Feb 18, 2010

What We Can Learn From SB XLIV

Just when you thought it was safe to forget about football and focus on the lamest Winter Olympics in recent memory, here I come to throw in my two cents.  Now that we are removed from the Super Bowl, we have had time to think about the game.  But it isn't just morning-after reactions, repeated by thousands of annoying sports radio dimwits nationwide.  We can actually look at The Big Game (trademarked by the NFL) and come up with some lessons.  Some of these can be sports related.  Some are entertainment related.  And some are, considering the source, useless drivel.  And if you think that is going to stop me, then you haven't been reading this blog very long.

If there is one thing I hate, it is a professional sports franchise throwing in the towel.  It could be because they are terrible and want to get a better draft spot - like the NBA sees happen every February and April.  Or it could be because they are too good, and want to rest their players.  This is what happens to the Indianapolis Colts just about every year.  They start off with an amazing record, clinch their division by Thanksgiving, and cruise through the rest of the season.  This year, they started off 14-0 and only had games left against the struggling Jets and pathetic Buffalo Bills left.  They could have done what only two teams have ever done - gone through the regular season undefeated.  But the coach pulled the starters and they lost both games.  They won both playoff games convincingly, but seemed off in the Super Bowl.  And so, in the game they were supposedly helping their odds by sitting players, they just didn't have their mojo.  I really think the Colts threw themselves off by taking the break.  The one year they won the Super Bowl, they started 9-0, but finished 12-4.  It was one of the weaker Colts teams Manning had in his recent run.  But they had to play every week.  They had to play in the Wild Card round, instead of getting a playoff bye.  And they went on to win the title.  If they were going for 19-0 and football immortality, there would have been an added level of focus - even for Manning.  It seems like every year they take weeks off, they end up losing in big games.  Which leads into the next lesson...

One of the things that makes Peyton Manning so great is his psychotic preparation.  He breaks down film and studies harder than anyone else.  And so he is more prepared than everyone else.  You can see that in the games.  He calls his own plays and seems to know what is going to happen before it does.  That is why he regularly has ridiculous regular season records.  Eliminating his first year, when the Colts were still atrocious, Manning has a 73% win percentage in the regular season.  But he is 9-4 after bye weeks (69%) - all of those four losses came against quality teams.  He's 2-4 in playoff games that he had two weeks to prepare for.  In college, Manning compiled a 40-9 record (81.7%).  In games after bye weeks, he was 10-3 (77%).  But against QUALITY teams after a bye, he was he was 3-3 (50%).  Two of the four UF defeats for Manning came after two week byes.  And the loss to Nebraska in the Orange Bowl his senior year was after having a month off.  It seems like maybe his preparation is so great during one week layovers - greater than anyone else.  But that second week gives others a chance to catch up - especially quality teams.  Cruddy teams are going to get beaten by Manning even if they have a month to prepare.  But when those opponents are on a similar plane, the extra week seems to nullify the Manning advantage.  And it gives Manning a chance to think about things too much.  I've heard announcers say, "You don't want to give Manning two weeks to prepare."  Yes!  Yes I do!  Give him two weeks.  He may just prepare himself out of beating me.

I am certainly not saying this was the best game ever.  It was exciting.  There was a lot of drama and great moments.  We have had some great games lately - the Patriots/Giants game, the Cardinals/Steelers game last year, even the Colts/Bears game.  We haven't had a lot of those nauseating blowouts from the 90's.  Compared to those other games, this game wasn't that great.  BUT, the entire spectacle of the Super Bowl may not be seen again.  The unique situation of the Saints being involved against one of the five biggest stars in the NFL gave it dimensions far beyond a normal Super Bowl.  I thought that the Patriots going for an undefeated season against the Giants set the stage for the biggest game ever.  But, there are a lot of people who hate the Patriots.  And Eli Manning is not the same as Peyton Manning.  So that game was dwarfed by this one.  The Saints story was too compelling.  The nation as a whole really adopted the team after Katrina.  It was like anyone with any interest in football was invested in this game.  We all knew how big the game was to the whole Gulf region.  Last year, I wrote a preview of the Super Bowl, where I talked about the NFL teams and labelled them as national, regional, state, or city teams.  I incorrectly placed New Orleans in the State level.  I had no clue how huge they were to all the states around Louisiana.  And, after Katrina, they actually have become a national team.  That was evident by the numbers for this game.  The NFC championship game between the Saints and Vikings was the highest rating show since the Seinfeld finale.  The Super Bowl was the biggest show in television history - finally beating the MASH finale.  The Saints victory parade was shown live on CNN!  It was a huge deal with huge story lines.  The Saints, former league doormats, were going for a title.  The city of New Orleans looking for something great to grasp on to.   The Manning showdown - Archie's career in New Orleans vs Peyton.  Top that off with Drew Brees having one of the cutest kids in the world.  It was a huge game.  What could compare to that?  The long-suffering teams in the NFL do not resonate with the public like the Saints did this year.  Detroit?  Cleveland?  The Jets?  They aren't going to draw those numbers.  The Vikings?  I don't think so.  Too many people have some tie to The Big Easy - from a trip there or going to school there or getting arrested or naked there.  The only way I could see another game being this big is if Las Vegas got a team which stunk for 40 years.  Then Vegas would get destroyed by Transformers or a demon tornado.  Then they would rebuild and win the Super Bowl in a victory over the grandson of Peyton Manning and Jennifer Aniston.  Like I said, not likely to duplicate this soon.

