"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)

Friday, February 03, 2006

Super Bowl Preview: Why I Give a Rip 

Let me say first that I completely understand why some people don't much care for American rules football, and in particular, loathe the grotesque spectacle that the Super Bowl has become.

American football (hereafter, simply "football"; fans of soccer, rugby, and Aussie rules will simply have to deal with it) is a genuinely strange game. A friend of mine was in London many years ago when the NFL played its first pre-season exhibition game in Europe. She was amused by the announcers' attempts to explain the game to the British audience as "a cross between chess and mud wrestling." Along the same lines, George Will (who is generally a dishonest hack, but does have a genuine way with words) once complained that football incorporates two of America's least appealing traditions - violence, and committee meetings.

And yes, football is a violent game. I am at a loss to explain how it is that I can abhor boxing - even hockey makes me queasy, for goodness' sake - but get such pleasure out of watching enormous men run into each other at full speed. Still, there is no denying the visceral thrill I get when I hear the crack of shoulder pads against bone.

Football lacks the constant action of basketball (which actually gets tedious, in my opinion), or the beautiful, otherworldly rhythm of baseball. And it is hard to deny that the game has nearly been ruined by the pernicious influence of television (one reason that soccer will never really succeed in America, aside from the curse of the zero-to-zero tie, is that there is no allowance for commercial interruptions and so no incentive for broadcasters to put it on the air).

And so I completely understand this expression of ennui from TBogg:
One of the things that I dislike about the Super Bowl (and I'm going to point out that I'm not a big fan of pro football and I didn't see last years game and I'm not planning on watching this years. So there...) is the bandwagon effect where people who care nothing about football jump on board because, well, everyone is doing it. And with that comes the predictions from people who haven't a clue but don't want to run the risk of not playing along and being one of the guys.

TBogg goes on to note that the mouthbreathers at National Review are foursquare behind the Steelers this Sunday, mostly (it seems) because they think there is something vaguely effete about my city. William "Snake Eyes" Bennett and Rush "Jabba the Junkie" Limbaugh are especially insulting, which simply reinforces my faith in both my home team and my political beliefs. Also, some creature which calls itself Denis Boyles refers to Seattle as "the capital of soggy self-righteousness." Bite me, Denis - and say, isn't that a French name?

TBogg has it right, though. My love of football is a direct result of a need to be one of the guys; specifically, one of these guys:
Father, son, and wholly toast

They say that the child is father to the man, but then again, they say lots of weird stuff that makes my brain hurt. All I know is that everything I know about being a father I learned from my own dad. I was never an athletic kid, but for some reason I have especially clear memories throwing a football back back and forth with my father in the backyard. I recall my dad sitting down at the dining room table and patiently drawing out offensive and defensive formations for me, so that I could tell a quarterback from a cornerback. I remember him betting a dollar or two against me on every Super Bowl, and I got to pick my team first.

And now, of course, the time has come to build the same kind of memories with my own son. Nick is only four years old, so his attention span generally expires somewhere around the end of the first quarter. I doubt he will hold out much longer this Sunday, but that's okay. When the game is over, we'll toss the Nerf football around the living room, and he'll knock himself out - not literally, I hope - trying to "tackle" me (no easy trick, when I'm on my knees). And maybe he'll remember it when he gets old.

This year's Seahawk team is chockablock with great human interest stories - linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski, who went from homelessness to Harvard before joining the NFL; nose tackle Lofa Tatupu, a rookie who runs the defense on the field; and of course, Matt Hasselbeck, the man who would be Brett Favre - but there is one story that engages my emotions in a very personal way:
Joe Jurevicius will stride into the Ford Field end zone before Sunday's Super Bowl, trace an "M," look up and say, "I need you."

Then he'll play in his third NFL championship game, one the Seattle wide receiver says will have extra meaning for him and his family.

Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Joe Jurevicius talks with reporters during Super Bowl XL Media Day at Ford Field in Detroit Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2006. Super Bowl XL will feature the AFC Champion Pittsburgh Steelers against the NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks.

"I do it all the time," Jurevicius said Tuesday of his tribute to Michael, his infant son who died three years ago. "I have him buried in Cleveland, Ohio, right down the street from his grandpa and grandma. As soon as I leave here and go back to Cleveland, I go there every morning and I go there every night.

"I kind of look at him as my 'X' factor," he said.

During the 2003 playoffs, his wife, Meagan, gave birth to Michael. Their son was born with sialidosis, a neurodegenerative disease, and was given 72 hours to live.

Jurevicius, then with Tampa Bay, missed practices to be with them, and the Buccaneers arranged for a private plane to take him to games.

He had a huge NFC championship game at Philadelphia, then had four catches for 78 yards in the win over Oakland in the Super Bowl — despite flying back and forth from San Diego to Tampa in the days leading up to the game.

Michael passed away two months later.

I'm sure that Joe Jurevicius knows he's a very lucky man - he's a good receiver, but lots of good players never get a chance to play in even one Super Bowl, much less three. Still, there's luck - and then there's luck:
Old school meets new school

I'm a very lucky man, because this Sunday, watching my team play in the Super Bowl, I get to be one of the guys.




Great stuff Rod. Love the pics of young Nick and you. Football is game meant to be shared - this coming from a lunatic who once called his best friend to discuss a favorite player's injury in the middle of the night - from France.
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