all-the-time revolution that was soon ushered in by cable and satellites made
the games infinitely more important, made the players more important and,
ultimately and inevitably, turned them into entertainers as well as athletes.
Namath (like his counterpart in boxing, Muhammad Ali) was an early indication
that things were changing. He understood long before most of his contemporaries
that he was part of a show as well as a game, that he was playing to two
separate crowds--the one at the game and the larger one at home. He was signed
by Sonny Werblin, an entertainment guy, a former agent, who watched the young
Alabama star walk into the room for their first meeting--cocky, purposeful,
with dark, brooding good looks--and saw immediately that his charisma made him
the ideal man to lead Werblin's Jets, an upstart team in an upstart league in
New York City. Werblin made a point of paying his new quarterback so much money
that his signing was itself a media event, and Namath was a star before he
threw his first pass. Fortunately for him, he had the talent to match the hype.
The same, of course, could be said about the NFL.
still has a powerful hold on me. I plan my Sundays around it in the fall, and
if I'm on the road and don't like the games on the networks, I go searching for
a sports bar. I still watch the Super Bowl religiously, a word that is perhaps
all too apt in this context.
The Game, of
course, has grown exponentially. A few years ago a small group of friends and I
were in one of the distant corners of the map, Patagonia, fishing the Rio
Grande for oceangoing brown trout, some of which can reach 25 pounds. It was a
great privilege to be on this great river at the perfect time of the year, and
the fish were very big and very accommodating. But the Super Bowl was on and
the Giants were in it, so one of my friends and I stopped fishing early that
afternoon and drove for two and a half hours to watch the game in a bar.
"Are you sure you're fishing with the right kind of people?" the head
of the fishing charter company later wired the leader of our little group.
There is a reason
the game has thrived. The players are that good, and the NFL action, which
builds week after week, is that brilliant, and the Super Bowl is the
culmination of it all. I remain enthralled by the ferocity of the competition,
and I am intrigued by the knowledge that the players of today--whatever our
memories try to tell us about the stars we grew up with, those who first drew
us to the game and are forever in our own private Halls of Fame--are bigger and
faster, and thus the game too is greater than ever. I am dazzled that players
that big can be that fast, that they can take such terrible hits and keep
playing. In a way it strikes me that these games are about measuring in your
imagination the physical limits of a human being. How big and fast and
disciplined can they be? What is the real limit of human potential? How can a
player, a Montana or a Brady or a Faulk, adjust in the tiniest fraction of a
second to a changed situation in a given play? I am hardly alone in this; it is
why all of us, I think, are drawn to it.
Back in those
early days, some 40- to 50-million people watched the Super Bowl broadcast;
now, if we are to believe those who claim they can chart it--that is, the
people who check on who's watching in Siberia and the Ivory Coast and Kuwait
and Patagonia--the Game is available to a billion viewers worldwide. In the
Game's infancy, 30 seconds of commercial time cost $42,000, and now it is $2.3
million, and many people who are otherwise not much engaged in the ebb and flow
of the football season wouldn't think of missing the broadcast, more for the
competition for best commercial than for the game itself, which at times is not
as entertaining. But in the end, it works; it is the Game, anticipated long in
advance and enshrined on our calendars as one more de facto but very real
national holiday, this one bequeathed to us by Pete Rozelle, prophet of the
future, in a way that even he could not have imagined.
This story is
adapted from XL Super Bowl: The Opus, published by Kraken Sport & Media
Limited (krakenopus.com), Copyright � 2006.