Friday, February 05, 2010

The Super Bowl of Sportsthink.

As any sports addict will tell you, it's impossible to appreciate an event like the Super Bowl without a keen understanding of the attitudinal factors that control every play, starting with the coin toss. Since casual fans may be thrown by the nonstop, oft-contradictory narration from the broadcast booth—and thus may feel left out at gatherings in honor of this Sunday's storied Colts/Saints match-up—I hereby provide a helpful primer in football's so-called "mental game."

Realize first that an athlete competing at the Super Bowl level is well versed in the potent psychodynamics of success. He knows there's no I in team—yet can personally carry his teammates on his back when circumstances call for it. This athlete understands the fine line between unshakable confidence and overconfidence. He stays within himself while knowing how to stretch, having mastered the art of pacing himself in an environment in which he's expected to give 110 percent at all times...and he still has another gear left if he needs it! Such a competitor is fiery but calm, patient but eager. He enters competition with a clear head as well as intense concentration, and though he recognizes that winning is everything, not for one second does he worry about losing. (Some New Orleans players have voiced the belief that a Super Bowl ring is their destiny, as karmic restitution for Hurricane Katrina. These players do not address the question of why karma didn't feel obliged to make restitution to the city and the Saints back in 2005, or in any of the seasons since.)

The Super Bowl being the Super Bowl, fans can rest assured that the Saints and Colts will be in the zone, not looking ahead to next week. Certainly in this one game, players will leave it all on the field. (NOTE: Specially trained crews will descend upon Sun Life stadium early Monday morning to pick It all up again; as per the terms of the league's collective-bargaining agreement, It is then mailed back to players during the off-season for reuse next year.) From the moment the athletes race onto the gridiron, they're out to make a statement—although some teams prefer to let an opponent make its statement first, so they can answer with authority.

By rule, every Super Bowl must include at least one momentum shift. Befitting its name, this is an epochal development wherein a team that seemed to have matters well in hand suddenly turns the ball over at an inopportune moment, thereby "allowing the other team back in," to quote the NFL rulebook. (The precise mechanism whereby momentum spreads from player to player or team to team, thus giving athletes domain over all variables known and unknown, remains controversial. CDC researchers think it's a filovirus.) That said, momentum shifts are not always decisive. Notably they can be undone by a loss of poise. Because such mistakes are unforgivable at this point in the season, top NFL brass are said to be considering whether a loss of poise should be penalized with a loss of down.

If the game is close and circumstances afford one team a final chance to seize its destiny, the conditions then exist for another time-honored competitive phenomenon: the gut check. This is where players reach deep inside themselves to find out what they're made of (and, while they're in there, look for that other gear). In keeping with a recent trend involving the commercial marketing of all discrete game situations—"This kickoff brought to you by..."—Super Bowl XLIV's gut check reportedly will be sponsored by a public-service announcement for colorectal screening. Alert viewers will recall that some years ago Pepto-Bismol paid a tidy sum for the naming rights to the phrase "fire in the belly."

Favored teams* that find themselves unexpectedly behind as the clock winds down are allowed to turn as a last recourse to a Player Who Knows How to Win. It's theorized that these elite players emit waves of invisible energy that are capable of causing fumbles and errant passes—and can even summon sudden gusts of wind that deflect field goals. Such a player will be asked to communicate his proprietary know-how to the rest of the team. This ritual takes place at a sideline meeting, where the player imbues his teammates with the will to win by screaming inspirational totems like "just win, baby!" or "now let's go out and kill the moth&*!*$%$&%*ers!"

Important caveat: A
Player Who Knows How to Win must never exercise that gift prematurely. He may not, for example, inspire his teammates to score four touchdowns in the opening quarter, thereby putting the game safely out of reach. Rather, he must bide his time while awaiting the perfect moment to help his team snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The delicacy of this balancing act is such that a player sometimes waits too long, rendering his team vulnerable to opponents who have no quit in them.

Enjoy the game. (Helpful hint: Turn the freakin' sound off.)

* latest line, Colts by 4.


Cal said...


A masterpiece that must have been stupidly rejected by the newspaper op-ed censors.

Rational Thinking said...

Superb! Thanks, Steve :-)

I shall attempt to apply this when watching the Winter Olympics.

Steve Salerno said...

Cal: You are correct, sir. I've actually been circulating this one for three years now, with no takers. So I figured, what the hell, I'd publish it for a few people who might appreciate it. Thanks.

RevRon's Rants said...

Love it, Steve. It is especially appealing to fans like myself, who would likely opt to TIVO The Game, then delete everything save for the halftime show and the commercials. :-)

Steve Salerno said...

Ron (and to some degree this applies to comments by Cal and RT, above): Those of us in "the industry" know that there used to be a much larger (paying) market for this sort of whimsy. Sadly, magazines are devoting more and more ink to service journalism (because that's where the easiest ad-sales tie-ins are), and newspaper opinion sections are becoming all-politics-all-the-time. Even the venerable New Yorker, arguably the last well-paying bastion of snarky observational humor, allocates far less space for this type of writing than it used to, and--in another worrisome trend--prefers to assign such pieces to celebrities from other realms rather than to those of us who do this for a (supposed) living.

Had I thought about it in time, I would've trimmed this down and sent it to Smithsonian for their storied back-page feature. But even they don't really pay.

Meanwhile, I can sit down with a PR assignment and, in an hour or so, earn the same kind of money I get from major magazines after turning in assignments that took me over a month to research and write. Very depressing.

sassy sasha said...

i'm not a huge sports fan but i hear my brothers say shit like this all the time and they're SERIOUS, very funny steve!!

Sarsabu said...

The team that will win will be the one that wants it more! (Therefore my advice is that both teams start immediately doing some turbo-charged wanting. This is to ensure that they definitely want it way more than their opponents and victory will be assured).

Steve Salerno said...

Sars: Thanks, I don't know how I overlooked that one!

LizaJane said...

Love it! Thanks, Steve. It did remind me of a "Shouts and Murmurs" column from The New Yorker.

Have sales of SHAM risen recently? If so, that was me pointing various SHAM-y FB friends in your book's direction. No thanks necessary... : )

Cal said...

I apologize for the off-topic comment/question:

Steve, did you say a long time ago on a blog comment (not an actual posting) that Taylor Swift couldn't sing?

I did a search of the blog and nothing popped up. I just remembered what I believed you said since the controversy over her performance during the Grammy's.

Steve Salerno said...

Cal: No, it was some other vaunted "singer-songwriter" that inspired my snark--some early-teen who got this incredible record deal in spite of the fact that she couldn't stay on key for more than two notes at a time. The name escapes me.