Not sure just how much more entertaining the NFL can be, but we seem to be nearing the limits of drama and spectacle and flat-out fun that can be contained in one television set, or in one human brain, before explosions result.
Sunday night’s Super Bowl LII wasn’t settled until a jump ball fell incomplete in the end zone, and that was with the champion Eagles scoring 41 points.
This is borderline ridiculous. All of it.
The fact that New England could lose despite topping 600 yards in offense and going the entire game without punting.
The fact that Nick Foles, a backup quarterback by trade, could sling it around for 373 yards but be best remembered for catching a touchdown pass.
The fact that these are notes from the most important tackle football game of them all, and not some flag-football afternoon on fraternity row.
Here to say, though, there are all kinds of ridiculous, and this kind, with defenders largely serving the function of pylons in an extended passing drill, is perfect for 21st-century America. We still may not be able to agree on the most basic questions, like what in the name of Fred Biletnikoff constitutes a catch, but there is broad consensus that boredom will not be tolerated.
The optimal viewing experience is now defined as something so fast and fantastic that you actually look up from your cellphone to catch a glimpse every few seconds, and then you can’t type out anything edgier than “Wait. What?” before it’s time to look up again.
Philadelphia’s 41-33 upset of the Patriots delivered on that, and not just because of the sky-high passing yardage. What spiced up this night even more was the gambling style of Eagles coach Doug Pederson, who twice went for it on fourth down. One of those was a gadget-play touchdown from the 1-yard line and the other came near midfield with more than five minutes to play in regulation, when giving the ball back to Tom Brady seemed an even bigger risk.
Both successes smacked of what some kooky college coach might do in that situation, and anybody who has followed this column for long knows that college football is a personal favorite and a national treasure and if that doesn’t make sense then you must not like scorching jalapenos that make you laugh and cry at the same time, either.
Along these same lines, Bill Belichick’s special teams have been monotonously efficient in other Super Bowls. On Sunday night they came unhinged, with a bad snap that led to a missed extra point and a chip-shot field goal try that never had a chance. When an automaton like Stephen Gostkowski goes off line, there’s more than a football game going on. We’re talking demolition derby, and those always begin and end with a crowd-pleasing bang.
Lest this should come off as kicking the Patriots when they are down, last year’s Super Bowl is another example of how today’s NFL forbids viewers to turn off the set and head for bed, even when the score is 28-3. From that sinkhole, New England escaped and went on to beat Atlanta, in overtime no less, the first bonus period in Super Bowl history.
Compare that to some of the by-the-book action of the Super Bowl’s early years.
Bob Griese completed six passes, for instance, in Miami’s most lopsided Super Bowl win, and on that same day the University of Texas marching band was the featured halftime performer.
Another time, way back when, Pittsburgh led Minnesota 2-0 at the half. Eventually, the Vikings got on the board in a 16-6 loss, but they did it on a blocked punt recovered in the end zone, and even then they missed the extra point. Yawn.
And how about the time that Dallas so thoroughly dominated the Denver Broncos that an assembly of sportswriters wanted all 11 of the Cowboys’ defensive starters to share the Super Bowl MVP award until the NFL stepped in and said no? Got to nip stuff like that in the bud, or else the same group might have voted the Broncos equal shares of the Miss Congeniality award.
No, what we’ve got now is better. Crazy chunk plays all over the place on offense and just enough resistance on the other side, like Brandon Graham’s late strip-sack of Brady, for the old goats to keep preaching that defense wins championships.
I used to be one of those goats, but Sunday night was something of an epiphany. If every Super Bowl in the future plays out like that, how can anyone but fans of the losing team be disappointed?
Good luck to Atlanta’s Super Bowl LIII in raising the bar, and good luck this week to Philadelphia controlling its rampaging celebrants. One crack in the Liberty Bell is enough, right?