Enough is enough: Time has come to downsize Super Bowl

January 31, 1995|By Steve Hummer | Steve Hummer,Atlanta Journal-Constitution

You may not be old enough to remember a sporting custom that used to be observed each autumn. It was a game called baseball and a happening called the World Series. Ask your father about it someday.

He'll tell you that it was a whole lot better than the Super Bowl.

Of course, what doesn't seem better now? Any day, give me celebrity crappie fishing or replacement beach volleyball over Steve Young playing catch with Jerry Rice.

You wake up the morning after a Super Bowl, and invariably the reaction is the same. You feel cheap. You feel used. You feel so dirty, once more having fallen for an elaborate come-on, only to be abandoned when it came time for any kind of meaningful commitment.

It's the world's largest bait-and-switch. That this game enjoys the status of a holiday, that it is the dar ling of corporate America and the magnet for every microphone, that women universally will tolerate it despite the absence of music, costumes and French judges -- it is almost a criminal fraud.

Without breaking a sweat, one can come up with any number of events that leave the Super Bowl pale. We'll stop when we get to anything involving sequins or a soccer ball.

The Final Four is everything the Super Bowl isn't -- engrossing, energetic, honestly raw. There were moments Sunday at Joe Robbie Stadium that were so quiet, you could hear the Chargers' arches fall.

The Masters manages the near impossible by consistently turning golf into grim combat. Its last holes peel back those Titleist-retentive golfers, exposing bare nerves. One Sunday at Augusta is worth any five identified by the Romans' numbers. Even without Patti LaBelle singing at the turn.

A heavyweight championship fight is equal parts violence and nonsense, but occasionally a trace of valor parts the grime. A Daytona 500 is traffic with an emotional disorder. A Wimbledon is tennis' war of attrition. The Firestone Tournament of Champions gives Chris Schenkel something to do.

All that, and much more, is competitively superior to the game we have misidentified as the single most important. The reason the Super Bowl requires all the production value around it -- the lasers and fireworks and volunteers dressed in feathers -- is that the game alone can no longer carry the spectacle. The margin of victory in the last 11 games, all won by the NFC, has been more than 22 points. It has ceased to bring suspense to the marketplace.

An organization that makes glaciers look rash, the NFL surely is not going to rearrange itself to promote more competitive Super Bowls, no matter how good it sounds to break down the conference system and begin seeding teams and pointing the two best toward the Super Bowl.

The only response, then, is take up the corporate cry of the '90s: Downsize. If it remains possible, try to de-emphasize the Super Bowl, force it to earn its station. It is up to us in our profession to lower the volume of the Super Bowl, as tough as it may be to turn away from the celebrities and the free shrimp.

It is up to you civilians to re-evaluate the game's place on your social calendar, maybe turn the game off and reschedule the big party for that Saturday afternoon in March when all the Final Four play.

And if you just can't get away from the kind of predictability a Super Bowl offers there are any number of nights of professional wrestling around which a celebra tion can be built.

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