The Game Comes to the Rescue, and Oh, What a Game It Was
By Will Leitch
PHOENIX – Anyone reading this space over the last week probably noticed that my first trip to the Super Bowl was leaving me disillusioned. It was all so overwhelming, a celebration of everything that is wrong with the world of sports. Shameless hucksters, over-hyped “storylines,” endless gimmickry and schtick, “the fine folks at Nextel now bring you the newest hit from ‘American Idol’s’ Paula Abdul.” The N.F.L.’s showcase event was putting the ugliest public face on its sport, a distancing and antiseptic mishmash of corporate back scratching. It was sometimes difficult to remember why we were all here in the first place.
Fortunately, the league had a trump card, the one that not even Sen. Arlen Specter could ruin: The game itself. After all the hype and sturm und drang, Super Bowl Week had no choice but to end with an actual athletic competition. And wouldn’t you know it: It was likely the most thrilling game millions of fans have ever seen.
The particulars of the game have been discussed ad infinitum elsewhere, though one hopes the otherworldly determination of the Giants pass rush is not lost in the justified eagerness to crown Eli Manning the next New York sports hero. (Honestly, Manning was so amazing in the fourth quarter that, when he was interviewed after the game, I half expected his voice to drop four octaves and for him to start swaggering like Robert Goulet. So dominating and epic was his performance that it was a mild disappointment to discover, once the helmet was off, that he was still the same guy.)
The purpose the game served for me, and I suspect for many others, was to renew my faith. It’s very easy to sit idly by and lob stinkbombs – no matter how justifiable those stinkbombs might be – while forgetting that, through it all, this is about the kinetic thrill that only sports can provide. The sense that if you look away for so much as a second, you might miss something unprecedented, unimaginable, a supernova that happens so suddenly that it surprises even those who provide it. No matter how much anyone tries to package and polish a product, that product, ultimately, must stand on its own. And boy, did that product ever stand on its own in Glendale last night. When Manning escaped (how? HOW?!) that obvious sack and then completed his wounded duck by apparently gluing it to the head of wide receiver David Tyree, I was not a social critic of sports, anguished about the loss of sports innocence and the fear that the joy the games provided us all as children had been lost. I was, for lack of a better word, a loon: I was leaping into the air, bouncing off walls, slapping hands with anyone I could find, lunging at every possible opportunity to express the raw fever. And I’m not even a Giants fan.
It was sports at its absolute best: Random, unimaginable, insane. Not even a Patriots fan could deny it, though, just for the record, I’d wait a week or so to press them on the issue.
After the euphoria faded, or at least the swelling went down, I returned to my hotel around 10 p.m. Phoenix time. I was fully expecting rabid, screaming, inebriated Giants fans hooting, hollering and generally making life difficult for the beleaguered hotel staff. Instead, I was greeted by a lobby full of G-Men, slumped in chairs, slack-jawed and staring off into space, trying to make some sense of the magic they’d witnessed. Out in the parking lot, two preteen boys, both wearing Jeremy Shockey jerseys, tossed a football back and forth. One dropped back, shuffling his feet, bobbing, waiting, broadcasting in that preteen, high-pitched way, “Manning … back to pass … sees Plaxico and throws …” His pass went bouncing harmlessly into the path of a returning limo, whose driver stopped and gave an amused wave. The boy’s friend picked up the ball, jumped into the air and yelped, “TOUCHDOWN!!!!”
Like most people here, I’d spent most of this week so sick of football that I couldn’t wait for the actual Super Bowl to come and leave already. I was foolish to think anything as peripheral as money could ruin something as pure, visceral and cleansing as sports. I don’t know about you, but September can’t get here soon enough. Let’s do this again.