Block & Tackle previews the upcoming weekend of NFL football.
Sunday’s Super Bowl will be the mass media event of the year. It’s almost certain that more than 100 million Americans will tune in to watch. The game will be on the front page of every newspaper, and it will be the prime topic of conversation when you go to work on Monday. Maybe none of this matters to you. That’s fine! As long as you know that no one gives two shits about your decision not to watch the Super Bowl.
I’m talking to you, the graduate student who tweets “Time to catch up on my Proust” two minutes before kickoff. May you be struck with the flu on the day of your dissertation defense. And to you, the parent who takes his kids sledding on Super Bowl Sunday and posts a picture to Instagram with the caption “What football game?” Oh, and of course you applied the “1977” photo filter. May your firstborn face-plant into the nearest snowbank, and may you capture the moment in tilt-shifted, high-dynamic-range, desaturated glory.
I understand the impulse to push back. The frenzy surrounding the game is feverish and maddeningly insubstantial—it seems that most reports from Super Bowl Media Day, for instance, just end up reporting that Super Bowl Media Day is stupid. Which it is. With wacky costumes, widespread confusion, and profound tedium, the whole thing is one big Comic-Con line at this point. NESN’s Media Day report is an exemplar of the form: The first photo on the page depicts Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman pointing his camera at reporters, and the second photo depicts reporters pointing their cameras at Richard Sherman. Amid this maelstrom of recursive hype, it can feel transgressive to proclaim that you don’t care.
But it’s not transgressive, and it’s not even interesting. Last year’s game got a 48.1-percent share of TV viewers. That means that of the people watching television while the Super Bowl was on, more than half were watching something else—and that doesn’t even account for all the people who had the TV off entirely. If you’re ignoring the Super Bowl, you’re not a freaking iconoclast. You’re a member of the silent majority.
At least, it would be nice if you were silent, because it’s fun for the rest of us to pretend that the Super Bowl is one big, dumb party with the whole United States in attendance. We don’t have many of those collective moments left. The holidays have become politically charged. We don’t come together to celebrate the end of wars anymore, because our wars never end. The Super Bowl is a convenient touchstone, because the important part only takes a few hours on one day, while other major sports have championship series that can last longer than a week. Most people aren’t interested in that kind of commitment.
And like I said, most people aren’t interested in the Super Bowl either, but it’s fun to pretend that everyone is. In this one cultural moment each year, we feel a connection to a larger whole—one that’s inclusive, silly, undemanding, and dissipates within a day. To achieve that feeling, however briefly, takes a mild suspension of disbelief. When you post your sniffy Facebook status, out of some misplaced need to let everyone know what a Special Individual you are, all you do is upset that suspension of disbelief a tiny bit.
You don’t have to love or even understand football. Mock the game, rage against its violence, jeer the announcers, watch it for the ads, liveblog the Puppy Bowl—you’re still participating. Or go ahead and ignore it altogether. That’s cool, too. Just don’t be so eager to wave the flag of apathy, because nobody cares that you don’t care.
Seattle Seahawks vs. Denver Broncos — Sunday, 6:30 p.m. Eastern, Fox
Although the game is being played in the Giants’ and Jets’ stadium, the Broncos are the “home team” for Super Bowl XLVIII—the nominal Super Bowl home squad simply switches between the NFL’s two conferences each year, and it’s the AFC’s turn. (In fact, if the NFC’s Giants had made the championship game this year, they still would have technically been the “away team” in their own stadium.) No team has ever played the Super Bowl on its own field, and for the past 14 seasons, no host team has even made it to the playoffs for its city’s Super Bowl year.
So the Super Bowl is the only NFL game where the fans in the stands have no default rooting interest, especially since many of them are wealthy tourists and corporate types with no allegiance to either team. The ambience of the Super Bowl is eerie as a result: A game’s usual contrast of quiet anticipation and loud rejoicing is replaced by a persistent rolling hum, as if the game is being played in a gigantic food court. (And a prim, fancy one, too—the kind of food court that has a Panera and a Bertucci’s instead of a McDonald’s and a Sbarro.) The swells of excitement are scattered and don’t reach their heights until the fourth quarter, when everyone is ready to see history happen and are also full of $15 beers.
