More than 106 million people watched the New Orleans Saints triumph over the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV, thus making it the most-watched television broadcast in U.S. history. Another 6.7 million viewers made it the top television program of all time in Canada. The day after the big game, I listened to sports radio talk shows, read numerous articles on the web, browsed football blogs and message boards, and I still have not found any one to report seeing the same things that my girlfriend so acutely pointed out.
Let me back up for a moment, and give you some perspective on my frame of mind frame before watching the game. On Saturday, February 6, 2010, ProFootball.com reported that the ESPN.com had posted an article asking readers to rank quarterbacks who had won only one Super Bowl. The original posting was removed from ESPN.com, but it stated the following:
“After completing the best season in New Orleans Saints history, Drew Brees has finally won his first Super Bowl. Brees’ lone Super Bowl victory puts him on an eclectic list of starting quarterbacks with one title to their names. From all-time greats like Brett Favre to big personalities like Jim McMahon, 18 men have started and won pro football’s biggest game but once in their careers. Below, we’ve listed the 18, and now it’s up to you to rank them from top to bottom.” – ESPN.com
ESPN’s prophetic posting made me think that they knew something the rest of us didn’t know. It made me think that they had learned who would win America’s biggest sporting event twenty-four hours before the game had even started. It may me think that the fix was on. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in Vegas at the time.
Of course, it’s possible that the anonymous writer had written this blurb ahead of time, just in case the Saints won. The item may have been published prematurely in error. Of course, if the Colts had won the Super Bowl, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning would have won his second champtionship. There would have been no real reader interest in ranking one time Super Bowl winners. Somehow, I don’t think the unknown writer was worried about that possibility because the posting found its way back on to ESPN.com with a creation time of February 7, 2010, 9:20 PM. ESPN published a revision of the posting declaring that Brees won a ring, when he still hadn’t yet done so. The Super Bowl game was still being played at 9:20 PM EST.
Reading this Saturday ESPN posting depressed me. I’m neither a Saints fan nor a Colts fan, so I had no dog in the fight. Even if the game was fixed, I still wanted to enjoy watching the drama unfold. I didn’t want the ending spoiled for me whether it was predetermined or not.
On Sunday, I told my girlfriend about the story, and then brushed it off. I started thinking about how much better the Colts had been playing in the playoffs compared to the Saints. I started thinking about how Favre had thrown all over the Saints defense, and how Manning should be able to do the same. Sure enough, after the first quarter of the game, the Colts had jumped out to a 10-0 lead. Manning was carving up the Saints secondary, and I had all but forgotten the ESPN.com posting. At the end of the second quarter, the Colts were still winning 10-6.
At halftime, my girlfriend and I nervously watched the legendary band The Who try and overcome the poor acoustics of the Miami open air stadium, while Roger Daltrey and Pete Townsend sang, “Who are you? Who, who, who, who?” After the commercial break, Jay-Z came on the screen rapping and posing, accompanied by the voice of Rhianna singing, “Only thing that’s on my mind, is who gonna run this town tonight, is who gonna run this town tonight.”
“Oh, I get it,” my girlfriend interjected.
“What?” I asked.
“The Who, “Who gonna run this town tonight,” and ‘Who Dat,’ ” she explained.
“Oh my God. You’re right,” I concluded. “The Saints are going to win.”
My girlfriend has a knack of picking up on the signs and clues that a writer leaves, thus she often can figure out where a writer is going with a movie or a book before she’s finished watching or reading it. Once she smartly pointed out the theme of the Super Bowl show, I knew the outcome was a foregone conclusion. CBS had been beating us over the head with it. Obviously, the Super Bowl producers were told who the winner would be, and they built the show around the “Who Dats.”
The Who were chosen to perform at halftime because their band name and classic song with the same name fit the show’s subject matter perfectly. Why else would the NFL showcase Pete Townsend, a registered sex offender, to a family audience on the worlds’ biggest stage.
Jay-Z and Rhianna’s repeated use of the lyric “who” from their song “Run This Town” was contemporary icing on the cake. These directorial choices cannot be confused with coincidences. These are conscious choices. Men At Work’s “Who Can It Be Now?” would have been a nice touch.
