We watch sports for the same reason we watch movies. We like narratives. Movies (and books, and stage plays) are pre-designed: they are prepared for us, in order to induce the greatest amount of entertainment and emotional involvement. Sporting events play out in real time: the end result is not known in advance, and that creates its own kind of drama. You do not know what is going to happen when the curtain goes up on a game: you only hope that it will be great. (More on game and story here.)
Tonight’s game was a good game. It had a lot of narratives running through it, and in the end they played out as I would have liked as a storyteller. That’s not always the case, obviously, but that’s part of why we watch sports: it’s an act of faith. Sometimes we’re rewarded for believing, and sometimes our hearts are ripped out of our chests.
Going into the game the Colts’ quarterback, Peyton Manning, had ascended to god-like status on the wings of sporting pundits who know everything except how the game will actually turn out. And Manning played an excellent game. Unfortunately, everybody else on both teams played well, too, and as the game wore on Manning was not able to impose his will on the New Orleans Saints. When the Saints finally moved ahead late in the game, I said out loud that the only thing that would make the narrative complete would be if Manning threw an interception as he was trying to lead his team back for a tie — because the meta-narrative assumed that Manning would score the tying touchdown. When he did throw that interception, and it was returned for a touchdown, I could only shake my head. It’s not often, as a storyteller, that you get to see that kind of unscripted narrative play.
Apart from the game, however, I have to say that I was more than a little concerned with what can only be described as a parade of misogynistic, sexist commercials that played during the breaks. I know Superbowl commercials are supposed to be a big deal, and I know that advertising agencies pull out all the stops in an attempt to make their commercials talked about the next day. I fully expected, and got, a fair share of sex-driven commercials, but there also seemed to be a good deal of woman-bashing and wife-bashing aimed at what I can only presume to be a large demographic of stone-age male sitcom caricatures tuning into the game. Funny stuff if you’re a wife beater.
Then again, empowerment of women also seemed to be sadly lacking, and here of course I’m referring to Danica Patrick’s Go Daddy commercials. If you don’t know Danica Patrick, she’s a female race car driver of moderate talent, who, if she were male, you would never hear anything about as long as you lived. Because she is female, and TV-pretty, however, and more than willing to throw the cause of equality under the bus when there’s money to be made showing some skin, she’s decided to work her way up not by winning races, but by exploiting her physical appearance. Because it’s a TV world we live in, she’s of course having moderate success.
If I feel bad for anyone it’s the fans of the Indianapolis Colts. I don’t feel bad about this loss, but I feel bad for the way they were abused earlier in the year when the Colts’ ownership and coaches pulled the starting players off the field in the middle of a game, forfeiting a win. The Colts were undefeated at the time, the Colts’ fans had bought into the dream of an undefeated seasons, and yet the team’s ownership threw them overboard with as much concern as Danica Patrick gives to your daughters. The stated reason for throwing the game, it was said, was to limit the chance that someone on the team might get hurt, crippling the Colts’ chance of winning the Superbowl. Now that the team has lost the Superbowl, yet another narrative is complete because the Colts have not been rewarded for what they did — which, to my mind, was inexcusable.
Finally, a footnote. I won’t explain this fully, but somewhere tonight Brett Favre is laughing his ass off.
— Mark Barrett
RJ Keller says
Danica Patrick is the Jessica Simpson of the sports world. What a tool. I’m actually in the market for a domain name, and she has inspired me to search elsewhere.
“Now that the team has lost the Superbowl, yet another narrative is complete because the Colts have not been rewarded for what they did — which, to my mind, was inexcusable.”
Not only that, but the Saints ran a lot of what might be called “risky” plays; going for the fourth-down conversion, going for the two-point conversion, trying for a touchdown instead of taking the easy field goal. And the narrative rewarded their risky play with a big win.
I completely agree. Only a day or two ago I mentioned to someone that if those two teams played ten times the Saints would be lucky to win three games. But winning the Super Bowl (or any one-game playoff) is not only about which is the better team, but which team has the better plan.
Gambling was part of the Saints playbook all year. Truth to tell, I really worried that their coach would blow the game because of his tendency to try crazy stuff and believe too much in his own magic. (I thought the offensive game he called against the Vikings was terrible.) So what did he do? He double-down on twelve the hard way — and won!
Amazing — but also a tough act to follow.