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Stupor Bowl

GELFAND’S WORLD--The Super Bowl sucked. It was 4 hours of mediocrity, two quarterbacks who couldn't get the job done, and offensive lines who wouldn't think of giving offense. Everybody knew that Peyton Manning was at the end of his road. He plays like a guy with multiple long-term injuries, but still knows enough to throw the ball away half the time. The bigger story was the failure of Cam Newton to dominate the game. A team with 15 wins and 1 loss should have some ability to score, even against a good defense. Perhaps there should have been a least valuable player award given to the Carolina offensive line. 

Things have changed. The league and the CBS television network hyped the fact that this was Super Bowl 50. We were shown a few clips of the first such game. At the time (1967), it was actually a football game rather than a multiweek spectacle. Tickets were offered to the public at reasonable rates, that being a time when the NFL was one entertainment medium competing among others. 

But one thing hasn't changed. It's the insatiable NFL greed that causes it to go overboard whether it is the first or the fiftieth. The first interleague championship game now known as the Super Bowl (but called something different at the time) was played at the Coliseum here in Los Angeles. The NFL enforced its television blackout rule, which forbade local television if a game wasn't sold out. In a town that was used to seeing the Rose Bowl and to viewing USC vs. UCLA, this was not only a surprise, it was taken as an insult. 

The result was that lots of Angelenos stayed away. It wasn't quite a formal boycott, but it was a well recognized expression of municipal disgust. There was just a hint of this historical reality allowed to come through on Sunday, when one veteran mentioned the first Super Bowl game being played in a half-empty Coliseum. Records show that the Coliseum was actually one-third empty, at 61,000 attendance. The first Super Bowl game couldn't outdraw USC vs. UCLA. 

This year's game didn't suffer from any lack of greed. On the few occasions in which one team scored (typically a field goal), the network went to commercials. That's commercials in the plural. Then we saw a kickoff. Then the network went to more commercials. It's not all that excessive to point out that scoring in modern American football is one play surrounded by ten commercials. 

There's one more little irritant that the modern television networks have foisted upon us. We used to hear comments and statistics by announcers. Vin Scully has built a whole career on making baseball fascinating by providing interesting stats. We used to get something of the same thing in televised football. But now, every microscopic element has a commercial sponsor. To give you an idea of how excessive this has become, we had statistics presented by Mercedes. We had a half time show presented by Hyundai (I think it was Hyundai -- feel free to set me straight here, because I couldn't keep up with the deluge of corporate names) and Toyota got in there somewhere, maybe for the postgame show. 

And then there were the much-hyped commercials. Last week, CBS went as far as to do a tv special on commercials from previous Super Bowls. There was a countdown to number 1, which was about a man and a horse. Other top-50 commercials included puppies and more horses. 

When it came to Super 2016, the commercials didn't seem to come up to snuff. They were just plentiful, not moving. I would go so far as to say that they weren't even sappy, which is at least some kind of emotion. We had cars, cars, and more cars. 

I watched the pregame show at a local restaurant. Everything seemed to go in slow motion, as we were introduced to 4 dozen previous MVP's, a combined chorus that sang America, and a pop singer (Lady Gaga) who sang the national anthem. By the time we got to home of the brave, a woman at an adjoining table remarked, "I could have had a hysterectomy in less time." 

That remark certainly beat anything said over the next 4 hours by the retired jocks who cover as football announcers. 

I wonder if I'm alone in guessing that professional football has hit its peak. This year's Super Bowl is the best evidence yet. There just isn't anything more to add in terms of pregame hype or biographical sketches of the participants, and adding a lot more commercials would be noticed even by football addicts. 

The CBS television network did everything possible to bring in the viewers, but what actually showed up on our screens was boring. It wasn't even shocking or offensive. The game was just sullenly, dully boring. You might say that it was merely boring. 

Mind you, this boredom wasn't for lack of trying on the part of the network. The television directors used a dizzying series of shots for almost every down. In the old days, there would be a camera which was stationed along the sideline and which showed the play from beginning to end. Television directors also had the use of one or two other camera positions so they could show a replay from a different angle and thereby add a little spice to the mix. But nowadays, from the moment the whistle blows on one play, we are subjected to a rapid series of camera angles and moving shots presented in frantic succession. 

When I see this kind of technical and reportorial overkill, I always suspect that the network executives and directors don't trust the audience to maintain interest in the sport itself. They realize that they need to add a lot of filler and a lot of tricky editing in fear that the modern audience couldn't sit still for a televised showing of the game itself. 

Perhaps the game itself is just too dull to hold the attention of a modern television audience. After all, if the game were fascinating by itself, the extraneous stuff would be an irritation. 

Someone might choose to argue that this is just the condition of the modern generation. But all you have to do is take a look at a couple of counterexamples. NBA Basketball seems to do pretty well without all the extra bells and whistles. Even college basketball manages. At a different level, we have the television show Jeopardy, which has added a few technical gimmicks over its half-century run, but is basically the same show. 

There was one new element that spoke ominously to current football audiences. The announcer explained that one player was staying out because he had failed the concussion examination. The audience members who happen to be parents and future parents might think about this. They might usefully consider that perhaps half of the players they were watching will end up with long-term brain dysfunction. 

(Bob Gelfand writes on culture and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected]) 

-cw