As Soupeys go, the big five-oh was ordinary. Take away the compelling sub-plot of it being Peyton Manning's unstated but undoubted "Last Hurrah" and you have a game likely to be panned by the critics and lightly ranked by historians.
Long, long ago -- probably the morning of Soupey III of imperishable memory -- Anne and I attended the 9:00 a.m. Mass at St. Eulalia in Winchester and the presiding prelate, a smart and sassy young priest, began by saying, "Today is Super Sunday; the First Sunday after the Epiphany!" It brought down the house.
Near a half century later such none too thinly veiled sarcasm still rings truly on the mark while becoming even more appropriate in the proper scorning o the crass commercial devotions and goofy cultural apostasy of Secular America's holiest of holy days. A half century later, Soupey's pitiful pretensions somehow manage to become -- in defiance of the law of diminishing returns let alone gravity -- more and more equally outrageous and ludicrous with every passing Roman Numeral.
This being Soupey's 50th (or L, if you prefer) the more monumental than usual wretched excesses were guaranteed. The NFL, ever willing in its obsessive self-promotions, didn't disappoint us.
As a sort of opening prayer, a tender tone-poem co-narrated by noted prelates Joe Namath and Brett Favre raised Soupey's virtues to ethereal levels amidst scenes of various game-heroes of the past scaling majestic heights and fluttering about almost angelic. 'Tis ever been thus, Broadway Joe piously asserted in his syrupy script, since "the very beginning", adding; "But we never in the world knew how big it would get." What was the point? What exactly were they laying claim to? It was a major-league head-scratcher. Or maybe it's just Namath, trying to sound like Mr. Rogers, doesn't quite work.
So it was onto the game-opening salutations, punctuated as usual by swelling patriotic music cresting with the Anthem. At Soupey, this pageant has always been an epic production and for the 50th they were determined to out-bombast themselves.
Once again they succeeded, although to we stray skeptics it seemed they almost made their annual "Honoring America" oblations look more like the third act of Lohengrin in terms of length, loudness, and sheer grandiose pomposity of overstatement. By the time the very painted Lady Gaga finished screeching her version of the Star Spangled Banner as a tight squadron of fighter jets soared overhead, the game itself was in danger of being rendered anti-climactic. Don't laugh. It's happened before.
But maybe not quite so this time, if close. As Soupeys go, the big five-oh was ordinary. Take away the compelling sub-plot of it being Peyton Manning's unstated but undoubted "Last Hurrah" and you have a game likely to be panned by the critics and lightly ranked by historians. In that sense, Manning saved it; maybe even made it memorable. He's hardly perfect. But in an age in which jock-heroes are hard to come by and harder than ever for an adoring media to concoct, Peyton becomes a bit of a cultural treasure; easy enough for you to like and wish well while deeming his grand finale pleasing.
Manning was not terrific. But staying archconservatively within himself, with iron-willed discipline and allowing his superior and highly gallant defense to win the game as it surely did, was not only smart but an act of high character and a lot of people in this and other games would not have been capable of that. Afterwards, commentator Boomer Essiason called it "an act of humility". And he's absolutely right. That's precisely what it was. Displays of humility are always impressive; no matter the game. Let the record further show Peyton completed his last pass, reaping the two points that sealed the outcome.
Otherwise it was a game that may mainly have charmed only purists. It was alternately messy and ugly with too many penalties, too many juvenile lapses and dumb moments, a half dozen turnovers, 15 sacks, and a dozen punts. Hey, the punters were the unsung heroes of the thing; something that usually doesn't turn on the casual fan.
But scratch the surface and you'll find much strategy and tactics at play too and at all that, the Broncos had the edge. It was a game in which attitude and maturity were pivotal factors with once again the Broncos having a decided edge. The regrettable performance of Carolina's budding superstar Cam Newton, not only on the field (where he was erratic) but more importantly before the game (when he was prancing about sporting a Superman logo) and after it (when he dissolved into utter petulance) spoke volumes about all that. Young Mr. Newton was not ready for this moment. But he'll be back.
It's interesting, however. Approaching the game fears Peyton might get humiliated were widespread and when all was said and done it was Cam who'd been humiliated. Those who predict the games are fools.
In the end, though, this one should be remembered most for its wonderful exhibitions of brilliant defense with Broncos defensive-coordinator Wade (son of Bum) Philips emerging unsung hero. At its core, football is all about the gritty, down and dirty, essentials of Dee-fense where deep in the pits it's all about survival of the fittest and toughest. That's where this one was clearly won by the Broncos, led by electrifying MVP Von Miller. In that sense, it was classic football.
So ends -- thankfully and at last -- the too long (like all the others) NFL season. It raged erratically from inscrutable Delategate to the balmy evening at Santa Clara and along the way it left the NFL more befuddled than ever despite the amassing of more record ratings and revenues.
All the show-boating notwithstanding, 50th Soupey like the 2015 regular season was haunted by the issue fast becoming a bona fide monstrosity not about to go away no matter how relentlessly the NFL's massive PR and image-crafting wizards struggles to change the subject.
Even the League acknowledges they were again up significantly this season; from 114 to 182 by one count. Critics scorn those numbers, arguing they only account for the more notable cases that got fully reported with the real number being much higher with teams continuing to cheat and cover up injuries as much as possible. Trust is ebbing on this matter. There's much at stake.
Meanwhile litigation pending against the league becomes mountainous with financial damages being sought by literally a battered army of NFL alumni now becoming angry litigants, climbing well into the $billions. Just a couple of years ago, the owners thought they'd bought their way out of this humongous headache with a sweetheart deal with the players' association. But that deal has been essentially negated. Potential damages now look open-ended. Battalions of lawyers are answering the call. NFL owners, long the cockiest collection of corporate buccaneers this side of the Robber Barons, are beginning to run scared.
The fortnight proceeding the Big Game has always been a merry self-promotional free-for-all for the NFL; much light-hearted banter, happy and aimless jock-talk, idle musings about who'll win and why, all of it punctuated by endless features glorifying the game and its combatants. But not this year! The weeklong lead-up was instead dominated by intense treatments of the concussion controversy along with parenthetical critiques of football's mounting and gratuitous violence. Such stuff used to be celebrated as 'manly arts' but it's now increasingly seen as needless, heedless and mindless.
Adding to the NFL's embarrassment is the testimony coming from living legends popping out of the closet attesting to the harm their beloved game has done them.
The Times offered a touching account of Willie Wood, Packers' star of first Soupey, now institutionalized and unable to remember he played in that game. Even while being honored for his epic antics in Soupey III, Broadway Joe chose the moment to reveal he intends to bequeath his brain to medical science when his time comes, (although if Namath finds old age burdensome football may not be entirely to blame). The more reliable source Joe Montana, three-time Soupey MVP, reveals he's so battered that at 59 he can no longer play a light round of golf. With such testimony coming from illustrious living icons you can appreciate the depths of the NFL's public relations crisis.
Will, 50 years hence, the NFL be celebrating with such joy its century of saucy supremacy? Ah now, that is the Question!
Clark Booth is a renowned Boston sports writer and broadcast journalist. He spent much of his long career at Bostonís WCVB-TV Chanel 5 as a correspondent specializing in sports, religion, politics and international affairs.
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