By Wayne William Cipriano
Two years ago when we watched Super Bowl XLIX (49), we figured we had seen the best. That game had everything and it had everything in spades.
Last year’s game sort of underlined the truth that most Super Bowls are not very exciting, each team having played their best and used up their juice just getting to the Big Game.
Super Bowl L (50) just wasn’t that great, especially following Super Bowl XLIX (49) so closely, which most people felt was the best Super Bowl of all time.
I agreed with that judgment and watched LI (51), as we always do, more for the food, commercials, and halftime show. The food was spectacular as it is every year and even if the Brown were playing their practice squad, the spread we enjoyed would make even that game a great one. The commercials were okay, a couple even better, but most with whom I spoke who consider themselves aficionados were generally disappointed.
The one really poignant effective commercial was butchered, I’ve been told, to support the hypocritical niceties of the Fox Television Network. Perhaps, you remember that one with a mother and her young daughter traveling a great distance on foot, by truck, by train, through towns, the country, walking through desert, sleeping by campfire in a barren landscape. The end of the commercial was promised to those who went to a certain website to view it, which really angered me without a computer. I later learned the two travelers came to the end of their journey standing before a huge wall and then finding a very large gate opening for their passage.
Lady Gaga’s halftime show was as energetic and as spectacular as any I can remember. I marveled at a darkened stadium lit by thousands of tiny flashlights in the hands of the fans as seen from above along with the interesting light show on the field. And, I liked the ending when Lady Gaga jumped from a tower on which she was performing and caught a ball in mid-air. Most athletic of her. I wonder what sort of cushioning was provided for her landing?
Great eats, fair commercials, and a pretty good halftime show –– and the game? If you saw it all and did not change the channel or leave the stadium during the third quarter to beat the traffic you saw the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history and the only overtime play ever. But you only saw it after you watched an entity that has shown itself to be more a football machine than a football team in the past, missed blocks, missed tackles, dropped passes, called running play after running ply with no offensive line skill demonstrated.
You saw an exuberant owner finally believing his underdog team would be victorious. After all, for 43 minutes of play they had held the best team in professional football to only three points while racking up 28 points of their own. In all, the previous such games only three times had a large deficit been overcome, and each of these times was only ten points. How could any team playing at this level possibly put up more than 25 points while holding their opponents scoreless, and do so in only 17 minutes of play?
You’re not alone if you split early. I turned to Rosalie after the last Atlanta score and said, “That’s it. It’s over.”
But, we were all wrong, weren’t we? The Patriot offense stepped up. The Patriot defense stepped up. Special teams stepped up. Play after play. Tackle after tackle. Block after block. Pass after pass. From textbook mechanical execution to ball-handling that was magic (pass reception that bounced all over, snagged twice, never touching the field), a team that for 43 minutes could not do anything right, spent 17 minutes unable to do anything wrong!
Was fatigue a factor? Sure, everyone gets tired regardless of which side of the ball you play on or what color your jersey. You cannot complain about the officiating. The zebras let the teams play and I didn’t see more than two obvious fouls missed. What happened? You got me! Did Belichick trot out the Gipper? Who knows? Did Atlanta relax too soon? Probably. Did New England wake up suddenly? I doubt it. I have no idea what happened and I haven’t heard anyone credibly explain it.
It was a splendid game for anyone without a favorite watching to appreciate, as Rosalie puts it, “the physical poetry of the game.” And, a splendid game for someone who hails from New England, but felt rooting for the Pats was tantamount to bullying a fifth-grader, as least until they were so far down that they could not possibly come back.
Not so splendid for Atlanta players and fans becoming an object lesson in hubris in what was, I think, only their second trip to the Big One in something like their 50-year franchise history (can that be right?).
There are two bad things about Super Bowl LI (51) that produce a lot of sports sorrow. The first is that LI, coming so soon afterwards, smudges away some of the wonder game we all watched two years ago and carry in our memories. We must all try to keep XLIX in our minds as the wonderful game it was.
The second potential sorrow is the almost inescapable expectation that next year, or the year after, or for sure the one after that will produce a game even better, even more exciting than LI.
I am tempted to rely on my well-known exquisitely poor prognostication ability (I told my brother Jim that Green Bay wasn’t going to have much trouble defeating Atlanta) and assure everyone that another fabulous game will never be played like LI –– and then be proved wrong, again, using reverse psycho-logy on Fate.
There is almost no possible way the food can be better next time; quality is finite, particularly when combined with memory and good common sense. The commercials can certainly be better next time, and I would bet they will be at that multi-million-dollar rate for 30 seconds. And, the actual reason for the Super Bowl, you know, the game?
I am going to go ahead and say it: It will be decades before a game as truly incredible, as wildly exciting as the one we saw on Super Sunday is overshadowed.
Now, Fate, do your thing! Teach me another lesson.