Cold, in the End Zone

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In one 24-hour period I watched the finals for three major sporting events: the 2015 Asia Cup, the Australian Open and the American Super Bowl.  Consider cutting me some slack since I’m writing a thesis and sports are, by far, my healthiest distraction.

The Australian Socceroos defeated the tough Korea Republic team 2-1 in extended time in Sydney. An exhausted Novak Djokovic defeated Britain’s Andy Murray 6-7, 7-6, 6-3, 6-0 for a fifth Australian Open men’s title in Melbourne.

Next up was my nation’s annual football championship.  This year it was held in Glendale, Arizona at the $455 million dollar University of Phoenix Stadium featuring a retractable roof and, get this, a moveable field.   I was hoping to experience another great American sporting event while watching from Vietnam.  Would it be as special as catching the 2014 Winter Olympics Men’s Hockey Gold Medal Game in a Nha Trang sports bar surrounded by towering Swedes and brooding Russians, who swiftly retreated after the final buzzer?

For my generation, some of our earliest memories include watching bloody news coverage of the American War in Vietnam on our living room TV sets.  As a result, cheering on our favorite sport teams publicly in Hanoi can sometimes feel like an awkward exercise in self-conscious restraint.

So when I returned home from the outdoor Hanoi pub where I watched the New England Patriots defeat the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 after Tom Brady’s pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes, I was still wondering why the Super Bowl left me cold, in the end zone.

It all started so well.  The pub crowd was quietly psyched in that typical good-natured American sports fanatic sort of way.  The early morning beer kept flowing and there was even a doobie whose distinctive smell wafted through the air.  Save for Cris Collinsworth’s pee-wee football style of play-by-play commentary and the pub’s slight Internet feed lag the morning was lining up to be good fun. I was even looking forward to the Super Bowl ads.

After kick off I watched Tom Brady’s early interception and wondered if all those “deflate-gate cheating” rumors were getting to him and the Patriots.  Then I witnessed Brady’s running plays effortlessly morph into a surgical strike passing game to counter Seattle’s speedy and robust defense, as well as their 25-year-old rookie wide receiver Chris Matthews.

I welcomed the first celebratory spike in the end zone like an old friend.  Joyous spikes remind me of the great players whose egos and astounding plays were often only surpassed by their love of the game.  So when a flag was later called on Seattle’s end zone celebration I was confused, in part because I didn’t see what happened.  I remain unsure if NBC actually aired the celebratory infraction.

I searched the faces in the pub for any observable outrage and found none.  I asked the father sitting at the next table whether he understood the call.  He said he didn’t.  Instead he tried to explain the new NFL end zone rules to his young son, who, by the way, appeared to be holding a fully inflated football.  It sounded like the father gave up.  Who wouldn’t?

Even college football suffers from schizoid end zone rules and principles, let alone sex scandals and corruption.  I’ll leave those topics for the NCAA, the NFL, the players union and countless others who have played the game competitively or write about it.

Instead I’d like to offer six observations about the Super Bowl game:

1)      The leanness and speed of both the offensive and defensive linemen were remarkable.  Let’s put it this way, “The Fridge” would have stood out like a Chicago-wide iceberg on that Arizona pitch.

2)      Both teams seemed to play with such caution that, at times, I thought that I was watching a touch football game, despite the Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman’s “helmet hit” and possible concussion.  Edelman did well to scramble and continue to play.  He received another hit later but can anyone remember any jaw-dropping, legal body hits from this game?

3)      The Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson seemed almost subversive, with his fluid and gutsy offensive plays, when compared to Brady’s almost robotic, tactical efficiency.

4)      The Super Bowl ads appeared to be crafted almost exclusively for humorless boys and men of all ages.  The bizarre corporate-sponsored public service announcements and Microsoft’s nod to the Reading Is Fundamental buses of yesteryear were joined by so many women flaunting their Ts-and-As that I remarked to my friends, “Oh, for the days of costume malfunctions and nipple rings.”

Speaking of half-time entertainment, I missed seeing Missy Elliot steal the show from Katy Perry but remain grateful for Rebecca Rose’s hilarious blow by blow.  Instead I broke away from my growing sense of dismay and dislike of the modern NFL game to chat briefly with the new US Ambassador to Vietnam and his partner.

5)      I wondered, would I pay $8000 for a Super Bowl ticket when I could watch the game from the comfort of my own home or a great sports bar?  Reckon it’s time to spike those outrageous ticket prices because they’re not good for the future of the game.

6)      And finally, when I watched a Patriots player turn into a ceiling fan while attempting to tackle a Seattle player I was grateful my South African and Australian rugby playing friends were not with me.  I’d never hear the end of it: “FAAAN-tastic”, they’d taunt.  It’s bad enough to hear them say, “Helmets, thick pads and those bloody TV ads interrupting the flow of the game? No thanks.”  But when they grumble, “Maaate! Stop calling your annual baseball championship game involving two national leagues “The World Series” because hey, guess what, it’s NOT, despite all the great players from Japan, Cuba, Central and South America.”

Instead of arguing the impossible I’ll simply stay loyal to my favorite teams, including the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Despite the fact that I’m a native New Yorker I’ve always admired the grittiness and guts of the Steelers who continue to commit to their city – and the city and fans return the favor.  OK, if you get me on a good day, I might admit to having a soft spot for The Jets, in a “Broadway Joe” flamboyant, floor length fur wearing sort of way.  But don’t ask me to call that team “The New York Jets” because that requires the team to play in New York.  New Jersey’s Meadowlands just doesn’t the mustard with this football fan.  You hear that Mets?

I’m giving the Giants a pass.  RIP Ann Mara.

P.S. Yes, I realize Andy Murray considers himself a Scot first.

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