Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Super Bowl

This Super Bowl inspired me. It was what sports can be at their best.

If one definition of art is that it takes what is imperfect and makes it perfect, then this game was pure art. It distilled age-old dramatic themes and played them out on a stage before a billion viewers.

The pre-game hype was the same as always. The pundits had settled on their themes and proceeded to pound them flat for two weeks. There was the 18-0 team looking to make it 19 wins--looking for perfection. There was the unflappable Tom Brady who had been there before. But what’s this? Was he limping? Was there a crack in the armor of this juggernaut? There was the young, completely flappable Eli Manning, surely the lesser of the two Mannings leading teams in the NFL. And there was the audacious prediction by Plaxico Burress that the Giants would win while holding the vaunted Patriot offense to 17 points.

Yet the game itself managed to exceed the hype, if that is possible. It was close and powerful and thrilling. Two things stand out for me in the aftermath of this most amazing of the more than thirty Super Bowls I have seen. The first is the play of the Giants defensive line. They played as if they were possessed. They were like a pack of dogs set onto an escaped convict. It would not surprise me in the least if they had been allowed to sniff a little swatch of cloth from Tom Brady’s sweaty undershirt from the last time they played and they wanted that guy more than they wanted anything ever in their lives. They were desire, personified. They won the game for the Giants, not Eli Manning.

There was also the amazing catch by David Tyree during the fourth quarter drive that won the game. The Giants offense was stalling and they needed to pick up a first down to keep their slim hopes alive. The receiver reached up and caught the ball against his helmet as he was being tackled and he managed to pin the ball there even as the defender tried to rip it away. The receiver’s strength and concentration were astounding. From there, the Giants scored to take the lead, the Patriots failed to score, and the victory Plaxico Burress guaranteed really did come to pass.

This game reminded me of why I love sports. It was Aristotelian in its perfection. It was the distillation of the age-old human theme of David and Goliath, underdog and favorite. It seems quintessentially American to me to root for the underdog. It usually leaves you cheering for the losing team—underdogs are underdogs for good reason—but once in a while a player or a team pulls it off. And the payoff as a spectator is out of proportion to all reality. Really, how important is the Giants victory in the broader scheme of things? Yet somehow it inspires, it reminds us of the possibilities if we just stick with it--it fills our hearts. It’s not often you can say that about a football game, but this time it is an understatement.

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