It's a week before the NFL Championship, but we've already seen what could have been the Super Bowl, haven't we?
Sort of. On August 14, 2009, the Vikings beat the Colts 13-3 and on October 4, 2009, the Saints beat the Jets 24-10. Oh, we didn't get to see the Saints play the Colts or the Vikings play the Jets, but does it really matter?
Once upon a time, when there were two unique leagues and there were bitter differences of opinion about talent and coaching and uniforms, there was something to play for. But now, what's replaced professional antagonism and disrespect is hype. Lots and lots of hype. Since the merger, there hasn't been a whole lot that's different between the Super Bowl and the pre-season since teams that face each other during the summer could, in fact, face each other in February. So, what's the big deal? So, Manning didn't play much in the summer and neither did Brees. So what? It's one league. The winner isn't World Champion. The winner isn't even North American Champion. The winner is the United States Champion and that's why we now call professional football, "America's Game."
I imagine that at some point in time, the league will expand to other countries. Perhaps, they'll be a team called the London Fish & Chips or the Paris Brie or the Rome Fettuccini or maybe the Buenos Aires Maté, but, until then, we have an American game played between American teams from the same American league that know each other quite well and outside of the Lombardi Trophy there's not a whole lot to fight for.
Perhaps, this year, with the Saints it's a bit different since in a post-Katrina world, they're playing for the city of New Orleans and the right to erase years of paper bag masks and ultimate disgrace. More power to them. But there's no real antagonism between the Colts and the Saints the way there was between Starr's Packers and Dawson's Chiefs or Namath's Jets and Unitas's Colts or between Stabler's Raiders and Tarkenton's Vikings. Nope, the elements of antagonism and disrespect have really disappeared. So, even though the audience for the Super Bowl may be huge, the game itself seems to be missing something intangible that was really there before the two leagues became one. Perhaps, that's what the AFL owners were thinking all along. Perhaps, that's why Paul Brown invented the Bengals so they'd become part of the NFL and not part of the AFL. What the owners really wanted was a merger and that's what they got.
Now the game has become homogenized between two divisions in the same league. Nothing more and nothing less. Regardless of the potential excitement factor of the game, it would appear that, over time, the Super has somehow become something less than that. Seems the only thing that's remained "majestic" about the Super Bowl is the use of Roman numerals and the possibility of a "wardrobe malfunction." Perhaps, Jim Brown was right when he originally thought the name "Super Bowl" was a bit lame. If you disagree with that, then take it up with Jim.