Sunday, February 01, 2009

How to watch the Super Bowl.

As any true sports aficionado will tell you, it's impossible to appreciate a major event like the Super Bowl without a keen understanding of the emotional and attitudinal factors that dictate the outcome of every single game situation, including the opening coin flip. (Who can forget last year, when Giants' co-captain Michael Strahan explained with a shrug that the New York team lost the coin flip because "They just wanted it more than we did, I guess.") In order to enhance your viewing enjoyment of this year's event, I hereby provide a succinct primer in the nuances of the so-called mental game.

[PHOTO, left: A rare shot of a momentum exchange taking place at midfield]

Realize first that an athlete competing at the Super Bowl level is well versed in the potent psychodynamics of winning, as preached by coaches and broadcasters everywhere. He's aware that there's no I in team, yet can personally carry the team on his back when that becomes necessary. He stays within himself and also knows how to stretch. This athlete understands that fine line between being supremely confident (which is good)—and being overconfident (which is bad). He goes into competition with a clear mind as well as intense mental focus, and though he recognizes that winning is everything, he never worries about losing. He has master
ed the art of pacing himself while also giving 110 percent at all times...and still has another gear left if he needs it. This competitor is both fiery and composed, patient and hungry.

The Super Bowl being the Super Bowl, fans can rest assured that teams will be in the zone, not looking ahead to next week. Surely in this one game, players will leave it all on the field. (NOTE: The NFL employs specially trained crews to come to the stadium Monday morning and pick it all up again. It is then mailed back to players during the off-season.) From the moment the athletes run onto the gridiron, they're out to make a statement—although some teams prefer to let the other team make its statement first, so they can then answer with authority in the hopes of leaving their opponent back on their heels and intimidated.

By league rule, every NFL game must feature at least one momentum shift. Befitting it
s name, this is an epochal development wherein the team that seemed to have things well in hand suddenly turns the ball over at an inopportune moment, thereby allowing the other team back in. (The epidemiology of momentum, whereby it spreads from player to player or team to team, thus enabling athletes and coaches to control all variables known and unknown, remains obscure. Some say it's a strain of Ebola.) Momentum shifts are not, however, infallible. They can be undone by a loss of poise, an umbrella term for any number of back-breaking miscues on the part of a team that—having been handed the momentum—fails to deliver. (Mistakes in this category are unforgivable at this climactic point in the season, which is why high-level discussions are underway to penalize loss of poise with a loss of down.)

If the game is close and circumstances afford one of the teams a last chance to seize its destiny, the stage is set for another time-honored phenomenon: the gut check. This requires players to reach deep inside themselves in order to ascertain what they're made of. (NO
TE: While they're in there, players often use this opportunity to look for that other gear.) In keeping with a recent trend involving the commercial marketing of all discrete moments in any given contest ("This kickoff brought to you by..."), Super Bowl XLIII's gut check reportedly will be sponsored by either a PSA for prostate screening or an ad from Pepto-Bismol, which, of course, some years ago paid a significant sum for the naming rights to fire in the belly.

Teams that find themselves unexpectedly behind as the Super Bowl moves into its latter stages may deem it necessary to turn to a player who knows how to win. He'll be required to communicate his proprietary knowledge to the rest of the team, this ceremony usually taking place at a sideline meeting where the elite player imbues his teammates with the will to win by screaming inspirational totems like "just win, baby!" or, more commonly, "now let's go out and kill the muth&*!*$%$&%*ers!" Here too, the precise mechanism of action is only dimly understood. It is theorized that these elite players emit waves of invisible energy that are capable of causing fumbles, errant passes and broken plays—and can even summon gusts of wind that d
eflect field goals.

Important caveat: A player who knows how to win must be wary of exercising that gift prematurely. He may not, for example, incite his team to score four touchdowns in
the first quarter, putting the game safely out of reach. Rather, he must bide his time while allowing his team to fall behind, waiting for the perfect moment to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The delicacy of this balancing act is such that a player sometimes waits a bit too long, rendering his team vulnerable to opponents who have no quit in them.

That knowing how to win can be a mercurial thing is actually even clearer in some of the other sports where the concept applies. This is best demon
strated by Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter (shown right). After a decade of being hailed as the epitome of knowing how to win, Jeter, these past few seasons, somehow forgot—curiously enough, right around the time the Yankees' pitching began to suck.

Enjoy the game.


Elizabeth said...

My goodness, Steve, when you put it this way, even I am tempted to pay attention to the (The?) Super Bowl! Now it all makes sense to me! Prompted by your explanations, I even did my own gut check and laughed so hard that I almost lost my poise, along with this morning's egg salad. But I'm happy to report that, after reading your primer, I'm ready to give it all (including the egg salad) in order to enjoy the event the way it rightfully deserves. Which means I'm going shopping.