The aural peculiarity of the game is even more disorienting if your team is on the field, because for a fan of a Super Bowl team, this is a major life moment. I always became nauseated and borderline angry during the early minutes of the Patriots’ Super Bowl appearances. While I gritted my teeth and felt the veins in my forehead engorge themselves with a season’s worth of anticipation, the spectators were enjoying the game and amusing themselves with idle chatter. How dare they! It’s a jarring sensation, like running into the hospital for the birth of my child only to find my wife and her doctor working on a crossword puzzle. Although that’s a silly comparison, since millions of kids are born every year, but there’s only one Super Bowl. The Block & Tackle “put it in your pipe but don’t smoke it because it is far too potent—in fact, maybe it’s best if you don’t put it in your pipe at all” prediction: Seattle 17, Denver 16.
Unpronounceable Stars Of The Super Bowl: Caylin Hauptmann, Seattle Seahawks
Every year in Block & Tackle (i.e., this year), I highlight a Super Bowl player whose star may not shine so brightly as his peers, because his name is hard to pronounce. Caylin Hauptmann is a rookie offensive tackle for the Seahawks whose surname mirrors the stout interior of the Seattle line. It’s a murderer’s row of consonants. P! T! M! When you get all the heavy hitters of the alphabet together like that in one place, you know that they can’t all share the spotlight. And indeed, according to Hauptmann himself, it’s pronounced “HOWP-man.” The “T” is silent, and so is the second “N,” for that matter. Or the first “N.” It’s hard to tell.
Sitting at the bottom of the Seahawks’ depth chart, Hauptmann hasn’t played a single snap in non-exhibition games this season. If Seattle wins on Sunday, though, he’ll still get a Super Bowl ring as a member of the active roster. That raises the question: Would you wear your Super Bowl ring if you never even took the field for your team?
For me, it would depend on the ring. NFL championship jewelry ranges from the tastefully flashy to the downright gaudy. Any urbane fellow would be happy to be seen around town with the smart, restrained ring worn by the members of the 2006 Indianapolis Colts:
But it would be much harder to pull off the “Say, did you hear we’re WORLD CHAMPIONS?” Death Star ring of the Super Bowl XXXIX-winning Patriots:
Or the 2008 Steelers’ daring design, which features six glittering escape pods placed on the rim of a gold-plated vulva:
At least the Steelers had imagination. When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won Super Bowl XXXVII, they had an amazing design opportunity. Their logo is a swashbuckling pirate, after all, and with their victory, they could have created a timeless finger-sized extravaganza of treasure and booty. Here’s what they came up with:
A picture of the trophy they won. That’s the best the Buccaneers could do. Still, I would rather wear that ring than the one designed for the 2000 Baltimore Eye Lasers That Will Reprogram Your Brain:
Bonus Pick No. 1: Tecmo Super Bowl
The Super Bowl edition of Block & Tackle wouldn’t be complete with just one prediction for Sunday’s game. For the next pick, I’m turning to technology—just enough technology. I’m well aware that other, fancier football websites will plug every variable of Sunday’s matchup into the latest high-tech Madden video game to computationally simulate the outcome of Sunday’s match. Such overkill. At Block & Tackle, the predictive powers of a 30-year-old Super Nintendo game will do just fine.
The video game in question is Tecmo Super Bowl. An opening splash screen proudly boasts that Tecmo’s “team rosters are accurate as of August 16, 1993,” which is plenty accurate for our purposes. I set up a match between the Seahawks (then a member of the AFC) and the Broncos, and I added a little snow to simulate the wintry conditions at MetLife Stadium this Sunday. Here’s a video of all the exciting action:
As you can see, the highly sophisticated Tecmo technology forecasts a 21-17 Broncos victory. And if we dig deeper into the data, we can tease out other specific predictions put forth by the simulation.
• Turnovers will play a major part in the outcome. Peyton Manning (represented in the simulation by 1993 John Elway) throws an interception on the second play of the game, and the Seahawks will cash in with the game’s first touchdown. But Denver will recover, and an errant throw late in the third quarter by Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson will essentially seal Seattle’s fate.
• Denver will shock Seattle with an offensive game plan based heavily around the Peyton Manning naked bootleg run.
• Each team’s kicker, presumably affected by nerves, will kick a shaky extra point that doinks pathetically off a goalpost before wobbling through for the conversion.
• The halftime show will feature a blimp emblazoned with the words “Foot Ball” and a musical performance enhanced by the world’s slowest strobe light.
