Football, at once about well-crafted strategy and pure brute force, does seem to bring out the best and the worst in American culture. And this year’s season was no exception.
Let’s start with the best: both the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers, who managed to avoid trashing each other in the buildup to Sunday’s Super Bowl. There was no egregious taunting or over-celebration after a play. Both teams made mistakes—sacks, dropped balls, stupid penalties—but that just made the game seem more real, instead of like some rehearsed Broadway show. The Steelers coach, Mike Tomlin, was gracious in defeat, offering a "tip of the hat" to the winning Packers.
And a tip of the hat, indeed, to Green Bay, proving to occasionally delusional sports fans everywhere that a team really can barely make it into the playoffs, yet still win the championship. The Packers came in at sixth seed and took the Lombardi Trophy back home to Green Bay. And another tip, for proving that a nonprofit operation can still beat out a profit-driven one, giving us all hope that one day we all can root for a team without having to think about Dan Snyder or his ilk. [Check out a roundup of this month's best political cartoons.]
Which brings us back to Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins and currently on a mission to bankrupt an alternative weekly publication with a libel lawsuit. Snyder wants millions of dollars, but said recently all he’d really been looking for was an apology. What is he, in second grade? What is the point of an apology if you have to demand it? It’s by definition not really sincere. It’s up there with two other life lessons: If you have to badger someone to say "I love you," he or she probably doesn’t. And if you have to crash a White House party to prove how important you are, you’re not. That’s why you weren’t invited in the first place. When an Ottawa Senator punched out a player for the Buffalo Sabres several years ago, provoking outrage and calls for suspension, my niece concluded that the Senator should "say he’s sorry to the Buffalo Sabre." It was adorable because she was six years old. Grow up, Dan.
Then again, Snyder’s antics seem tasteful compared to the trying-too-hard-to-be-clever advertisers during the Super Bowl. A Groupon commercial than minimizes human rights struggles in Tibet? Pepsi ads that reinforce insulting gender stereotypes? Even the Swedish Bikini Team beer commercials of the past were less offensive; at least they had a deliberate burlesque quality. For real obscenity, we can take a look at the overpriced, over-the-top stadium in Dallas, where celebrities watched the game from luxury sky boxes, but hundreds of ticket-holding fans had to watch from outside, since their temporary seats inside were deemed unsafe. [Take the U.S. News poll: Were you impressed by this year's Super Bowl ads?]
The football, at least, was well worth watching. Perhaps next year the football drama will be restricted to the field.