IT can’t be often that American football kindles thoughts of Shakespeare but watching last weekend’s Super Bowl prompted the unavoidable feeling that it was all, well, much ado about nothing.
That is coming from a fan of the sport, so who knows how underwhelmed the majority of the floating voters in the sprawling worldwide audience were.
With defences dominating, there was little in the way of the whizz and bangs that are habitually spliced into highlight reels. There was actually only a handful of minutes remaining before the Denver Broncos scored the only offensive touchdown of the game: not much there for those of who sacrificed half a night’s sleep.
It brought to mind a great observation we came across once by an old Dallas Cowboy player back in the mists of time when he asked: if the Super Bowl is the ultimate game then why are they playing it again next year? It’s hard to argue with that and, anyway, for most people the apex of the gridiron season has always been about the fripperies.
This year that amounted to Lady Gaga’s astonishing version of the ‘Star Spangled Banner’, a mini-furore over a Doritos ad in which a baby basically births itself during an ultrasound, and a half-time show headlined by Coldplay but stolen by Beyoncé with a new song that hailed black power and referenced the Black Panther movement.
We’ve come a long way from Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction.
And the football?
Heck, even that was outdone by on-field subplots with Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton’s derided refusal to risk injury by pouncing on a loose ball and his pouting performance in the post-match press conference apparently gaining as many newspaper inches and as much airtime as anything else his team or the victorious Broncos did during the four quarters.
That reluctance to put his body on the line made Carolina’s already perilous position impossible but it was his mumbling efforts and abrupt exit from the subsequent Q&A with reporters that, unsurprisingly, stoked the most enmity from the American press and, in fairness, the inevitable lists comparing him to other so-called ‘bad losers’ have been a joy to behold.
The New York Daily News even compared him to Donald Trump — low blow, that — who accused fellow Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz of stealing the vote in the recent Iowa Caucus; to Kanye West who crashed the stage at the 2009 VMA awards in protest at Taylor Swift winning something ahead of Beyoncé and to Richard Nixon for his famous strop to reporters after losing the 1962 California gubernatorial election.
Most of the other comparisons that proliferated online stuck to sport. This column’s personal favourite must be the South Korean boxer Jung-il Byun who lost a bout against a Bulgarian opponent at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 thanks to a headbutt for which he was penalised and promptly sat in his corner for hours in protest, even when the arena emptied and the lights were switched off.
Newton hasn’t taken the criticisms sitting down, though.
“Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser,” he told the Charlotte Observer after his earlier bout of non-verbals. “If I offended anyone, that’s cool … I don’t have to conform to anybody’s wants for me. I’m not that guy. This is a great league with or without me. I am my own person.”
It was the bit about the ‘good loser’ that caught the attention given it is a phrase long since accredited to the ubiquitous Vince Lombardi of Green Bay Packers fame, but the list of American sporting greats who have supposedly uttered those words ripples far wider than Wisconsin with Red Auerbach, the one-time Boston Celtics coach, and Jack Nicklaus among the others.
Less renowned but much meatier is the one from a former LA Rams coach by the name of Ray Malavesi. “They say losing builds character,” he offered. “I have all the character I need.”
It is Lombardi’s quotes that are legion, of course, but it is worth noting that another of his efforts is the contradictory one about how “if you can’t accept losing, you can’t win”.
The whole Newton/loser saga begs a few questions. Is there a correct way to lose?
And what about those Broncos who spoke afterwards about biting their lip before the big game when asked about Newton and Carolina’s exuberant on-field celebrations but who then filleted their opponent with any number of withering put-downs after full-time?
There is such a thing as a bad winner, too, after all and Denver at the very least skated on that territory, although maybe this whole episode just goes to prove true what the 20th century American sportswriter and broadcaster John R Tunis once said about those who finish on the wrong side of the scoreline in the ol’ US of A.
“Losing is the great American sin,” was how Tunis saw it How you do it, then, surely makes no odds.
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