Down And Distance
Rating the storytelling potential of the four possible Super Bowl matchups
Football — especially NFL football — is a game, but it’s also an unfolding narrative of contemporary American culture. Sometimes that narrative is rich and offers huge amounts of insight into the American psyche of the moment — as is the case of a Denver Broncos quarterback who failed utterly at the game this past weekend — and sometimes the narrative is a bit more strained, like any time a team from the NFC West finds itself in the Super Bowl somehow.
In any case, the 2011-2012 NFL season is nearly behind us, and the narratives that are left to follow have dwindled to four. The Houston Texans’ feel-good story of the redemption of both a suddenly-dominant defense and a disgraced Texas coach — as well as the unexpected pluck and determination of a bunch of backups and rookies — ended with a fart, though the wait-till-next-year potential of a team likely to have a fully-healthy Andre Johnson, Matt Schaub, and Mario Williams is off the charts...
The New Orleans Saints are done, and Drew Brees’ absurd year of disrespect from the sports establishment — dude had the best year of any quarterback probably ever and was an afterthought in MVP discussions — will likely last for another season. The Green Bay Packers — the NFL’s most dominant force — were clobbered by the New York Giants so convincingly, and with their offense sputtering so badly, that you could practically hear Brett Favre furiously masturbating throughout the fourth quarter all the way in Texas…
...and even Tim friggin’ Tebow, the blue-and-orange messiah, was utterly exposed by a merciless Tom Brady with hate in his heart, determined to make the kid go from looking like Moses to looking like Job.
Yeah, those are the stories we are done with. Oh, you’ll hear Tebow’s name plenty, and up in Wisconsin the “what the hell just happened” posts will be penned by bloggers with their foam cheeseheads still jauntily askew from the tailgate party for the next two weeks. But if there is one thing that the NFL has in common with the political world and the broader American culture, it is that it forgets quickly what it cared about deeply only weeks earlier.
Tim Tebow is a punchline for the next few months, at least, and the Discount Double-Check commercials will make grown men from Fon Du Lac tear up until the start of free agency — and all that matters now is what becomes of the teams who are still in this thing.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the four potential Super Bowl matchups, ranking them in order of how much storytelling potential they have for an audience who spent twelve hours a week watching NFL football for the past four and a half months in the hope that their world will make a little more sense.
New York Giants versus New England Patriots
In Boston, they still spit on the ground when they say the words “Super Bowl XLII.” Then, the high-flying Patriots, a mere game away from the historic 19-0 season they so coveted, were hammered by a vicious Giants team that had Tom Brady looking like — well, looking like Aaron Rodgers did on Sunday, terrified of his own shadow and overthrowing receivers he’d effortlessly completed passes to every Sunday for months on end. So many bad people went home that night and kicked their dogs (note: 95% of Boston sports fans are bad people) that a re-match between the teams from America’s two most loathsome sports cities will have the ASPCA blanketing the airwaves with a futile marketing campaign.
But for the rest of us, we’re good. A Patriots/Giants rematch offers either the promise of revenge — sweeter than redemption! — or the promise of further humiliation inflicted upon two of the smuggest dickheads in football. The ratings here would be off the charts. I want it to happen so badly.
Number of Golden Globe awards: Best drama, best actor, best supporting actor, best adapted screenplay, best director
San Francisco 49ers versus Baltimore Ravens
Foreigners don’t usually understand American football — the game is too slow, with fits and starts and arcane rules (a Giants defender bumping his shoulder in Aaron Rodgers’ back as he releases a pass is a penalty, but a helmet-to-helmet collision that ended Pierre Thomas’ night in San Francisco on Saturday five minutes into the game was totally cool), and they still can’t get over the fact that we had the audacity to call the game football even though there’s barely any kicking involved (unless you’re Ndamakung Suh – too easy?).
So we could really confuse them if the Jim Harbaugh-coached 49ers played the John Harbaugh-coached Ravens for the championship. Here’s what we’ll do: everybody tell any friends from overseas that every championship game in football has to be played between a set of brothers, to determine which one their parents love best. We are a culture known for being cruel and relishing public humiliations — check out our reality shows! — and they’ll totally buy it.
Meanwhile, who do the Harbaugh parents love best? They’ll be proud, sure, but watching the endless cutaways to the folks in the stands as they cheer as Ray Lewis beheads Ted Ginn with a flying tackle at the 50 yard line and imagining the awkward Easter Dinner at the Harbaugh House will be a new American pastime.
Number of Golden Globe nominations: Best comedy/musical, best supporting actress, best original score
New York Giants versus Baltimore Ravens
There’s no chance of an “I love you, bro” between Tom Coughlin and John Harbaugh after the game, and no long-simmering enmity between Eli Manning and Joe Flacco to root for if these teams find themselves facing off in the Super Bowl. That’s disappointing, in some ways — we are a lazy people, and being able to re-hash familiar stories like “mom always liked you best” or “Super Bowl XLII” appeals to us. But on the other hand, that just offers some new opportunities to think about the game.
For instance: could a perennial afterthought in the ongoing discussion of the game’s best quarterbacks like Eli Manning be the one who ends the careers of surefire first-ticket Hall Of Famers like Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, who’ll be on retirement watch for sure if they end up playing in another Super Bowl? Can some guy named Victor Cruz complete the rags-to-riches story he’s been living all year by torching a terrifying pass defense in the Super Bowl and end up on the cover of Madden ‘13?
It’s not quite the blockbuster that Giants/Patriots would be, but there’s potential here…
Number of Golden Globe nominations: Best original screenplay
San Francisco 49ers versus New England Patriots
Dedicated fans of the game would be psyched about this one: a top-five offense against a top-five defense, to settle once and for all whether this is truly the dawning of a new era in the game where an a-list quarterback is the key to winning and defense is as outdated as leather helmets and declining to take Human Growth Hormone. The implications of old-school, smashmouth football against airy, effete, dare we say it — liberal — passing attacks could be profound both for America and at least the short-term future of the game.
But that is for nerds, mostly, who think the idea of Alex Smith, Super Bowl Champion, could be a gosh-darn good story instead of a chance for babbling ESPN mouthpiece Trent Dilfer to finally shed his “worst quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl” title. It’s the equivalent of some art film nobody saw taking home Best Picture — and the implications of that for American culture probably mean that Ron Paul will be President or something. Here’s hoping for Giants/Pats, if only to see ESPN’s Grantland editor (and avowed Patriots fan) Bill Simmons grow increasingly unhinged in the two-week lead-up to the game.
Number of Golden Globe nominations: Cecile B. Demille award