Saturday, January 25, 2014

Some Suggestions For Improving the Super Bowl

When I was a boy, I fervently looked forward to Super Sunday.  I devoured the pre-game analysis in the newspapers and magazines, watched hours of pre game television, and normally viewed the game like a scholar, by myself.  (My dad has always disliked pro football.)  My enthusiasm was likely helped along by the first two Super Bowls I watch, the hard-fought 1982 game between the Bengals and 49ers, and the next year's close contest between Miami and Washington.  The latter featured a dramatic fourth down run by John Riggins in the fourth quarter, where the big man from Kansas broke loose for a long run in the open.

The blow-outs that followed still had their moments, though, like William "Refrigerator" Perry's touchdown run in '86 or crafty, quiet veteran Doug Williams lighting up a Broncos team lead by the over-hyped John Elway in 1988.  As the years went by, I began to notice things that I'd heard others complain about, namely the ridiculous hype, rampant consumerism, and general soullessness of the game itself.  The most visceral, exciting thing that happened in last year's Super Bowl was a power outage.  The game needs changes to make it good again, and I have a few suggestions.

Stop Playing On Neutral Fields
This issue, like many that the Super Bowl, stems from the game's origins.  When the Super Bowl first began, in 1967, professional football was still a recently popular sport finding its bearings.  The Super Bowl was thus a showcase for the rising game, whereas today the NFL dominates the American sports landscape.  There is no need to give it showcase trappings, and one of the biggest is the neutral field.  Early on, the games were all in attractive, warm-weather locales guaranteed to bring in fans and fill the seats.  Since then, the NFL has used it to reward teams for building new stadiums, hence Super Bowls in non-touristy places like Jacksonville and Detroit.  Does anybody want to go to Detroit in February, or go to Jacksonville in any month, unless they can really help it?  The neutral location also has the crummy side effect of cutting down on fan participation (as does the NFL's policy of reserving tickets for corporate types rather than rooters.)

The team with the best regular-season record (computer adjusted for strength of schedule) would get to have home field advantage.  The one exception would be if the two teams played during the season, then the winner would get home turf.  Doing this will drastically amp up the atmosphere for the game.  Denver and Seattle both have notably noisy and boisterous crowds, either would make the game more interesting.  I think of other sports and their great championship moments, and many are related to their stadiums.  Carlton Fisk's famous home run in the 1975 World Series would not have been nearly as dramatic had it not kissed off of the Fenway foul pole.  Magic Johnson's mini-skyhook buzzer-beater against the Celtics in 1987 was that much more amazing in that it came in the old Boston Garden, a place where the Celtics teams of the 80s almost NEVER lost.

Get Rid of Media Week
The Super Bowl is the most hyped event on the calendar in this country, why do we need an extra week to hype it?  Again, this is a vestige of a former time, when the game had a different purpose and the NFL craved extra attention.  The additional time off between games messes with players' rhythms, and allows coaches more time to exploit their opponents' weaknesses, something that lead to the boring blowouts of the past.

Eliminate the Half Time Show
This has always been an atrocity.  Back in the 1970s and early 1980s, Up With People did many of the shows.  (Want a taste of their super-sweet saccharine smarm?  Here you go.  They make Pat Boone look edgy.)  As if that wasn't bad enough, there was the trend of hiring pop stars after Michael Jackson's 1993 performance complete with fascist dictator chic.  After that we got Britney Spears paired with Aerosmith atrocity, Janet Jackson's infamous "wardrobe malfunction," the Black Eyed Peas stinking up the joint, and over-the-hill rockers like the Who and Rolling Stones.  The only good half time I've seen was Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band, and that was because the Boss and his pals just gave the audience a taste of their legendary stage show, and seemed to be having a blast.  Unless they have Bruce perform, skip the half time show, which will also shorten the game time, which is lengthened by having a longer half.

Bring Back the Bud Bowl
Young men of my generation fondly remember the animated game that played out between Budweiser and Bud Light during the commercial breaks in the Super Bowl.  If the game is a stinker, we can at least have the suspense of knowing whether Bud Dry's lighting passing arm can bring his team back.  The Bud Bowl may be the one positive thing that Budweiser has ever done for humanity.

Tone Down the Nationalism
The NFL has cravenly linked its brand to the US military, no more flagrantly than their exploitation of the death in combat of former player Pat Tillman, who had actually become critical of the war in Afghanistan near the end of his life.  The bombastic national anthems, jet plane flyovers, and flag waving combined with football's valorization of violence all combine to make a potent brew of militarist propaganda.  We could use a lot less of that.

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