The Super Bowl is on Sunday, but already it is a grand success. I have seen what will surely be the best commercial, the one for Honda featuring Matthew Broderick as an updated Ferris Bueller. There are already reports of infighting in the Madonna camp because of her insistence on keeping the temperature for rehearsals at 78 degrees, driving the other dancers crazy with sweat and exhaustion as they practice for the halftime show. Plus, fights and dissension are always a good sign that something fun will happen during the show. Perhaps Madonna’s baring of both breasts to beat the record of one set in Super Bowl XXXVIII by Janet Jackson.*
So what else could you possibly want at this point?
Something is missing. It’s on the tip of my tongue. Give me a few seconds. I’m 57 and don’t remember the name or plot of a movie five seconds after I see it. Wait. Hold it. FOR FUCKSAKES JUST BE PATIENT!...
I got it.
I knew there was something.
It is not unreasonable to forget about Super Bowl XLVI, since in the scheme of marketing by the National Football League, it is becoming more and more of an obligation of duty. Five years from now the league won’t even bother to play the Super Bowl, just four hours straight of commercials or seeing if Steven Tyler’s lips can stretch the length of a football field. Which, considering the quality of most of the 45 Super Bowls already completed, would not be bad things. Either that or given the increased obsession over injury prevention, require all players to wear white tie and tails and replace tackles with a fist bump and a man-crush kiss.
Until then, we might as well enjoy the contest between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants. They played before in one of the best Super Bowls ever, a 17-14 Giants win in 2008 featuring the greatest play in Super Bowl history during the winning drive when Giant quarterback Eli Manning somehow scrambled free from four Patriot tacklers and threw a ball to David Tyree that he kept possession of with his helmet.
The Patriots have the better offense if tight end Rob Gronkowski has sufficiently recovered from a high ankle sprain. He set a league record for tight ends with 17 touchdown catches, making him quarterback Tom Brady’s go-to red-zone target, and he is the key to a New England victory. The Patriots defense, which finished second to last in passing yards allowed, is wobbly. So the Giants will move the ball. Eli Manning had a breakout year at quarterback throwing for 4,933 yards and 29 touchdowns, and they have three good wide receivers in Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham, and the surprising Victor Cruz.
I have mixed feelings about the game. I went to school with New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. We have kept in touch and he is a friend, although I will confess that there is a certain faraway quality to him, a man always a lock and key away from the rubber room. In 2006 we sat together at a playoff game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series and he said less to me than he does in his postgame press conferences. Since I don’t speak much either, “How about a beer, Bill?” felt Proustian. Although to be honest, I have no idea what that means and I don’t think any writer using the reference knows either.
He didn’t want the beer anyway.
As for the Giants, my favorite player in the league has become Eli Manning. I judged Eli by his looks when he started in 2004, since we all judge people by their looks. He far exceeded any standard definition of goofy-looking, and because he is from Louisiana and I am from New York, it was only fair to assume he was incredibly stupid. Eli was always in the shadow of brother Peyton of the Indianapolis Colts. He could never do that Peyton thing in which, with the aid of hand signals, each offensive lineman performed a short but convincing snippet of “Singin’ in the Rain” before the snap. Eli was always maddeningly inconsistent for much of his career, great for one quarter and then bizarre for the other three.
But this season he has not looked so goofy. He has been remarkable in the clutch. He has shown remarkable poise. In the NFC championship game against the San Francisco 49ers two weeks ago, he took the worst thrashing I have seen in recent memory. He was sacked six times and knocked down a total of 12 times. The hits, even in the age of quarterback protection, were legal and vicious. I don’t know how he got up. But he did and threw a fourth quarter touchdown to Mario Manningham to put the Giants ahead and eventually win the game in overtime, 20-17. During the season Eli has engineered seven fourth-quarter comebacks and eight game-winning drives.
But a friend is still a friend. I went to Andover with Belichick in the 1970s (he was there for a postgraduate year while I was kept prisoner for four years). He was cynical and funny, although no one would ever accuse him of being Chuckles the Clown (“A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants.”). Just like today he never said a lot, perhaps because even then he was soaking up as much about football as he could, in that instance from legendary Andover coach Steve Serota. I like Belichick’s sideline sweatshirt. I like the fact that he gives one-word answers to the media, because most of the questions are ridiculous and reporters know that neither he nor any coach would ever answer them.
Several years ago I introduced him to former Cardinal manager Tony La Russa. I had a hunch the two would hit it off together, La Russa even more taciturn than Belichick if possible. Dinners were always a highlight, three hours of complete silence (they ordered by pointing) followed by La Russa invariably telling me the next morning, “Thanks a lot for introducing me to Bill. He’s a fascinating guy.”
I must have missed something during coffee….
Five years from now the league won’t even bother to play the Super Bowl, just four hours straight of commercials or seeing if Steven Tyler’s lips can stretch the length of a football field.
Despite my ambivalence, predictions must be made. So here they are:
1. The Matthew Broderick/Ferris Bueller commercial will stand up as the best Super Bowl spot.
2. In a halftime show surprise, Madonna will sing “Amazing Grace” in a black leather nun’s habit with a slit going up to the scalp. In the second chorus she will be joined by Jimmy Swaggart, I mean Tim Tebow. Tebow afterward will throw to the crowd little footballs with a picture of him kneeling in prayer. None will travel more than 10 feet, his usual range, one of which will hit Madonna in the eye, his usual accuracy. Tebow will then wade into the crowd carrying a little wicker basket and charge each person who caught a football two grand, part of Tithing for Tebow, all in the name of the Lord of course.
3. Manning will engineer a late fourth-quarter drive to put the Giants up 24-21 with 2:32 left on the clock. Patriots quarterback Brady will then take the team on a 78-yard drive, capped off by an 11-yard touchdown pass to the 6-foot-7-inch Gronkowski, overcoming his high ankle sprain to find room in the middle of the end zone.
Patriots 28. Giants 24.
Eat. Drink. Vomit. Occasionally watch.
May it be downright Proustian.
* Because Jackson was wearing a nipple shield at the time, the NFL insists that an asterisk be placed next to the record.