Against All Odds
The NFL Can’t Kill the Super Bowl, No Matter How Hard It Tries
The NFL has talked down to its fans, treated its players like meat, and tried to make Super Bowl week into a circus. It didn’t work. The Super Bowl is bigger than the mess that is the NFL.
Thank God the NFL can't kill the Super Bowl, no matter how hard it has tried to in these past few months. What a spectacle—a redeemable and flawed and necessary thing that really is the best of us.
The Patriots won the the 49th one last night, one of the best ever, 28-24. New England outmiracled the Seahawks, but just barely. A pass—without exaggeration—fell into the lap of Seattle wideout Jermaine Kearse with less than a minute left. He was on his back when it fell to him from both the heavens and the fingertips of Malcolm Butler.
Then New England finally caught a break in a Super Bowl for the first time in a decade. The guy whose fingertips almost lost the Patriots the game a few minutes beforehand, Malcolm Butler, picked off a Russell Wilson pass at the goal line. Game over.
I'd say he was in cahoots with heaven, but he wasn't. He knew the play because he'd watched the tape, he said to ESPN talker Sal Paolantonia afterwards, and he jumped the route for the pick.
Butler was an undrafted free agent a year ago and he won the Super Bowl for his team because he outworked and outsmarted everyone.
If the NFL were any good at this sort of thing, it would let you know that the league has literally thousands of good men who outwork and outsmart everybody else, but the NFL is a terrible advocate, because the NFL is terrible at everything except making and spending money.
Twelve years ago, Hunter S. Thompson called the 2003 Super Bowl the "last one" or maybe "the last one for a while, at least until the (impending Iraq) War ends." He was off—the Super Bowl went on, then the NFL named Roger Goodell its commissioner three and a half years later to try to make good on Thompson's promise. A few domestic-violence scandals, one decades-long concussion scandal, one Pro Bowler on trial for serial killing, and one made-up/trumped-up-to-cover-for-the-other-ones scandal later—it almost worked.
Up until this game, I would've said, "The only thing that can kill the Super Bowl is the NFL itself," but I'm not sure about that anymore. I'm not sure the NFL could kill the Super Bowl if it tried.
In fact, it did try. There were little pieces of the NFL's myriad, soul-deep problems all throughout the game—of how the league's PR tendrils have crawled into previously sacred places, like the broadcast of the game itself, because big-money partners are forced to kowtow at every turn for the rights to broadcast a game full of naturally occurring miracles.
Luckily for us, when it comes to hiding its planted corporate-speak, the NFL is about as subtle as halftime fireworks.
When Seahawk Keith Avril was knocked out earlier in the game, sideline reporter Michele Tafoya updated us later: He was not allowed to return because he had been ruled out by an "unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant." It was the first time those three words had ever been uttered by a non-lawyer in American history, and it was tinged with wild self-congratulations. The NFL wasn't going to let someone die of brain damage during the Super Bowl—not this year, at least!
Of course, a few minutes later, Julian Edelman was popped at midfield and visibly shaken. For the next few plays, he would struggle to his feet after splaying out for passes. Cris Collinsworth said Edelman had banged up his hip a few weeks ago, and that's what it was.
But here's the funny thing: We all have TVs, too. It was the thwack at midfield that did it, and everybody knew, but nobody on TV could say it.
"It's a shame Julian Edelman won't remember this game," TJ Lang tweeted.
TJ Lang is an offensive lineman on the Green Bay Packers.
Players are not dumb, and they're a little tired of being treated like meat. The Seahawks—Richard Sherman and Marshawn Lynch and the rest, transgressive and individual and one yard away from being the best in the world—are perfect examples of it.
Imagine that: Once the NFL gets rid of Roger Goodell and hires a commissioner who views his or her players as people—not broken, mutinous parts with an expiration date—the Super Bowl is going to be even better.
Better than the one last night, even.
It doesn't seem possible, but it will be.
Remember: Had Pete Carroll opted to run the football instead of pass it at the goal line, a wide receiver who had never made a catch in his professional football career until last night—one who was a Foot Locker employee a few months ago—was the favorite to win the Super Bowl MVP, like a TV movie.
A woman flew through the sky on a drone shaped like a star and sang and didn't cry up there, like we all would. It really is the best of all of us.
The NFL can't kill it because it can't kill you and it can't kill joy. It wants to. It wants to see if it can make you give it $50 for access to it. But it cannot kill it. We now have proof.