My newest story, Stonewalled Soul, published in Subtopian Magazine- check it out on page 34.
Review of Perfect Game by Philadelphia Inquirer veteran Frank Fitzpatrick posted on Philadelphia Review of Books today. Highly recommend this books for those who are still in withdrawal from the end of March Madness. Villanova Basketball fans will especially appreciate this highly detailed and informative read.
New Book Review, for Terry Frei’s Olympic Affair in The Philadelphia Review of Books- Sports, Sex and Nazis.
Stay tuned for an interview with the author, coming soon!
Layman Sports Guide to Super Bowl XLVII
Ask yourself two questions. First, do you watch football? Second, do you watch the Super Bowl? If you answered “no” to the first question and “yes” to the second, consider yourself my target audience.
Each year, usually the day after the NFL crowns their champion with the glistening Vince Lombardi Trophy (given to each year’s Super Bowl Champion), the official ratings from the game are published. In the United States, audience size for any program is measured using the Nielsen ratings, which are generally accepted as Gospel by the entire television industry. On February 6, 2012, The Washington Post published an article stating that the Nielsen ratings for the previous night’s showing of Super Bowl XLVI drew the largest TV audience in history, claiming 111.3 million viewers.
With Super Bowl XLVII now on top of the all-time-watched list, Super Bowl XLVI dropped to second place, kicking Super Bowl XLIV to third. This Super Bowl domination of the top three all-time TV rankings points to a pretty clear conclusion.
The simple truth of entertainment—one that is equally true for the sitcom fans who never miss an episode of The Big Bang Theory, the bloodthirsty marine biologists who chomp popcorn and watch “Shark Week”, and the epicureans who see nothing but cooking shows—is that if you watch TV, even if you hate sports, you probably watch the Super Bowl.
Removing the Super Bowl from the equation, NFL games still offer an undeniable allure for television viewers. Though never coming close to 111.3 million viewers, ESPN’s Monday Night Football (shown on ABC until 2005) usually posts impressive numbers, as well. But the difference in viewership between the “Big Game” and all the games raises an interesting question:
Why do people watch the Super Bowl if they do not fall into the general demographic of NFL fans?
One answer lies in the spectacle of the evening more than it does in the excitement of the athletic contest. Superstar musicians will most certainly sing the national anthem (this year it will be Alicia Keys), the highly coveted commercial spots aim to please, and viewers might even be treated to a wardrobe malfunction during the halftime show (this year it will be performed by Beyonce). No matter which of the previously stated factors intrigues viewers the most, the Super Bowl is always a highly-produced television showpiece.
There are also the house parties and bar/tavern events to consider. There are few televised sporting events that offer as much excitement as watching in person but, if any of them come close, the Super Bowl does. A festive environment can draw anyone in, even if they spend more nights reading than they do watching TV.
But even if you go to party at a friend’s house, even if you look forward to eating nachos and pizza, even if the commercials make you laugh out loud—what about the game itself? Most of the time, the screen is going to show football rather than some other entertaining distraction. If do chose to watch the game (by the way, this year it’s the San Francisco 49ers vs. the Baltimore Ravens), what is there for you to see in between commercial breaks?
If the rules of the game are completely lost on you, the official NFL website offers a rough outline for beginners (see credits). But if you have a handle on how the game works, a few key points will help to make the Super Bowl, and that does mean the FOOTBALL part, enjoyable.
The Spirit of the Game:
All statistics and predictions aside, this is a championship game. The professionals on the field are capable of extraordinary feats of strength, speed, agility and showmanship. While many consider professionals to be spoiled brats who are unwilling to give their full effort during the season, they will be maximizing their skills to win come February 3rd.
An Unusual Match-up:
Sunday’s game features The San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens. This relatively uncommon, since it does not feature the New England Patriots (5 appearances in the last 11 years), the Pittsburgh Steelers (3 appearances in the last 7 years) or the New York Giants (won 2 out of the last 5, including 2012). The 49ers, though they saw Super Bowl dominance in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, have not made to the championship since their last victory in 1995. The Ravens won it all in 2001, but that was their first and only trip to the “Big Game.”