Official Official Of The Week: Terry “The Rocket” McAulay
Block & Tackle’s official Official Of The Week is Terry “Lightning” McAulay, the referee for Sunday’s Super Bowl. He wears number 77, and you’ve probably seen less of him than any other referee this season. That’s because McAulay is the fastest ref in the league. Where other referees take a few seconds before they announce a call to make sure they get plenty of camera time, Terry “ ” McAulay (so fast his nickname can’t be seen with the naked eye) often adjudicates penalties so quickly that TV crews can’t keep up. The play in the video below, taken from the Seahawks’ divisional-round game, is a good example. By the time Fox commentators Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch see that there’s a flag on the field, McAulay is already halfway done with his announcement:
McAulay may maintain a rapid pace now, but he once presided over one of the slowest calls in the history of the league—a 2001 incident in Cleveland deemed “Bottlegate,” because scandals are always named by the least creative people in the room. After the Cleveland Browns’ final drive was ended by a somewhat bungled replay review process (albeit one that resulted in the correct call), Browns fans went nuts, hurling bottles and other trash at the field. Seeing that the situation was only getting uglier, McAulay declared the game over with 48 seconds on the clock. “That is the end of the game!” he declared in a truly badass officiating moment—at least, it would be badass if McAulay didn’t sound like his life was flashing before his eyes.
A little while later, then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue ordered the teams and the officials back on the field to finish the game with two meaningless kneel-down plays, which was such a jerk move. How many times in his life does a referee get to walk out there and end the game through the awesome power of the whistle? Almost never. Tagliabue should have let the poor ref have his moment. Congratulations to Terry McAulay, the official Official Of The Week.
Fan Forum Check-In: Seahawks.NET
Seahawks.NET is the voice of the “12th Man,” and AS SUCH, ALL OF ITS SUBFORUM NAMES ARE RENDERED IN CAPITAL LETTERS. Super Bowl excitement is at a boiling point in THE OFFICIAL NET NATION FAN FORUM, and the usual rules of decorum are breaking down, forcing a board moderator to step in.
Broncos Fans: If you are going to come to our forum—a SEAHAWKS forum—and argue with us about how we feel about our team, then you will be shown the door. It looks like we already have several new members, so in respect to keeping this place readable the next couple weeks, this is acting as a one and only warning. If you stir the pot, you’re gone. If you want to have some discussion about our teams and act like an adult, you’ll be welcome.
DO NOT turn conversations about our team into Broncos threads. You’ll be shown the door if you do.
It must be a pretty scary door.
Seahawks.NET members don’t need to pick on Broncos fans anyway, as they have more worthy targets, like Macklemore. After one user posts a video of the Seattle rapper visiting the Seahawks locker room after their victory in the NFC championship game, the jealousy in the forum is palpable. A member by the name of Mtjhoyas responds:
Personally, I’m getting sick of Macklemore. I do appreciate him being a huge Seattle supporter, but the dude has been going over the top with a lot of things lately. That post game locker room celebration was embarrassing IMO. He’s not on the team. It looked like a bunch of the players were semi-annoyed by it.
Meanwhile, Largent80 is semi-annoyed with Macklemore’s Grammy acceptance speech:
Mackelmore. This is a guy that won a grammy, but failed to even rep the Hawks on that program, and yet he has a thread here. Time to move on. Because nobody cares.
Fail to mention the Seahawks during a major entertainment awards show, no thread for you. But if the Seahawks.NET faithful don’t care for Macklemore, what kind of music can they get behind? Well, when a toothsome woman from Vancouver uploads her latest YouTube creation—a Seahawks Super Bowl song that parodies Katy Perry’s “Roar”—the forum goers are ready to set their iPods on repeat. A user with the handle “bellyfat” provides one of the rave reviews:
Would you or your friend like to become an American citizen? Great song btw.
Because who wouldn’t want to enter into a sham marriage with an Internet person who calls himself “bellyfat”? That’s a win-win. Later, SouthSoundHawk gushes until he doesn’t:
MAD props for putting yourselves out there and doing something creative. It takes a lot of work coming up with a parody, and judging by the comments on here, it looks as though you pulled it off masterfully. Plus it’s about the Seahawks, so that’s never a bad thing.
Although I didn’t listen to it (I hate Pop Music) I’ll pass it along to anyone I know who will enjoy this!
