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William C. Altreuter
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Monday, February 02, 2009

The experience of spectator sports is a varied one, I think. I like baseball so much that I'll pause in the middle of a run to watch a few at-bats of a high school game, and there are few pleasures in life greater than settling into a seat at a game with a scorecard in my lap and a beer in my hand. Baseball is nice on the radio, too, especially on a long drive. In recent years I have developed a taste for soccer, which really is beautiful to watch, and I get a kick out of rugby, which is a pretty pure expression of the joys of sport for its own sake, with the added attraction of violent collisions. Some years ago, on a flight to Dublin, I found myself wrapped up in a video of a hurling match, which convinced me that I'll watch pretty much anything if you call it sports, although I'll except car driving from that. NBA doesn't do much for me, although college hoops can be diverting. Tennis, golf-- there is a hypnotic pleasure to it all, but the best sport for planting yourself in front of the television really has to be football. I have largely managed to resist the NFL in recent years-- this season I probably only watched three or four games in their entirety, and it is a tribute to the addictive quality of the spectacle that this statement makes me feel vaguely virtuous. Although I probably didn't do anything all that productive with that time, squandering three and a half hours watching a game makes me feel a little guilty, which is probably why I find the experience enhanced by going to Coles to do it-- if I'm going to waste that kind of time, best to really blow it up.

The universal exception is the Super Bowl, which is a national ritual. Although it has acquired a reputation for producing indifferent games, it seems to me that over the last X years or so we've seen IV-V really terrific performances, and last night's was one of them. I love it in sports when the unexpected happens, and we got a few of those sorts of events in XLIII. A safety, which gave all those people with bad squares in their office pools a little thrill. A 100 yard return of an interception. (The longest play in Super Bowl history, and always one of the most exciting things to see in football.) Great drives, great defensive play (sometimes- sometimes it was pretty shabby D, but that's okay too-- it gives you an opportunity to shout at the tv.) A lot of stupid penalties, and a lot of shaky officiating (two challenges were upheld, which is a pretty poor average, I'd say), but even so an exciting game. What I especially liked about it was that it didn't turn into a boring beatdown. Too often it seems like the first quarter of the Super Bowl is a cautious back-and forth. In the second quarter a pattern develops, and the teams go into halftime with a low score that more or less reflects the ultimate result. In the third quarter the better team pours it on, and the opponent begins to demonstrate where its weaknesses have been all season. We didn't get that this time. Kurt Warner needs speed and precision, and he wasn't getting it, but then he did. The Cardinals did something that is pretty rare-- they made adjustments, and they hung tough. They kept working at getting into their game, and it nearly worked. For a 9-7 team from the weakest division in the league they showed a lot.

Also, Bruce Springsteen was a lot better than I'd expected, not at all the big cheeseball he might have been. It is a low bar, but that was easily the best halftime show the NFL has ever provided.

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