florida quarterback Tim Tebow will appear in a commercial during this year's Super Bowl to promote the pro-life anti-abortion cause. The ad, which is paid for by the ultra-conservative evangelical Christian group Focus on the Family, is expected to recount the story of Pam Tebow's 1987 pregnancy. She contracted amoebic dysentery while doing missionary work in the Philippines and ignored recommendations by doctors to abort her fifth child due to the associated health concerns and gave birth to Tim. Of course the story has the anti-abortionist's dream ending: Tim was born healthy, so healthy in fact that he has gone on to win the 2007 Heisman Trophy and lead his Florida Gators to two BCS championships. His daddy, a preacher himself said of his son, "I asked God for a preacher, and he gave me a quarterback." Well, it seems he got a two for one.
Of course the usual suspects are lining up on both sides of the argument over whether or not the commercial should be run during the Super Bowl. Conservatives and right wingers are going goo-goo over Tebow's brave move to risk his draft position in the NFL by taking a stand on a divisive issue and CBS's decision to air it. Meanwhile, for arguing against it, many woman's groups and the left are being demonized by much of the press for their attempts to suppress free speech. Yet, the argument against its airing goes beyond the fact that we should be arguing the finer points of the game instead of an intractable issue like abortion for a few reasons.
One: Tebow and CBS have decided to align themselves with a group that openly promotes hate no matter the cost. CBS's decision to not anger the group and its leader James Dobson is almost understandable given the influence that they wield they risk alienating a large segment of the viewing population. Of course they'll possibly face a viewer backlash from anti-hate groups, but CBS has clearly 'come out' on which side they are on. Why Tebow would choose to associate with those who advocate misogyny, child-abuse and homophobia is bewildering. The Gator quarterback, who played every Saturday with biblical citations on his eye black, is being held up as an example for his bravery to make a stand despite the fact that it may cost him come NFL draft time. They could be right, add this to his slow release and skill set which many feel is ill-matched to the NFL and he could slide down the draft board, conceivably out of the first round, along with it's guaranteed millions. Well, I guess he could already be campaigning for his inevitable jump to politics.
Two: In the past CBS has banned commercials on the basis that "The network simply does not accept any advocacy advertising of any kind". Selling Coke, not beliefs. This argument was held up as the reason for not airing a commercial for the liberal-leaning United Church of Christ highlighting the UCC's welcoming stance toward gays and others who might feel shunned by more conservative churches. Even this year they banned an ad for gay dating site Mancrunch as well as a GoDaddy ad featuring an ex-NFL player who discovers his feminine side upon retirement. It's difficult not to question CBS's position reversal; are they afraid of having the game and it's latent homoeroticism linked to anything gay or are they simply choosing to support one side's political agenda?
Three: This ad continues a dangerous precedent being set by celebrities pushing their medical quackery. Suzanne Sommers giving cancer advice, Jenny McCarthey and her MMR shot leads to autism scare and now the Tebows poking their noses into women's wombs. Is it right for them to be telling a national television audience, in coded language or otherwise, that we should ignore science and pray extra hard because it all worked out for them? This is dangerous stuff. They're telling women whose lives may be at stake, to gamble with their health and roll the dice with their god. What's pro-life about that?
Four: The ad may in fact be based on an outright lie. You see, abortion has been illegal in the Philippines since 1930. I'm getting the feeling that this is all based on a feel-good goodnight story that Tim's mom used to tell him when she was indoctrinating him with her beliefs and has now somehow taken on a life of it's own. Lies have a tendency to do that. People are questioning the possibility that any doctor would have risked six-years in prison by offering any such advice. CBS will face legal action if the add proves to be misleading by not mentioning Filipino law. If this fact were to become known, there is potential for some irony here, as by promoting taking away a woman's choice, the ad may create awareness of the desperate situation faced by women in countries where they have no choice such as the Philippines.
Final score predictions? The Colts look like they'll go off as big favourites, but if I'm in Vegas I'm taking the Saints against the spread. The opening line had the Colts up by only a field goal but as the money's piled on them, it's risen to nearly a touchdown. With the over/under an astronomical 57.5, it seems we're indeed in for a shootout, a 34-31 game doesn't seem out of the realm of possibilities. Oh, the 34 will have Colts written above it giving them their second Super Bowl in the last four years. As for the Tebow ad, I'm afraid the "Celebrate Family, Celebrate Life" advocacy spot we'll be subjected to this Sunday is foreshadowing what's to come, as an onslaught of such ads has been guaranteed come election time due to the recent Supreme Court decision to loosen electoral sponsorship laws. While the nation's stadiums may serve as Sunday churches for many and the Super Bowl has become a holy day as much as a sports event, we will already be force fed a steady dose of skyward finger pointing and god-thanking speeches. The anti-choice ad has no place on Super Sunday where we expect arguments about the better team and commercials featuring talking frogs or dancing lizards but not a debate about faith and politics stirred by a proselytizing Gator.