The Colts were the 14-0 team that decided to not go for the perfect record, and pull their starters the last two regular season games. Who could cheer for that? Sure, the Colts had wide receiver Pierre Garcon’s story about not being able to get in touch with his relatives in Haiti. Garcon’s impressive post season performance has provided inspiration and a healthy distraction for Haitians struggling through their country’s adversity. Unfortunately, Haiti’s sad story is ongoing, and it doesn’t sell as well as happy ones.
The “Who Dats” have been the feel good story all season long. Tagging the Saints as the inspiration for a rebuilding New Orleans, four-years removed from Hurricane Katrina, may have been a bit of a stretch, but it’s the one the media decided to run with. Add quarterback Drew Brees’ strength in overcoming his mother’s suicide last summer. Lastly, New Orleans hometown native Tracy Porter sealing the win with his fourth quarter pick 6 touchdown from former New Orleans local Manning, and you’ve got the perfect storm. You just can’t write this stuff. Or can you?
Skeptics may point out that there was no one single play in the game that the referees didn’t get right that led to the Saints victory. If the refs did their job right, there shouldn’t be. The game is shaped by the refs subtly with how they spot the ball, and what penalties they call and don’t call. The refs’ job is to put the designated losing team in much more difficult positions.
Still, there were a couple of controversial plays that stood out. First, the two-point conversion by Saints wide receiver Lance Moore that was initially ruled as an incompletion, but was strangely overturned. As ProFootballtalk.com reported, the NFL provided this explanation: “By rule, when a receiver with possession of the ball is in the act of going to the ground and performs a second act by reaching out to break the plane, that completes the process of the catch and the ball is dead when it breaks the plane.”
However, the NFL rulebook is in sharp contrast to this justification. The rule states, “”If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball after he touches the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete.”
Moore did not have control of the ball after he touched the ground. There has been a precedence set on how this play has been ruled during the season. When the referees overturned the correct call after watching the replay, it was just bad television. They must have gotten some writers on loan from CBS’s CSI.
Secondly, why did the refs swallow their whistles when Manning was illegally blocked in the back by Saints defensive end Will Smith during the interception return? If that penalty had been correctly called, then a touchdown would not have been scored, and the Colts would still have had time to possibly stop the Saints, and get the ball back. Still, neither of these two examples are conclusive reasons why the Colts lost, but they sure did help the Saints assure a win.
Claiming that pro athletics are more show business than sports is no new revelation here. Most recently, the book Blowing the Whistle by former NBA referee Tim Donaghy, revealed how he knew which NBA games to bet on. Donaghy reports that he was right 80% of the time. However, his book was mysteriously published and then canceled before it came out, as if someone had made a deal with the publishers that they couldn’t refuse. Since Donaghy has been convicted for betting on NBA games, he has been completely discredited by the media. Besides, why would sports writers, who cover the NBA, want to support a story that might threaten their livelihood.
Why hasn’t anyone else pointed out the obvious “Who Dat” theme of the Super Bowl that foreshadowed the outcome? The reason is because NFL football is a mutil-billion dollar industry. The Super Bowl just scored the highest Neilson rating ever. There’s money to be made by everyone involved. Why would anyone want to spoil that?
Honestly, wouldn’t you rather believe that the game was on the up-and-up? You don’t tell a guy who goes to a strip club that the woman that he’s chatting up, isn’t really interested in him. He already knows that in the back of his mind. He’s paid his money, so that for a few minutes, he can escape and believe otherwise.
You don’t tell a child that the guy you’re waiting in line to see at the mall is not really Santa Claus. You let the child sit on Santa’s lap. You let the child indulge in a little harmless fantasy. It’s the same with sports.
We don’t want to know that the game’s outcome has already been predetermined. We want to believe in the magic of sports and its spontaneity. We want to believe that anything can happen.
If it’s not real, then I just wish they would do a better job in disguising it. Do we really need new themes each season. Isn’t the game enough? No, those days are long over. Hollywood and sports have merged for bigger and more dramatic stories each season.
Perhaps, The Who still have something to say to all generations. On Sunday, Daltrey breathed new life into his old anthem when he screamed, “Don’t get fooled again.”