And so it was sealed, as the 51 yard hail mary limply fell onto the turf, that a team with a 9-7 regular season record would win Super Bowl XLVI. The New York Giants, who lost twice to a languid Washington Redskins team and at home to the seizure-ly Seahawks, defeated the franchise that most resembled a dynasty since the Cowboys of the ’90s. An innovative offense utilizing two tight ends (in a way that will certainly be copied next year) by one of the game’s greatest quarterbacks lost to an indiscernible mash of 70/30 ground chuck. Mistakes certainly hurt the Patriots moreso than the Giants. Opening the game with a safety and ending it with a confused array of dropped passes nearly reserves an early flight out of Indy all by themselves. The Giants though put the ball on the ground three times too and were simply able to reacquire possession before Vince Wilfork could scoop it up, activate epidermal body armor, and stomp his way to the end zone. Mistakes will be remembered when reminiscing about Super Bowl XLVI but a larger theme played an even greater role: a carefully conceived fate.
Matthew Timmons (a good friend of mine and co-editor at the Duty) recently compared the NFL to bowling or NASCAR. We were discussing our overall boredom with the sport despite it’s Madden-like quality, the Arena league type numbers that were being put up by Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and even Eli Manning (who ended the season with just under 5,000 passing yards). Officiating crews were spiking secondaries with saltpeter resulting in a wholly imbalanced progression, much like the unwavering left turns of a stock car race. The handicapped position of defenses, the increase in pass interference calls and the ever-escalating focus on quaterback protection, has devauled that position (QB) and rendered every other insignificant. An average quarterback like Alex Smith can take a moderately successful offense to the NFC Championship game. It is a fact that the team wouldn’t have made it as far without their Tommy Conlon-esque defense but that same one-hit knockout roster couldn’t contend with an equally average Giants offense. Conversely, the Green Bay Packers and the New Orleans Saints combined enough offensive yardage to construct a field turf highway to Neptune. Yet each team fell before a just-good-enough Giants defense.
Timmons’ comparison was accurate but not quite in the way he intended or I implied.
The real reason that the NFL is easily comparable to bowling or NASCAR is because the sport itself has lost its lust for exceptionalism, despite a many individual efforts to the contrary. The result of the 2011 season is the logical solution to an equation whose initial construction began sometime after January 25th, 1998 (the last Super Bowl to pit two equally dominant contenders: Elway’s Broncos and Favre’s Packers). I can’t claim knowledge of an inner-office conspiracy at the commissioner’s office or even provide indisputable statistics supporting my observations. But look at the Super Bowl matchups and their respective winners going forward from XXXII: Broncos/Falcons, Rams/Titans (a game whose ending was better than it deserved), Ravens/Giants, all lackluster matchups before the pattern for the next ten years locks in. A gutty collection of no-name B teamers beats the Greatest Show on Turf. True dominance in the sport would be seen only once more by the 2007 rendition of that same team but would ultimately lose to a xerox of it’s former self. That duplicate, though inferior to the prototype in many ways, is actually the NFL’s perfectly molded team model. The Giants are, and have been through their recent championship runs, just good enough to benefit from a number of policies and rule changes that level the playing field, evidently.
In Super Bowl XXXV, millions of people broke the world record for simultaneous nap time as the Giants played and eventually beat the Ravens (I think, I was drunk and asleep by half time). The Giants, in 2007, spoiled an entire generation’s chances at witnessing history and true greatness when their grotesque sufficiency prevented the best chance at a 19-0 season any of us will witness. Now, with this most recent victory, they have cemented their personification of the NFL’s parity creating policy by lifting the Lombardi after being wholly average. Some maintain that parity equals competition. I argue that it results in a diluted product and a plague of mediocrity. I can think of no greater support for my argument than the 2011 New York Giants, the latest rendition of a franchise that has served as mediocrity’s agent over the last decade.
The NFL is more popular than ever, enjoying exponential success both in ratings and ad revenue with each passing season. Over 111 million people watched the Super Bowl, breaking last year’s record by three hundred thousand. This time last year, advertisers were discussing a loss past twelve billion dollars should the strike prevent a full season. Passion for the sport can be measured using the GDP of small nations. So whatever the league’s status or quality, it is a product of our positive reinforcement. This 2011 Giants team, average in most every way, is exactly what you receive when you ask for equal footing and an opportunity for all to win a championship. Unfortunately, when you craft the game in such a way you lose that for which you play it: the crowning of a true champion.