Also of note, despite the obnoxious media coverage, Super Bowl XLVII already made history, even before the opening kickoff. Jim Harbaugh, head coach of the 49ers, is the younger brother of John Harbaugh, head coach of the Ravens. Both coaches constantly offer levity to the brother-versus-brother aspect of the game, stating that the hype takes away from the game. Despite both of the Harbaughs’ sarcasm, levity does nothing to change the fact that personal rivalry makes sport more interesting.
Different Styles of Play:
Every team plays the game their own way, and these two teams are no exception. Despite the numerous factors that play into every football victory, the styles of the 49ers and the Ravens could not be more different.
The Ravens are, and always have been, a defensive team. This year, they struggled against the run while their dominant linebacker, Ray Lewis, sat out with an injury for much of the season. But, as previously stated, players bring an elevated performance to the championship, and last week the Raven’s defense shut down the always prolific Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
The 49ers are an offensive powerhouse, specifically when in their running game. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick and running back Frank Gore are both fast and agile ball carriers. The combination (especially Kaepernick) makes for an unpredictable offensive threat that will certainly give the Raven’s defense trouble.
While any kind of competition, and especially athletic competition, can offer drama and excitement, millions of people would not watch sports on TV if their friends and family were playing. Professional sports are worth watching because of the professional athletes on the field (or court, or diamond, or track, etc.).
No matter how much critical viewers say, “I could do that,” when they see a great touchdown pass or a hard-hitting tackle, NFL players can do things that the rest of us can never hope to achieve. Some incredible things will happen on Sunday, even if the game in general is not exciting, and that will be because of the many incredibly athletes on the screen.
- Joe Flacco- Ravens Quarterback: Flacco is a local boy. He hails from Audubon, NJ, just across the Delaware River, and he was dominant in his years as quarterback for the University of Delaware Blue Hens. More importantly, he is a poised quarterback that can throw the ball “a mile”. As a result, he can change the game at any moment with a long touchdown pass.
- Ray Lewis- Ravens Linebacker: There is a good reason why Ray Lewis has a 3D version of his likeness proudly displayed on the northbound side of I-95 running through Baltimore. He was the MVP of Super Bowl XXXV, where his defensive expertise held the New York Giants to only one touchdown. He is also one of the most feared linebackers of all time, boasting an aggressive and exciting style of play—he seems to be in on every tackle. Additionally, his interception statistics are nothing short of staggering. His absence during the regular season is a big reason why the Ravens struggled against the run.
- Colin Kaepernick- 49ers Quarterback: Kaepernick started the season as on the bench, but was called into play for the injured Alex Smith. Since then, he has kept his starting spot with a deadly combination of passing and running. But it’s his running that really sets him apart—he set an NFL rushing record in the recent win against the Green Bay Packers, winning his first career playoff start. His ability to run means that Ravens defenders will have to pay particular attention to him on every play, potentially limiting their ability to provide pass coverage.
- Navorro Bowman, Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks- 49ers Linebackers: It is difficult to mention one of these defenders without including the others. When the 49ers are on defense, follow the ball-carrier and one of these four will probably end up tackling him. They are one of the biggest keys to San Francisco’s success this year.
Keeping these four key points in the back of your mind will help you enjoy the football part of the game. You might even be able to engage in a meaningful discussion about it (as long as you are not dealing with someone spends their weekdays watching commentary shows and their weekends playing fantasy football). The ridiculously minute details of sports are big business now and, just like anything else, some of the fanatics can be overbearing and annoying. This makes it easy to forget what is so much fun about watching sports.
The theory is simple enough. When you are watching professional athletes compete, exciting things can happen at any time. Even watching pro bowling highlights can be interesting under the proper circumstances. While sports on television are often overproduced and packed with annoying color commentary, there must be something entertaining about watching the Super Bowl. Otherwise, 111.3 million people would not have watched last year.
Jim Blanchet is a writer of fiction, creative non-fiction and satire living in Philadelphia. (website: www.jimblanchetfiction.com)
Photo Credit: http://www.sport-glutton.com
Discussed in this essay:
De Moraes, Lisa. “Super Bowl XLVI: Biggest TV Audience Ever [Updated].” The Washington Post. Feb 6, 2012.
NFL Beginner’s Guide to Football (http://www.nfl.com/rulebook/beginnersguidetofootball)
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