IF ALL SPORT were like professional football's Super Bowl, the ancient Greeks would have trundled down Mount Olympus 2,700 years ago and said, "The heck with athletics, let's go see a play!"
"Super Sunday," with its parties and office wagers, has been called the unofficial national holiday. It's an apt description, because the game is often as oversold as New Year's Eve.
No other game in America has the buildup of the National Football League's annual championship, or its audience -- 800 million television viewers and 3,000 media attendees in San Diego this weekend. Yet few events are as predictably disappointing.
Baseball's World Series, college basketball, golf and figure skating titles have often been decided, especially in recent years, in the final performance, by the last at-bat, with a shot at the buzzer. In 31 Super Bowls, however, maybe four have delivered suspense (including the Baltimore Colts' last-second victory in 1971).
The reason so many are so riveted by sport, and are willing to spend so much on it, stems from the emotion and drama that gush from games like the Orioles playoff against Cleveland last fall or the overtime upset by the University of Maryland men's basketball team over the University of North Carolina this month. Perhaps all the hype and tension heaped on the Super Bowl explain why it has rarely lived up to its pretentious name.
Give the Super Bowl credit, though, for one enduring trend -- the successful marriage of sport with entertainment. A generation ago, the minds of pro football -- especially NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle and Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell -- projected that pro football's future would take it smack into the arenas of marketing and television. That is why today, all the major leagues flourish; why owners and athletes command such royal sums; why cities steal one another's teams; why the new football stadium at Camden Yards is immense -- so it can harbor a veritable shopping mall and restaurant row inside.
Here's hoping that the drama in Super Bowl XXXII between Green Bay's Packers and Denver's Broncos outlasts the chip dip. If it doesn't, you can always go see a play.
Pub Date: 1/24/98