Block & Tackle is John Teti’s column about pro football.
On Sunday, we will gather again for the annual ritual of the Super Bowl, where men collide on a numbered rectangle in a contest to win jewelry and one (1) statue of a football. Computer-generated animals will make us laugh about corn chips. When the game is halfway over, there will be singing while the football men steal away to formulate strategy and ingest painkillers. Lady Gaga has them covered.
Later, we’ll debate how well the corn chips animals sold their product. How effectively did the Wix.com squirrels deliver their brand message? We will find the wittiest way to express our opinion on the matter, and we will push the tweet button. Maybe we will win the Super Bowl of getting retweets! We will try.
The announcers will be Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, Fox’s lead crew. Buck gets flack for his sarcasm, but I like that he laughs at himself. The savviest football broadcasters acknowledge how ridiculous their job is. Talking about an NFL game for three hours straight—coming up with something to talk about on every down!—is a peculiar skill for a person to have, in the same way it’s peculiar to kick a leather bladder between two poles. And like kickers, announcers tend to be remembered most for their misses. So I give them a little benefit of the doubt, and I think Buck does a fine job. That said, Troy Aikman is not great. We will tweet about him too, because we are cruel, and we’ve got to have those sweet retweets.
It’s a rich multimedia pageant. But it’s also a game that only one team can win, so we have to choose sides. There are two ways you can go about that: You can root for a team, or you can root against a team. I encourage you to focus on the former. Rooting against each other is now the national pastime, which we pursue to the point of exhaustion. Maybe this was the foreseeable result of electing a president whose previous claim to fame was humiliating people in a fake conference room. His “movement,” aptly billed as such, has inspired resentment at every turn. So now, with him in charge, of course we’re all out to get each other—some from a position of power, and others from a position of righteous resistance.
Amid this hellscape of ubiquitous conflict, a theoretically fun football game will take place. You could pick a team to hate, but you might as well take this opportunity to instead fill yourself with devotion, however fleeting and manufactured, to one team or the other. Find someone to love in this gloriously meaningless pageant, and save your anger for the shit that matters.
The game is more satisfying that way. Watching the Super Bowl as a hater is ultimately a hollow experience. I know from experience, as a New England Patriots fan who watched the Indianapolis Colts’ Super Bowl appearances with a Peyton Manning voodoo doll close at hand. When the Saints beat the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV, I thought I’d be happy, but it was an anticlimax. I realized that you don’t really get a culminating moment of revenge as a Super Bowl hater. When the game ends, nothing really happens to the defeated players. There’s no ritual humiliation, no auto-da-fe to punish their heretical losership and vindicate those who scorned them. They just leave the field. The losers’ penance is to go away and be forgotten. Existential retribution isn’t exactly the slam-bang payoff that haters might want.
So don’t root against, root for—even if it’s a distinction without a difference. If you can’t stand the Patriots, just focus on loving the Falcons, so you can savor it all the more if they win. (Winning as a fair-weather fan is unearned fun, but who says you have to earn fun?) In any case, it will be therapeutic. We can and will resume the fighting on Monday. On Sunday, let’s cheer.
Super Bowl LI: New England Patriots vs. Atlanta Falcons — Sunday, 6:30 p.m. Eastern, Fox
All of the positive thinking up above is quite heartfelt and all, but at the same time, I’m a bit full of shit. It’s an awfully self-serving tack for your New England Patriots-loving Block & Tackle columnist to preach love, not hate. Because when I say, “Don’t root against a team! Fill yourself with sunshine!” I’m obviously talking only about the Patriots. Nobody is nursing a vendetta against these Atlanta Falcons.
And my plea to discard your Patriot hatred is a ludicrous request, even if maybe I softened you up by saying some mean stuff about Trump. There will be no new converts to the Patriot cause this Sunday, nor will Pats-haters declare a sudden armistice. The lines that divide the NFL fan base have been drawn for some time. There are Patriots fans, and there are people who hate the Patriots, and then there are even more people who hate the Patriots because they are registered to hate the team in multiple states.
So take my plea for kindness as the honest feel-good message that it’s intended to be, but let’s tell the whole truth while we’re banging the kumbaya drum: It’s easy for me to be a cheerful booster when my team is playing in the game. More to the point, my good cheer is only the prelude. If the Patriots win on Sunday, I will feast on the nation’s sorrow until my bowels are swollen with the anguish of a Patriot-hating NFL fan base. I will imbibe the furrowed brows of frustrated ESPN analysts, I will devour the country’s bitter tweets, and I will cruise through the hometown message boards to sample their tales of schadenfreude. And if the Patriots lose, the nation will do the same for me—I would expect no less. This isn’t a Super Bowl matchup that fosters togetherness. The broader country’s hatred of the New England squad, a hatred tinged with fatigue, is the axis on which Super Bowl LI turns. It’s the narrative that sets the stakes, and furthermore, the world beyond New England is already bored with this narrative—it’s a rerun. That only deepens the disdain for the Pats, and the cycle continues.
The Atlanta Falcons, meanwhile, are impossible to dislike. The Falcons’ overwhelming pleasantness was on display in the New York Times this week as the paper ran a profile of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, and the splashiest headline they could conjure was this: “Before Matt Ryan’s Ascent, a Quiet Grounding in the Quaker Way.” The last time Atlanta went to the championship game, safety Eugene Robinson was arrested for soliciting a prostitute. This time we found out that their quarterback attended the same prep school as Buster Bluth from Arrested Development. That doesn’t have the same tabloid crackle. Then again, Robinson got into trouble on Super Bowl eve—on a day in which he had received a “Bart Starr Award” for “high moral character,” no less—so the Falcons still have time to make a name for themselves.
Whether or not Atlanta’s Quaker quiet is shattered by an unforeseen boat scandal, our rooting interests are not liable to budge. I can’t in good faith ask the Patriots haters among you to set aside your enmity—what with Tom Brady’s MAGA cap and Bill Belichick’s pre-election love letter to candidate Trump, a Patriots Super Bowl just maps too readily onto our broader culture war. At least when this particular battle is over, somebody gets to feel like they won. The Block & Tackle “one last homer pick for the Super Bowl” prediction: New England 34, Atlanta 30.
For the final time this season, Phil Simms is a poet
I think Pittsburgh’s got to do a couple things
Either they gotta find a way to get to Tom Brady
(with the blitz)
They’re got to play some
man-to-man coverage because
When you play zone, you drop back
and they space the field
And his arm? Powerful!
with his eyes!
And a lot of easy completions
in this game
for Tom Brady
Yeah, you gotta be careful
Score’s 33-9? Protect yourselfff!
Boy, Tuitt, that’s a big hit from behind
Tom Brady didn’t feel it
Didn’t feel the rusher, I
is what I mean
I’m neck-deep right now in a big and exciting A.V. Club project that has been months in the making (and which I’ll be unveiling real soon), hence this brief-ish column. I plan to find the time next week for a Block & Tackle season wrap-up. Good luck to you on Sunday, wherever your loyalties may lie.