See! Who says Seattle people are chilly?
Bonus Pick No. 2: Nipsey The Football-Game-Picking Cat
Loyal readers of Gameological know that Soupy The Comment Cat selects highlights from the comment threads each week for our Keyboard Geniuses feature. What you may not know is that Soupy has a brother, Nipsey, whose talent is picking the winners of professional football games. And it’s a good thing, because in the Super Bowl column-writing business, if you don’t have a cute animal predicting games, you’re worthless. You might as well have the Seahawks.NET forum moderator show you his terrifying door.
Although the lead up to the Super Bowl keeps Nipsey in high demand from bookmakers across the country, he took a few minutes to give us his pick for Super Bowl XLVIII—in dramatic fashion. Nipsey prepared two predictions in advance and then made his final choice for the cameras.
Unpronounceable Stars Of The Super Bowl: Sione Fua, Denver Broncos
Sione Fua is a defensive tackle for the Broncos, and his name is pronounced “see-OH-nay FOO-ah,” which is a far cry from my first guess, “Sean Fwuh.” I’m hoping that Fua makes a big play in the game this Sunday, because then we’ll get to hear Fox color commentator Troy Aikman try to manage this compact but challenging brew of deceptive vowelry.
But I’m not holding out much hope, because my search for recent Sione Fua highlights turned up only this YouTube footage that was apparently created by aiming a flip-phone’s camera at a laptop screen while riding in an all-terrain vehicle.
Sometimes I wonder if the Internet was a mistake.
Super Bowl Logos Shouldn’t Be Boring
Since Super Bowl XLV, the NFL has stuck to a dull template for the big game’s logo: the Lombardi Trophy sits atop a standard text treatment with the stadium in the background, all rendered in gray. This is a shame. Super Bowl logos used to have character, and more to the point, they ought to have character. The old Super Bowl logos are evocative; just glancing at the logo for a particular game can conjure the atmosphere, the major plays, and the overall drama of that day.
Granted, past logos weren’t always design masterpieces. The Super Bowl IX logo would later be repurposed as a diagram of an inner-ear infection in medical textbooks:
And the Roman numerals for Super Bowl XII…
…were made using leftover fabric remnants from this dress:
More recent logo history is hit-or-miss. The logo for Super Bowl XXXVIII is an attractive, clean design that references NASA mission patches, as the game was played in Houston:
On the other hand, the logo for Super Bowl XLII tries and fails to make the state of Arizona look speedy:
Arizona’s shape just doesn’t convey velocity; it looks more like an old car door propped up in a junkyard. If you want the sensation of speed, you need a fast-looking state like Tennessee or Vermont. Even the Upper Peninsula of Michigan will do in a pinch.
Then again, you have to consider my bias. Super Bowl XXXVIII was a moment of great triumph for my favorite team, and Super Bowl XLII was a scarring debacle. That’s the great thing about having a new logo each year: In retrospect, the designs come alive and speak to a specific moment. The gray chrome of the present-day Super Bowl logo template speaks only to a vague era of a drab corporate “messaging” discipline. I hope the league returns to bespoke logos someday. The old designs may not always have been pretty, but at least they had some juice.
If you’d like to peruse all of the Super Bowl logos, head to the archive on Chris Creamer’s Sports Logos Page, which is a great resource that documents the graphic-design history of pretty much every major sport. Maybe the Internet isn’t so bad after all.
Bonus Pick No. 3: The Ill-Informed Can’t-Miss Pick
We conclude again with the Ill-Informed Can’t-Miss Pick, in which I open a chat window and ask an A.V. Club/Onion staffer with little or no knowledge of the NFL to predict the outcome of a game. The staffer is allowed to ask me three questions about the game before making their call. Making the Ill-Informed Pick this week is Erik Adams, A.V. Club associate editor. The chat transcript follows:
Erik Adams: The readers should know that I’m currently listening to music from NFL Films, which might be my favorite thing about professional football.
John Teti: Do you listen to that during non-football season, too? Just to get amped for writing about television?
Adams: I usually listen to it the one or two times a year that a football game is the top pick in What’s On Tonight. This Sunday being one of those instances. When I want to get pumped about television, I’ll usually listen to the Game Of Thrones score or the collected theme songs of Mike Post. The theme from The White Shadow is way, way underrated.
