By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
The blaring alarm pierced into a vulnerable recess of my brain. With throbbing temples and half-mast eyes, I struggled to calibrate. The world beyond the warm bed was harsh and intimidating. The once-snoozed, then chirping again time box next to the bed incited rage. It was just doing the job I programmed it to do. But its rude, rhythmic call demanded that I rise to meet the responsibilities of the day. Responsibilities…so overrated at a time like this; sleep and sloth were more appealing.
That was this past Monday morning. But it wasn’t just any Monday morning; it was the worst Monday morning of the year – dead-of-winter-cold, dark and, for the first time since early September, lonely.
The fifty-second edition of The Great American Game – the Super Bowl - was played the preceding night. Somebody lost, somebody won. Million-dollar ads had their one shining or dubious moment. Confetti flew. A champion was crowned. Disney World trips were booked. Heroes were anointed; goats were scolded. One city planned a parade; the other prepared for a wake.
For the majority – those neither celebrating the Eagles’ win nor despondent over the Patriots’ loss - this question loomed on the morning after the night before: now what?
The NFL’s departure hurts. Football’s crescendo builds through the fall, reaches a frenzy in the early winter and ends with an abrupt, climatic thud on Super Bowl night. Then that Monday morning comes. Where to go? What to do? See a doctor! Yes, that’s it, a doctor of the human mind (such a scary place). My therapist is Dr. Seuss. Been seeing him my entire life. His advice: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Will do, sir. So with a semi-genuine smile, I say thank you, NFL season…again and as always.
Now for some business…
The Rolling Stones famously crooned, “It’s only rock ‘n’ roll, but I like it.” Well, following that excessive deprecation, the NFL is, technically, only football. Ah, but look closer, Luke…feel The Force…errrr…the football inside you. There’s much more to this game than a tightly strewn, pigskin-wrapped sphere. The “much more” is what I always miss.
The game aside, the Super Bowl journey of the two combatants is always a fascinating tale. They are two of 32 - miraculous survivors of an arduous trip wrought with tough losses, injuries, inevitable internal conflict, self-doubt and seemingly impossible scenarios. That each transcended is a testament to their individual and collective resiliency.
Those broad-brush aspects of Super Bowl stories never change. The teams and details do. This year, New England absorbed the significant pre-season loss of star WR Julian Edelman and pushed aside reports of infighting and their dynasty’s pending collapse. Philadelphia rode the MVP play of QB Carson Wentz to regular-season prominence. After Wentz’s week 14 season-ending injury, pundits left the Eagles for dead. But to their great credit, Philadelphia rejected the bulletproof excuse and rallied against any and all naysayers.
Digging deeper, past even the individual team stories, lurks the “much more” that I miss most about football in the post-Super Bowl haze: with its incomparable concurrent interdependencies – coaches, players, offensive and defensive concepts and in-game chaos - it is the ultimate team sport. Football’s musical equivalent is jazz. At its best, jazz is improvisational magic. Within a basic structure, talented individuals read real-time cues of bandmates, wax and wane within a team concept and remain laser-focused on the art, not personal excellence. This describes football at its best, too, as it is performed game-to-game, possession-to-possession and play-to-play. When it all aligns, without ego and toward a collective end, it is, like jazz, an exhilarating experience and a testament to a group committed to a grand, democratic endeavor.
This is why, after watching football’s finest offering, it hurts to say goodbye. This is why the post-Super Bowl Monday morning is the worst. Football shows us what democracy can be; its departure leaves us to reflect on what our nation’s democracy certainly and currently is not.
No wonder my head was throbbing when the alarm sounded. Nevertheless, I’m still smiling because the football season happened. Doctor’s orders.
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