Sunday, February 06, 2011

Superbowl Narratives

Oddly enough, as I've moved around the country, I've tended to pick and discard my loyalties for baseball teams but accumulate my loyalties for football clubs. I grew up in Pittsburgh during the time when they were horrible (The big play of the game as deciding which way they would run off the field at the end of the game) and when they were mighty (Franco Harris, Terry Bradshaw, the Immaculate Reception, Myron Cope and the Terrible Towel, etc...). And I lived in Southeastern Wisconsin in a town that literally straddled the line between Bear and Packer territory. And now I live in Seattle. So I can usually count on one of "my" teams getting to the playoffs, and have a good track record of going all the way.

In this case, two teams that I root for made it all the way to the Superbowl. Packers and Steelers. The Packers are a wild-card team that outperformed in the playoffs. The Steelers are continuing their Dynasty with a third Super Bowl under the same QB. And once again I am looking at the narrative behind the game.

I've been here before in rooting for multiple teams and seeing the narrative evolve behind them - Steelers versus Seahawks in Detroit. The narrative at that time swung towards the Steelers - It was rusher Jerome Bettis's last game, in his home town. The Steelers were representing a town of old industry against a town of new tech. Pittsburgh had Primanti Brother Sandwiches, Seattle had Starbucks. Pittsburgh was steelworkers (ignore the diminishing number of mills in the 'burgh), while Seattle was tech support (that is to say, wimps). A national poll showed the Steelers overwhelmingly favored both on the field and in the hearts of America.

And this narrative had an effect - the Steelers got a close call that, years later, the ref said should have gone the other way (hey, thanks guys). The influence of who SHOULD win the game affects the play of the game itself.

This year, the cleated shoe is on the other foot for the Steelers. Far from the favorites, they operate under a cloud. The QB Rothlisberger was suspended for sexual misconduct early in the season, and much of the Pittsburgh narrative has been about how this is the redemption tour. Most folk have already made up their minds, and he and the black and gold have been fitted with the black hat. The attention (and the fan jerseys) have shifted over to number 86, Hines Ward. The Packers, for their part, are the scrappy underdogs this time, ignoring their own great heritage. Their QB is there for the first time, and they have their future ahead of them.

The end result? The Steelers should be heavy favorites but there is only a spread of a couple points, and national opinion polls give the game to the Packers. Will this spill out on the field in the officiating? Into the broadcast booth in the calling of the game? Seahawk fans know about this type of pain.

Then there is the political aspect. The President was a big supporter of the Steelers two years previously, and owner Dan Rooney was made Ambassador to Ireland. The game is on Fox with a big celebration of Ronald Reagan's 100th Birthday (come on, guys, the Republicans need their own FDR/Kennedy legend, even if they have to build it themselves). So, ignoring that Wisconsin has been a "blue" state, is there a political polarization to the game?

And finally, for those who are going to watch for the commercials, here is what I am predicting - Dead Celebrities, Animal Attacks, and teaser commercials that tell you to go to a website for a punchline. Because nothing claims the dominance of a media like ads that send you to a completely different media.

Am I calling the game one way or another? I'm no fool. I have good friends on both sides of line this time. I'm just going to enjoy it, knowing that by the end of the day, one of "my" teams is going to win. And that works out well for me.

More later,