Saturday we went over to watch our 6th grade grandson play basketball in the local athletic league. The league is like leagues in most towns of any size: if you show up, you play. There are eight five minute segments, and if there are ten boys on a side, five of them play every other quarter. That way, every one gets time on the court. When the quarter starts they line up more or less by height. The aim is to practice, a step above play.
This day Ryan’s team won their second game in a row…after five consecutive losses. They celebrated their first win “like we won the championship” he said, all excited.
My guess is that this year is the last non-competitive year for kids Ryan’s age. Now the competition begins: first to make the team, then to win. You win, or you’re a loser.
In a few hours the U.S. will come to a functional halt as Green Bay and Pittsburgh square off for the Super Bowl at Cowboys Stadium Arlington TX. It is Super Bowl XLV – one of the few remaining uses for Roman numerals.
Along with the football will be the Super Bowl of TV ads. If there could be a religious tie-in, Super Bowl Sunday would vie with Christmas.
But everything later today will focus on winners, and not only the team that won, but on those few who get a seat in the stands or the Star Level boxes. Best as I know, there’s no ‘knot-hole gang’ at the Super Bowl.
The rest of us can, and many of us will, watch the spectacle at home, hopefully consuming the advertised foods and drinks of the day.
And then the day will end. One team from one town will wear the crown for one year. And the absurdity of it all will settle in…until next year. Odds are, this years winner won’t repeat next year. In 44 years so far, only on eight occasions has a team had successive Super Bowl championships. Two have been to the Super Bowl on eight occasions; only 16 cities have had representatives in the Super Bowl. There are no dynasties.
This particular year follows a year when my Minnesota Vikings almost made it to the Big Game, defeated in the semi-finals by the eventual champion New Orleans Saints. A year later and the Vikings were a disaster; coach fired before the end of the season, Brett Favre back to Mississippi to the farm. The ultimate indignity was the collapse of the roof of the Metrodome under the weight of heavy snow.
The indignity of the season didn’t derail the owners lobbying for a new Minnesota stadium – the 5th in recent years by my count for assorted pro franchises here – and, I suppose, a dreamed for new beginning for the Vikings. They’ll probably get it. The old metrodome, so functional for so many years, will continue for monster trucks and the like.
Meanwhile, the Superbowl has yet to be played, and the NFL owners are threatening to lock-out the players if an appropriate contract deal cannot be reached.
The game of winning and losing…mostly losing…has been refined to a high art in this country. Those in Cowboys Stadium today are clearly among the “winners”. They represent a tiny, tiny slice of America, but yet they are to represent the American dream of victory.
Of those twenty sixth graders I watched play basketball yesterday, perhaps one might end up on the varsity at the local high school by the time he’s a senior. The others will be doing whatever they will be doing.
In our country, competition is sacred. And it is killing us, slowly but surely.
I’ll probably be watching the game today, but mostly my vision will be on the absurdities of the spectacle both on the field and in the stands and the sky boxes….
UPDATE: 9:30 p.m. Sunday evening.
Green Bay 31, Pittsburgh 25. It was Green Bay’s 4th Super Bowl win, including the first two in 1967 and 1968. At the end of the game, tonight, does it have any enduring meaning at all? Is our society any better, short or long term, for having experienced the Super Bowl?
Note from Bob Barkley, after reading the original post: “One of the most important books (to me anyway) I ever read was “The Case Against Competition” by Alfie Kohn.”