Friday, February 3, 2012

Humanity on the Battlefield

Greetings Friends,

It's been a busy week, and I was at a loss for a suitable topic until I realized that this Sunday is the Super Bowl. Madonna, this year's half time spectacle (notice how I didn't bother to refer to her as an "act"), made an interesting comment on Anderson Cooper's talk show when she referred to the Super Bowl as "[the] holiest of holy in America." She's right about that. Even here in Canada, the world stops for this one big game. The same cannot be said of the CFL's Grey Cup; the only other event that comes close is the Stanley Cup finals. 

As many of you know, I am a sports fan. There are times when I enjoy it, and there are times when I despise it utterly. Growing up in New York and having a plethora of teams to cheer for has made sports fandom interesting to say the least, including the unintentional - and admittedly often times intentional - act of picking and choosing your relationships based upon team allegiances. When you fall down the sports rabbit hole as a child like I did, you can't help but judge other people on the basis of which teams they root for. It's shameful, I know, but even in my 40s, I still find myself doing it. Much as I like to think I've become more accepting of the teams I loathe, the bottom line is, I will continue to loathe them as long as I am able to draw breath into my lungs. 

A former friend of mine is a staunch New England Patriots fan. When the Giants beat the San Francisco 49ers two weeks ago to gain entry into this year's spectacle, I decided I would cheer for them; not because I am a Giants fan, but because I'd rather think of my former friend wallowing in the misery of a Patriots loss. It sounds cruel, I know, but that's how sports fans think. We know that the agony of defeat is exponentially more painful than the thrill of victory, especially when you only have one shot at it. Many people malign the playoff structure of other sports because there are multiple game "series" that must be won in order to be declared a champion. In football, you only get one shot. Squandering it is the most prolific misstep in professional sports; for the team on the losing side, there is no tomorrow. 

I was planning to write something snarky about the spectacle the Super Bowl has become: the two week media frenzy surrounding the big game, the ridiculous commercials (which cost an obscene $3 million for 30 seconds this year), the half time extravaganza; everything over-the-top that has become synonymous with the game, except for the game itself. Then I realized, what could I possibly say that hasn't already been said? It is what it is, and much as I hate to admit it, Madonna is right: Americans revere the game as a religious ritual; it is part of what makes America the land of the free and the home of the brave. I just wish it didn't have to be so cheesy. 

Last year, the conclusion of the Super Bowl was marred by a pending labour dispute. You know how I feel about millionaire professional athletes and their unions. I was hoping, as is my cynical way, that the NFL would give itself a black eye by tossing an entire season in the trash. Alas, they did not, and here we are 48 hours away from the big game. Not that it would have mattered in the long run; football fans are the most sheep-like in my opinion: as long as they're alive, there's an endless supply of wool to be shorn. 

All cynicism aside, I did read one interesting article on the NFL's Web site. It turns out, the Patriots' and Giants' owners, Robert Kraft and John Mara, were integral to bringing about an end to the league's labour unrest. I did not follow the negotiations closely, so this was a revelation to me. The NFL, the major U.S. television networks, countless advertisers, team employees, etc., all had vested interests in making sure a deal was stuck and the season was played. What tore at my heartstrings was the following quote from Kraft about losing his wife to cancer in the process:

"The team saved me. I never understood what the word heartbroken meant. It's hard for anyone to relate to it. My wife was 19 and I was 20 when she proposed to me. We had five kids right away. Then they left and we became best pals for 25 years. She was 98 pounds, read four books a week and was healthy. I thought she would outlive me for 30 years. This horrible cancer came and it's wrecked my life. Having this team has been a savior for me."

Sometimes, you have to swallow your abject cynicism and shed a few tears for someone. I don't know Robert Kraft, and I still won't root for his team, but I found a human angle to the spectacle in his words. That more than makes up for all the cheese.

Have a great weekend, and Go Giants!

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