P.S. Seriously, funny. :)

P.S.2. Still seriously, ahem, I think you may have misspelled muth&*!*$%$&%*ers, though I'm not sure. Just in case, you may try a gut check on that. ;)

Cal said...

This piece should have been one of your paid gigs. I could have seen it in place of one of Dave Barry's columns. It puts the drivel we get for analysis succintly.

Steve Salerno said...

Eliz and Cal: Thanks. Your appreciation is appreciated.

And Cal, it wasn't for lack of trying, ol' buddy, believe me. I ran this by my usual editors at the Journal, L.A. Times, etc...and couldn't get a bite. (You can get assignments for "serious" pieces, but satire and the like must generally be submitted as a completed whole.) So I figured, what the heck; it was fitting SHAMblog content anyway.

Sarsabu said...

The victors obviously managed to extricate themselves from their comfort zone just as the vanquished returned to theirs.

Steve Salerno said...

Sars: Very good. (Not so much for me, though, as I was kinda pulling for Arizona.)

Dimension Skipper said...

I enjoyed this piece too, but you did miss one obvious cliché. (OK, maybe it wasn't so obvious.)

Oh, was there a football game last night? After my Eagles lost out (yet again), I had no rooting interest. Didn't find the matchup interesting in any way at all. Would have preferred Arizona to win, but didn't really care much. I just prefer that different teams win once in a while. (Other than "my teams," of course, but being a general Philadelphia fan repetitive championships usually aren't a concern.)

95% of the country watches the SB just for the commercials anymore, but as a longstanding inveterate muter I simply refuse to watch any program for the commercials. Almost all the same ads will be generally shown during the weeks to come, so I don't need to watch the SB to see them.

BTW, as long as I'm doing Comics links, "Betty" last week (Feb 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31) finished out the whole week with self-help book humor. My own favorite was the one from friday (30).

WV1: typuls

Isn't that the technical name for special characters like that accented e in "cliché?"

WV2: foorting

I'm afraid I can't take a stab at a fanciful definition for that one without violating SHAMblog's commenting decency policies.

Steve Salerno said...

DS: Eagles, huh? Did we know this about you previously? My son is about as rabid an Eagles fan as exists anywhere (his particular anywhere being Vegas these days); in fact, I sent him a Westbrook autographed ball for Christmas, which he actually believed was haunted for a while, as his receipt of the ball coincided with the Eagles' remarkable and inexplicable run of late-season good fortune. At least till they encountered Kurt Warner.

I still say, you Eagles fans have nothing to cry about; your team is in the hunt every year (post-Reid, anyway, and was often a contender pre-Reid as well). Try being a Cincinnati baseball fan. Oh, we had a good run in the mid-70s and surprised again in 1990...but it's been a looong dry spell ever since. And lately it's like they don't even try anymore. You'll notice you don't hear the phrase "Big Red Machine" used these days, except perhaps in mocking irony.

Dimension Skipper said...

Well, I used to be a lot more into sports years ago than I am now. Now I'm usually just c'est la vie about it all. 95% of the local sports telecasts long ago migrated to cable, but seeing as how cable was not even available for me on my street until about five years ago, I got used to doing without. Don't need satellite TV either, but they never carried the local telecasts anyway. The Eagles simply ended up being the only local team (I'm in S. Jersey) that I can at least still see all their games.

Yeah, I try to console myself with the near continual playoff presence (no matter how lucky it may be), but there almost comes a point when coming close year after year becomes harder to take than missing completely. Not really, I guess, but it seems that way sometimes. Plus, I have issues with Andy I-don't-need-a-top-flight-#1-wide-receiver Reid. (Though admittedly I couldn't stomach T.O. for all his off-field nonsense---nobody's worth putting up with that imo.) I think he just finally got lucky that Desean Jackson seems to have panned out.

Other than Philly clubs, I try to root for teams like the Cubs that have had a little dry spell of late. Not so much because of the players or teams, but just for the long-suffering fans to whom I can relate. Yes, the Reds would be in that mix for me now as an alternate team for which to semi-root after the Phillies. (I still find it hard to believe they actually won it all this past season. That'll hold me for baseball for a while as I'm not greedy and I don't expect them to win every year---not with their pitching anyway.)

Sorry, I cannot foresee ever under any circumstances rooting for the Yankees. The other team would have to have known major felons playing key positions before I'd root for the Yanks.


Elizabeth said...

Timely: Bailed Out Banks Spend Millions on Super Bowl Festivities.