A Feat Even Greater Than Victory:
By Neal Shaffer

This may or may not be a good thing, but the Super Bowl is one of the last, and certainly the largest, remaining shared cultural experiences. It is seen every year without fail by millions, and no other event can boast such numbers. Rarely does it live up to the hype, and every year the halftime nonsense grows more insipid, but we still watch. Why this is the case is impossible to say—it is The Super Bowl, and that is enough. Every so often, however, it does live up to its reputation and our lone annual gathering is a pleasant, satisfying event. This was the case with the Bowl just passed36, to be exact—and as such it merits a recap.

This has to be said, so it may as well be said first. If there is one function served by sports that is sometimes difficult to swallow it is their tendency to validate our worst clichés. Think Dale Earhnardt Jr. winning the Pepsi 400the first race back at Daytona since the death of his father there several months earlier. Think home run king Luis Gonzales winning the World Series with a bloop single. This year’s Super Bowl was filled with them. The most obvious is the fact that, in this time of "national crisis," a team called the Patriots came out of nowhere to defeat the heavily favored Rams with sheer scrappiness and tenacity. This is the sort of thing that gives rise to conspiracy theories.

Still, some of the other, (slightly) less obvious stories are interesting. There is Tom Brady, a literal nobody who rose from fourth-string fringe player to Super Bowl MVP. There is Bill Belichick, who finally stepped out from under his dismal years in Cleveland and the shadow of Bill Parcells to do something nobody really thought he could do. These things are storybook, sure, and can be downright lame. But we need stories like this because nobody writes fairy tales anymore and, if someone did, nobody would bother to read them. Trying to not admit, somewhere deep down, that it’s pretty cool is just not worth the effort.

That said, Tom Brady did not deserve the MVP award. He had one of the most amazing years of any single player in sports history, but he did not have an outstanding Super Bowl. He had a good Super Bowl, but the Most Valuable Player in that game was Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri. It was his leg that got them there (by beating Oakland in overtime two weeks earlier) and it was his leg that won it. That kick was clutch, and who’s to say the Patriots win if it goes to overtime? This is the problem with MVP awards in generalthey almost always go to the sentimental favorite. At the very least, Brady and Vinatieri should have shared the award a la Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson.

No assessment of any Super Bowl would be complete without addressing the question of commercials. The advertising world takes this time every year to trot out their most clever gimmicks and newest ploys, and a good portion of the viewing audience has no trouble admitting that this process is a good part of the game’s draw. This year, however, seems for some reason to not have been as offensive as some. With the exception of that patently absurd (and, let’s face it, conceived on a model last relevant in 1998) M-Life campaign the commercials all seemed to go down pretty easy. Maybe this heralds a change in the way companies treat the American consumer, or maybe it just means that a slow economy means that wasting millions on a thirty second spot is just not a good idea. Either way, it was refreshing.

There was also, of course, the game itself. This part has always been secondary, but this year’s happened to be one of the best ever. Memories of that final drive and kick will be passed along for generations, as they should be. The Rams are already the odds-on favorite to win it all next year, but the Patriots have pulled off a feat even greater than victorythey have risen above distraction to enter that realm of immortality reserved for only "the best of all time."

So it passes, for another year.