So, did you run out and re-watch the Super Bowl ads?  Yeah, me neither.  There were four that I thought were really good.  The Betty White Snickers ad - largely due to the fact that Betty White is absolutely hilarious.  Abe Vigoda just put it over the top.  I liked the Dodge Charger "Man's Last Stand" ad, although I find it hard to believe that would be the car guys chose to make their last stand.  And I thought the Kia Sorrento ad with Muno and the giant Sock Monkey was great.  Each time I see it, I find new stuff.  The monkey getting a tattoo sewn on, Muno's dice themed bowling ball, the monkey on the bull.  Great ad.  Of course, the one with the biggest buzz was the David Letterman/Jay Leno/Oprah ad - which was brilliant, funny, and shocking all in one.  The problem is that these companies now are trying to live up to an imaginary standard.  They want a legen-(wait for it)-dary ad.  So they try to get something that everyone will love and talk about forever.  But, they are missing the boat.  With their focus groups and big name agencies and wilder reaches for humor, they are not really taking any risks.  The huge ads that have remained icons, they all were enormous risks that really paid off.  But they also were hated by a huge group of people.  The Apple 1984 ad?  There were a ton of people who thought it was creepy and confusing.  The Cindy Crawford Pepsi ad was deemed as sexually exploitative.  The Catfight Miller Lite ad was deemed pure filth.  But that is also what made them such legends.  Are you going to sit there and talk in awe about the first time you saw the house made out of Bud Light?  No.  The only ad from this Super Bowl that will be remembered for any length of time will be the Late Show one - due to how shocking it was to see Jay and Dave together.  It inspired as much analysis after the game as the game itself.  Shoot, there were articles already being posted about it DURING the game.  But that is the modern era of advertising and television programming.  It is analyzed and focus grouped to death.  Anything truly stunning is removed early in the process.  The Late Show ad was thrown together at the last minute.  Less than a dozen people knew about it.  That is why it was great - surprise and shock.  Not something manufactured to represent those things.

The fear from Lesson IV is also apparent even more in Lesson V.  The Who?  What?  That is exactly what I said when the announcement was made months ago that they were performing.  Who the heck picked them?  We like to point at Janet Jackson as the reason why halftime shows have stunk lately.  But they were getting to be pretty dumb before that.  They want to replicate the spectacle from Michael Jackson's show years ago.  So they keep going for big stars.  Only now, they also are worried about content.  There have been XLIV Super Bowls.  We have, to this point, only seen one nipple (nipple shield actually).  And it was not planned.  So, is all of this caution is being exerted to stop something from happening that was never supposed to happen in the first place?  Shoot, one year they had Aerosmith, Britney Spears, 'N Sync, Nelly, and Mary J Blige on stage together and everyone stayed clothed.  If nothing happened then, why would it now?  So the networks keep picking "safer" acts - ones that appeal to a wide variety of people.  But, in those safe years, we have had Prince placing his guitar in front of his groin to make it look like, um, his unit.  And we have had Bruce Springsteen slide crotch first into a camera.  How's that safer acts going for you, guys?  What they need to do is pick someone who is going to be a great performer - someone who has a track record of great concerts.  Not someone who used to put on great shows.  Someone who still does.  Look at U2 and their performance back in 2002.  It was phenomenal.  They put on a great show.  But they are a risk.  They are very political, vocal, and Bono one time dropped a F-bomb during the Grammy's.  They do a great show.  The networks need to go to these artists and say, "Listen, we know you are a musician and have the desire to shock.  But if you do anything stupid, we will tell our parent company to ban you from everything they ever do again.  We will throw you under the bus and destroy you.  Put on the best show you can.  Sing well.  Keep it clean. Don't mouth off.  100 million people will watch you and if you do a great job, they will go buy your albums.  If not, they will eat you alive and we will help them.  The end."  Then they need to go to groups that are doing great stuff now.  If they are too modern, tell them to do a big cover with an older guest star.  If they are old, tell them to do a big cover with a newer guest star.  Coldplay, Bon Jovi, Beyonce with Gladys Knight, Metallica with an orchestra (seriously - it is amazing), U2 again, Justin Timberlake, Black Eyed Peas and Stevie Wonder.  There, you have acts through Super Bowl LI.

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