Sunday night was good. Sunday night was very, very good in fact. Super Bowl XLVII – as recent tradition demanded – was undecided until the waning seconds. However, while watching enthralled, it was still impossible to escape the tragic sense that – despite the magnificence on show – the pinnacle of NFL football has already been achieved: it’s Gatsby has already been written; it’s Born To Run has already been sung; and it’s Sistine Chapel has already been painted.
This unexpected epiphany gradually brought further horrors to light, of which more in a bit.
It certainly wasn’t that the San Francisco Baltimore game lacked for multiple heroics from the drama’s principle protagonists. Joe Flacco was accurate, clutch, cannon-armed and innovative; winning a deserved MVP award following the performance of some superman Joe Montana and Brett Favre hybrid.
Meanwhile, Colin Kaepernick – who might well be, along with Robert Griffin III, the future of the NFL – nearly produced a comeback for the ages. Is there a more exciting sight in football than watching Kaepernick get to the edge and take off, as he did on the game’s most electrifying play? Nothing like it, and little comes close. The only shame was that Kaepernick took so long to heat up, for when he did eventually come to boiling point, repeatedly scalding Baltimore with arm and legs, the laughable suggestions – from paid experts, no less – that Alex Smith should have been handed the reins after the farcical blackout were proved utter fallacy.
So, while Super Bowl XLVII was definitely up there and should be acclaimed, it was unable to match perfection. And for the participants playing their very hearts out there should be no shame in that; but for observers, though maybe it’s just me, The Game will be eternally tinged with disappointment. Because unfortunately – or providentially if you hold the destination in greater esteem than the journey – the NFL saw its ultimate on February 3rd 2008 in the University of Arizona Stadium in Glendale.
That night, the New England Patriots were trying to become the most perfect team in NFL history. 19-0 was on the table. Nineteen and flipping Oh. More perfect than Don Shula’s ‘72 Dolphins, no doubt. Words, so it seemed, could not do the spectacle justice as the New York Giants scratched and clawed and fought with all of their beings to match the leviathan of New England; before saving the game on the greatest miracle play of all time and winning it on the composed, controlled and finally delirious endzone toss that little boys’ dreams are forever made of.
Try listening to the unfairly maligned Joe Buck on the decisive play without getting goosebumps: “Manning. Lobs it. Burress, alone. Touchdown New York.” The noise; the atmosphere; the gravitas of the call; the NFL can try to surpass that for epochs. And won’t, ever. An emotional sporting high that cannot be matched or paralleled.
And there have been abundant epic encounters and marvellous moments in The Big Game since. Roethlisberger driving the Steelers to a last minute defeat of the Warner/Fitzgerald Cardinals; Tracy Porter delivering New Orleans’ first ever World Championship with a dramatic late pick-six of Peyton Manning; even last year, Patriots Giants II occassionaly threatened 2008’s Glendale heights.
But none of this really comes close. While the NFL can still be feasted upon, and remains pleasant to the taste; I can’t imagine or comprehend a game which could eclipse the Giants’ unique, transcending upset victory in 2008.
That game proved that football doesn’t have to be an offensive shootout to be special. The defensive play was frightening in its intensity and the surrounding storylines were plentiful: New England’s pursuit of perfection, Eli Manning attempting to cast off the doubters, Randy Moss seeking an elusive ring, and Tom Brady trying to join Montana and Terry Bradshaw in quarterbacking four Super Bowl victories. Perhaps most importantly, it even had the essential good vs. evil element – with the New York Giants heavily favoured among neutrals due to New England’s spygate involvement.
Patriots Giants 1 even had the hometown hero’s last stand storyline, and the role was played much less insufferably and with a sight more grace by Michael Strahan in 2008 than Ray Lewis did on Sunday. Incidentally, Strahan also showed up to play that night – an integral part of a dominant defensive front that harried and chased Brady to the horizon of his sanity.
Lewis, to be frank, didn’t show up. Instead, the alleged heart of the Baltimore Ravens experienced metaphorical cardiac arrest and had to be carried throughout by his teammates and, particularly, by the man he has unfairly overshadowed for the last decade: Ed Reed, the greatest defensive player of his generation.
To summarise, XLVII was a very good – maybe even great – game, and one certainly cannot argue with that. But how do you watch a sport knowing you’ve already seen the best it has to offer? This is a conundrum to be lived with for ever. Where do you go from the top of the mountain? Some would suggest aiming for the stars, but this is rather clichéd nonsense. Does this realisation mar the enjoyment of sporting endeavour for the rest of time?
In relatively recent times, I been fortunate to be alive for Manchester United winning an unprecedented treble, and Barcelona taking the sport to an almost supernatural level; the greatest tennis era in history (currently enjoying an unusually sustained reign atop Everest); an Olympic Games beyond comparison; and the greatest games of cricket, rugby and darts ever played (Edgbaston ’05, Loftus Versfeld ’09 & Circus Tavern ’07); as well as the afore-discussed Giants Patriots Super Bowl XLII classic.
Say it ain’t so, but it seems there are truly no more sporting worlds left to conquer. Sport is still here for us to enjoy, but we’ve already seen the best of you.