The Day the Super Bowl Died: On Ray Lewis, Downton Abbey, and Growing Old
I became a grown-up tonight. I became a grown-up in part because I realized that an event that I’d once looked forward to and once placed upon a pedestal had become a boring parody of itself and also, in part, because like all grown ups my enjoyment of the ridiculous spectacle was in direct competition with the kinds of problems that nibble around the consciousness of grown-ups.
Caveat: I love football. I probably love it too much. But I told my wife at the end of the night, “The best part about the Super Bowl this year was the cheese dip you made.” I meant that. It was the only part of the evening that I enjoyed without qualification.
Tonight, of course, was Super Bowl night. A night that featured the following:
- A now-obligatory six-hour pregame show which featured the same obligatory depressing/inspiring human interest story, the same rags-to-riches story, and the same back-slapping guffawing and jocularity as last year’s six-hour pregame show.
- A now-obligatory endless halftime show featuring Beyonce’ wearing a leather bathing suit and wondering, rhetorically, if I’m “ready for this jelly.” I turned to our friends and said the following: “I don’t mean to sound smug and superior but I’m pretty sure this halftime show is evidence of the decline of civilization.” I’m pretty sure I sounded smug and superior.
- Our nation’s secular/spiritual Authority On Everything, Oprah Winfrey, voice-overing a commercial that was meant to make us reflect on something important, but which ran right after Beyonce explaining the origins of everything important she owns (“I bought it.” – Beyonce’) The placement of Oprah’s heavy-handed commercial seemed strangely appropriate.
- Too much coverage of Ray Lewis, who has a strange public relationship with God and about whom way too much has been made. I cared very little about either team but was actively rooting against Ray Lewis for reasons that even I can’t exactly articulate but which may have something to do with the fact that God, to Ray Lewis, seems like He may not be anything more than the guy who helped him beat a murder rap and is helping the Ravens win football games.
- The growing realization (by me) that analysis like the paragraph above probably won’t ever find its way into anything I’m writing for publication these days given that it’s (ed. note: “too cynical”) and (ed. note: “smacks of negativity – please change”). There’s perhaps nothing sadder and more grown-up than realizing that you’re probably never going to positively change the industry you’re in, and that working adulthood is a minefield full of the kinds of compromises you make just to remain employed. These are the sorts of realizations that made our dads occasionally sit in a chair and just stare off into space.
- What’s difficult in the above paragraph is realizing that now, I’m the dad in that vignette, and that even though I am fully thankful for the opportunity to write about athletes, I still grieve what’s left on the cutting room floor at the end of it.
- My wife noticing that after scoring a touchdown, Colin Kaepernick kissed his own bicep, prompting her to ask, “Why is Kaeperdink (sic) kissing his bicept?” She always adds a “t” to the end of “bicep” and I never correct it, because I think it’s cute. Moreover, why DID he kiss his own bicep?
- A weird power-outage in the third quarter which prompted my dad to text, “I bet Obama pulled the plug,” which prompted me to respond, “Now he can raise taxes and create a government program to restore power to the Superdome.” This is the kind of text exchange that only happens between old men.
What I’m hesitant to admit is that at 9 PM, while the game was still very much up in the air, I clicked over to PBS to watch Masterpiece Classics “Downton Abbey,” a show to which I’m moderately addicted even though after last week’s episode I said to my wife, “I’m never watching this again.” (Note: If you saw last week’s episode you understand why.) For an hour I lost myself in the tension between Robert and Cora, wondering if Mr. Bates was finally going to get out of jail, and enjoying the fact that Mrs. Patmore was able to help the girl who used to be a prostitute cook a good meal for Matthew’s mother’s luncheon. I chose all of this over Super Bowl (roman numeral whatever) which is either an indictment of the Super Bowl or proof of Downton Abbey’s greatness. Probably both.
At the end of the evening I understood, for the first time, why my dad stopped caring about all this stuff at some point, even though he never stopped loving football. It’s because he was worried about me. It’s because he was probably preoccupied with his own career compromises.
It’s because sometimes sitting in a chair and staring out into the void is better than whatever is on television, even if it’s the Super Bowl.