Thoughts on Soupey XLIV - and some NFL conundrums

How many of the great unwashed football fans of America drenching themselves in margaritas while devouring a fifth bowl of clam dip would have bet the ranch that Peyton the Magnificent was in the process of marching his Colts to the equalizer with three minutes in Soupey XLIV and his rowdy band down by a TD?

But then Peyton the Peerless was guilty of the clumsiest and most ill-advised pass he's tossed since his Pop Warner days.
Oh, hello there, Tracy Porter.

Only casual fans (which describes most of them), led by those who give the QB too much credit when a team wins and too much blame when it loses, would lay all the fault for the Colts' fairly stunning loss to the uppity Saints at the feet of Peyton the Dauntless.

One vividly recalls Pierre Garcon, the hitherto inspired wide-out from Haiti, dropping a perfect Peyton pass that bounced off his letters. Had he caught the thing he had clear sailing to the end-zone to make the score 17-0 Colts, still early on. Might that have affected the outcome? And what if that Colts' special-teamser had caught the onside kick that turned the game around at the second half's onset instead of letting it bounce off his helmet?

Search through the out-takes and you'll find more such grievous matter worthy of meaningless debate. The Colts' loss was probably sealed by the ankle injury of one of the entire game's very best defensive forces, Dwight Freeney, who logged a sack then was forced to hit the sack. If Peyton the Redoubtable didn't have his finest hour, his defense was more culpable. They surrendered 34 points in the last 36 minutes of play. Meanwhile, the Saints' defense was brilliant. In the end it's always about “the D.” But then the Colts also got badly out-coached.

The Colts' flop is gleefully received in Foxborough where they can falsely reason the gap they must bridge is not all that formidable. That's a mistake. The 2009 Patriots were not in the same league with either of the finalists. It will also further inspire vigorous defenses of Tom Brady who, Pats' Nation will argue, still leads Peyton the Resolute in Soupeys won and therefore remains the more sublime. But which of them would you pick if you were in a foxhole or starting a franchise and had the first choice?

As for the Saints, their win amuses many and there's no harm in that in these hard times. But one finds a bit chilling the notion it has anything to do with the redemption of New Orleans in the lingering wake of Katrina, the terrible hurricane that utterly devastated that toddling old town and its environs four years ago.

This fanciful notion was much favored in the coverage. But associating sporting triumphs with wider social, political, military, civic issues and colossal natural disasters is much too glib for my tastes. It's usually the hackneyed premise of dim-witted television anchors. Nonetheless we'll forgive Drew Brees, the Saints QB, who otherwise out-shone Peyton the Incomparable, for playing that card rather too egregiously. You were great, Kid, but a football game is a football game and that's all there is to that.

The orgiastic spree of Soupey XLIV – which was over the top as usual – looked mighty impressive to the casual observer, which included roughly 300 million people who presumably had nothing better to do. But there's evidence all the folderal, epic as it may have been, only thinly masks an NFL scene which is more stressed than it's ever been.
The production was lavish. All the bells and whistles popped off on cue. And I need no longer ask, “Who is The Who?” But none of that obscures the fact there's trouble in River City, mates. After a couple of generations of breezing merrily along, courtesy of a virtual free pass from Congress, the TV networks, Madison Avenue, and the body politic of sport, the NFL has mighty issues to deal with and no more excuses for skirting them, including:

1. Coinflips: While hardly the most important issue, the most embarrassing is the matter of how to decide games that go into overtime. It was bordering on the preposterous to have the Saints advance to the Super Bowl thanks largely to a coin-flip allowing them to receive the ball and march swiftly to a championship winning field goal while the Vikings' offense never got the chance to get off the bench. The most crucial marketing decision of a $3.6-billion industry wavers on whether an addled linebacker calls “heads” or “tails”? That all the blood, sweat ,and tears end up thusly is crazy!

The party line holds it matters not whether you start on defense or offense in OT. That's nonsense. If baseball had the same rules, they'd flip a coin to determine who bats first in the 10th and if that team scores it'd be instantly over with the other team never getting to bat. Universal would be the cries of ridicule. But it's precisely what they're doing in the NFL, and everyone oohs and aahs.

It's only surprising there wasn't more anger over the coin-flip fiasco, especially from Las Vegas. But then where the NFL is concerned, the mainstream media, which delight in persecuting major league baseball on the slimmest pretense, have been in the bag 40 years. That the Saints were the nation's overwhelming sentimental favorite doubtless further muted protest. Now that's a good excuse.
There's only one solution. If it's tied, play another quarter. If it's still tied, play another. Play all night, if necessary. Play until they drop. But dump the coin-flip.

2. Injuries: At last, the players themselves are rebelling. The issue of post-concussion syndrome consumes them. It was embarrassing to have the issue vividly portrayed in a Time magazine cover story during Soupey Week.

At least the league finally concedes the issue is legitimate. A study authorized by the NFL itself recognizes alarming realities. Compared with the general population, retired players aged 30 to 50 are 19 times more likely to be debilitated by cognitive burdens (including dementia and Alzheimer's) while all players over 50 are five times more likely to have memory-related disease.

The most astonishing statistic concerns high school players. The study says serious concussions endured by teenagers nationally range upwards to 63,000 per season. Does football face a crisis? Yes! Does it recognize such? No!

3. Labor Woes: The crowning touch, however, is the near promise of a monumental labor dispute that could consume the entire 2011 season. The ugly prospect of a possible lockout by the owners was loudly raised by new NFL Players Association boss DeMaurice Smith. It was astonishing to have such a nasty thought blemish Soupey Week which, as if by royal decree, has long been a blissful see-no-evil, speak-no-evil, feel-good follies full of happy talk.

Smith would have none of it. He's an NFL original; an NFLPA union steward steeped in the wit and wisdom of Marvin Miller, and Samuel Gompers. The owners have a tiger by the tail. After having the late Gene Upshaw in their hip pocket for the last generation, this is a major league culture shock for the owners. Gentleman Gene would never have embarrassed them by pointing out to all the world that their preparations for a lockout two seasons hence are already firmly in place.

In the meantime, the Saints are champs and New Orleans which, for better or worse, never needs an excuse, is rocking. All things considered I still insist you should never bet against Peyton the Almost Flawless.