Insofar as sports can reveal deeper truths about human nature, Sunday’s Super Bowl teaches us a couple of things.
First, that Eli Manning is a more compelling hero figure than Tom Brady – yes it’s possible to build a reputation as one of the great money quarterbacks of all time without movie star looks and by giving credit to others “(offensive) coach (Kevin) Gilbride . . . called a great game plan.”
But the main takeaway from this not-quite-as-Super-as-the-hype-would-have-it Bowl it’s that true football evil (Bill Belichick) was vanquished by not-quite-as-evil (Tom Coughlin).
It’s hard to root for people like the head coaches in this game, both of whom cut their teeth under Bill Parcells, another titan of antipathy.
And the simple truth is that the most recent Super Bowl simply wasn’t as thrilling a spectacle as the NFL publicity machine and its media enablers would have you believe.
It was indisputably a nail-biter, but it was also a comparatively boring one in historical terms (Santonio Holmes’ circus catch in Arizona a couple of years back had more dramatic weight). And it was presided over by loathsome people.
When Don Matthews was named head coach of the Montreal Alouettes a decade ago, he famously said football is a dictatorship, not a democracy, and “I’m the head dick.”
Ask players from that era, and they will confirm that was certainly true, the same way many New York Giants players clearly think Coughlin is the NFL’s biggest jerk.
As Grantland.com pointed out earlier this season, quitting on Coughlin has become an annual ritual, with players ripping him anonymously in the New York papers – this year, safety Antrel Rolle publicly called on his coach to “loosen up”.
And yet, Screamin’ Tom, the guy who goes bug-eyed with rage at his kickers, snorts at players taking treatment, and demands his charges show up for meetings five minutes early for meetings, not two, was there at the end, looking avuncular and grandfatherly in victory.
The main lesson this corner draws from Sunday night’s game is that it helps to have an irascible control freak with anger management issues as your head coach.
And not just in football; Mike Keenan used that reasoning to great effect in the 1991 Canada Cup, deciding that Team Canada needed to channel its ill feelings at a single enemy – him. Maybe Ken Hitchcock can be lumped in to that crowd as well.
In a game pitting flawed teams that had two weeks to scheme and game-plan one another to death, and where the objective seemed to be to do just enough not to lose (occasionally gripping, but hardly edifying), the Giants came out victors.
Thank goodness their nickel and dime packages were marginally better and their third receiver didn’t drop the ball when crunch time came, the way New England’s Wes Welker did deep in G-men territory a few minutes earlier.
It may have been good television, but was it a classic?
Let’s face it, the only moments that rate the full NFL Films grainy slo-mo treatment (and Sabol-esque dulcet tones) were the Mario Manningham catch and Ahmad Bradshaw’s “oh crap” winning touchdown.
That Manningham made his improbable grab of Manning’s 38-yard bomb right in front of the be-sweatshirted Belichick was the sound of karmic chickens coming home to roost – that, kids, is what happens to people who secretly tape your opponents and lie about it.
Cheaters never prosper – Belichick hasn’t won a Super Bowl since spygate.
But for all the praise heaped on Manning, he had surprisingly little to do with the final denouement.
In fact, Bradshaw’s touchdown – where the New England defence parted by design with a minute left to play – was a triumph of exuberance over cynicism.
He had plainly been instructed to fall at the one yard line in order to chew up more time and set up a game-winning chip shot field goal, but couldn’t quite bring himself to do it.
The defining moment of this game may be a stutter step, hesitation and slow tumble into an uncontested end zone.
Lizard memory is a powerful thing – running backs are conditioned to find the end zone no matter what, and he did.
“I tried to declare myself down and tapped down. My momentum took me into the end zone,” Bradshaw said later.
That sounds unconvincing in light of the replay evidence. His deep subconscious told him to score, so he did.
It was unmistakably strange to see Manning’s arms half-raised in celebration in the background (the unspoken question: great, but was that really supposed to happen?) and Vince Wilfork, the Pats’ rotund defensive tackle, doing a soft fist pump because Tom Brady would have a minute to try and bring New England back.
Were it not for an untimely case of dropsies, he might have.
Some have suggested Belichick made one of the gutsiest calls in Super Bowl history in allowing Bradshaw to score – sorry, it’s not even close.
You want an example of big brass ones? How about New Orleans coach Sean Payton starting the second half of a Super Bowl with an onside kick?
So in essence, you have a game that had only one or two moments of drama and genius, and where Manning burnished his legend at the expense of The Man Who Has Everything, Brady, and vaulted decisively ahead of his brother in the answer to the question: which Manning would you rather have?
But can it really be called a game for the ages?
It says here this isn’t even the most compelling Super Bowl that Manning and Brady have played in together. Manningham is no David Tyree, these Pats were no undefeated juggernaut.
But hey, at least Madonna was accused of lip-syncing the half-time show, MIA flipped off the planet and ex-Public Enemy singer Flavor Flav grabbed Coughlin in an awkward embrace after it was all said and done.