O’Neil: Was the lowest-scoring Super Bowl in history strangely satisfying?
I enjoyed Sunday’s Super Bowl.
I may be the only one judging by the reaction of some of my co-workers.
Mike Salk said the halftime performance was his favorite part. Bob Stelton described the game as #HotGarbage, a term that has always puzzled me since I’ve thought wet garbage is the worst kind of garbage.
But seriously, I enjoyed the lowest-scoring Super Bowl in history. Part of this is due to my ability to derive deep enjoyment from the struggle of others. I’ve been told this is called schadenfreude. I call it laughing my tail off at the honest, earnest struggle of others. And to be clear, there was sooooo much struggle on Sunday.
The other reason I enjoyed it so much is the fact that I’m currently reading Jimmy Breslin’s, “Can’t anybody here play this game?” which isn’t so much a recitation of the record-setting futility of the New York Mets in their inaugural season of 1962 so much as it’s a celebration of just how enjoyably inept they were.
As Breslin put it: “The way they played baseball made them the sports story of our time. This was not another group of methodical athletes making a living at baseball. Not the Mets. They did things.”
We spend too much time on the winners in sports whether it’s explaining their on-field strategy or pin-pointing the specific psychological traits behind the success
The losers are always more interesting.
Take Jared Goff, who was voted into the Pro Bowl this year because of his regular-season efficiency and then went out and played a Super Bowl in which he looked like a guy who didn’t know the sun rose in the east. I don’t know about you, but I want to know more about a guy whose ability to throw a football accurately vanished upon the first whiff of an opposing pass rusher and who combined blind hope with sheer panic in throwing a ball up for grabs when his team was within striking distance of a game-tying touchdown.
And let’s not forget the rest of the Rams offense, either. It is no easy task for a team that averaged 32.9 points in the regular season to be held to a single field goal. That takes measured, studied ineptitude. A team that can roll up 20 or more points in the first half of a game – as the Rams did six times in the regular season – has to be very determined, very disciplined to avoid the end zone for an entire 60-minute game. If you’re not careful, a team as potent as the Rams could easily screw up and stumble its way to a touchdown on accident.
The Patriots had to be even more creative in their failure to score because while the Rams were busy punting on each of their first eight possessions, the Patriots were actually able to move the ball. They gained 195 yards in the first half, more than triple the Rams’ total of 57, yet led by a single field goal in part because their kicker, Stephen Gostkowski, pulled of a feat no one else managed in an NFL game in Atlanta this year: He missed a field-goal attempt.
Even in winning, the Patriots managed to accomplish the unthinkable. Their offensive performance was so largely forgettable that it was tough for the various members of the sports-industrial press to chalk the victory up as one more manifestation of Tom Brady’s resolute greatness. Oh, they tried, and I truly enjoyed the earnest attempts to spit-shine Brady’s decidedly pedestrian passing game into another one of the jewels in Brady’s crown as the best ever.
It wasn’t that the Patriots were better than the Rams on Sunday, but that it was almost impossible for them to be any worse. This Rams offense, which was hailed as the next-generation in football technology as recently as November, rolled an absolute gutterball, and I took some small satisfaction in the fact that the Rams’ whip-smart and precocious head coach – the youngest ever to reach a Super Bowl it should be noted – was utterly unable to do anything to correct it.
It’s not that I dislike Sean McVay. It’s just that it was slightly reassuring to see that he doesn’t – at the ripe old age of 33 – have all of the answers. That offense that has been praised so much these past two seasons turned in a historical clunker of a performance, and while it certainly wasn’t pretty, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t enjoyable. At least for me.