Teti: So you definitely know football music, but let’s gauge your overall understanding of the NFL. Since you’re one of the TV editors, I’ll start off this way: If your football knowledge were a television show past or present, what television show would it be?
Adams: I believe my football knowledge would be Fridays, ABC’s attempt to jumpstart its own Saturday Night Live franchise. Because I know how football works, but my knowledge stops short at a certain point, and then Andy Kaufman starts throwing cue cards at Michael Richards.
I’m afraid the density of that reference might also make my football knowledge akin to the time that Dennis Miller spent in the Monday Night Football booth.
Teti: I always thought it was impressive that Fridays found a way to have an even lazier title than Saturday Night Live. I mean, Saturday Night Live is a fantastic title that they ended up on. But Fridays just sits there. “It’s Friday. This is what’s on TV. Watch it or don’t, we don’t care.”
Adams: “Hey, you’re probably too exhausted to laugh. We’re too exhausted to write good sketches.”
Teti: Okay, so now you get to ask three questions about the game, and then you must predict the winner and the final score.
Adams: I only hope my prediction for the score is mathematically sound.
Teti: Modell couldn’t even add his up properly, so the bar is pretty low there.
Adams: I can’t fault him for that. The arbitrary nature of football points still confounds me. First off, what’s the weather forecast in New Jersey for Sunday? (And a follow-up that shouldn’t count as a question: Why the hell isn’t the Super Bowl being played in a Southern state or a domed stadium this year?)
Teti: Weather Underground predicts a high of 42 degrees with overcast skies in East Rutherford, New Jersey, this Sunday. Answer to the follow-up: Because there are a lot of rich people in New York, and also the NFL headquarters are in New York, so all the NFL guys can invite their rich buddies to the game.
Adams: “Hey, oil baron, would you like to watch our fellow millionaires sustain potentially life-threatening head trauma?” “Certainly, communications tycoon!” It all makes sense now. This thing goes straight to the top.
Teti: Follow the money, because it will lead you to delicious money.
Adams: So those sound like Seattle-favoring weather conditions, but let me ask you this. How did the Seahawks fare on the road this year? I have it on the authority of Twitter feeds run by Joel McHale and Ben Gibbard (and the first Block & Tackle, IIRC) that CenturyLink Field is an ear-shattering nightmare tunnel.
Teti: The Seahawks were solid on the road this year, going 6-2 compared to their 7-1 home record. Their only home loss came to the Cardinals, probably because they assumed that seahawks would definitely beat the shit out of some cardinals, so they didn’t try very hard. Football teams commonly make the mistake of taking their mascots too seriously. It’s a real problem.
Adams: It’s a popular way of making football picks. And the subject of my favorite McSweeney’s list. “PLAY-BY-PLAY OF CLASSIC SPORTS RIVALRIES IF THE TEAM NAMES ACTUALLY REPRESENTED THE COMBATANTS. AND ALSO, INSTEAD OF PLAYING THE SPORT, THEY’RE FIGHTING TO THE DEATH.”
Okay, final question: How’s Peyton Manning’s health? Because he has to be like 46 by now, and Joe Theismann is the special guest on the Brooklyn Nine-Nine episode airing after the game, which just seems like an invitation for a similarly high-profile QB to have his leg snapped in half.
I’m now watching the replay of that Theismann injury, which reaches new levels of body-horror majesty when paired with NFL Films music.
Teti: Oh man. It’s so awful. I want no broken limbs in this Super Bowl. That’s all I ask.
Adams: You don’t want it, and the money doesn’t want it.
Teti: Peyton Manning had a couple thousand neck surgeries a few years back. He is now in excellent health and is in fact stronger than anybody expected him to be.
Adams: Okay. So the Seahawks can really only count on the noise being made by Richard Sherman, and it seems like all of that money being gathered at MetLife Stadium would like it if the Manning narrative contained a late-career Super Bowl ring…
Teti: Oh, so you’re going the conspiracy route here. Interesting.
Adams: So I’ll go with the Broncos, 28-21. I asked no questions about kickers, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and say they’ll hit all their point-afters.
Teti: I was just going to say, you must really hate field goals.
Adams: Here’s what years of playing NFL Blitz on the N64 have taught me:
Field goals are a pain in the ass.
You’re never going to make that 2-point conversion.
You can make a the extra point with the click of the button.
Please read that last line in a comedic Italian accent.