The Definitive Subjective Super Bowl Rankings

Yesterday’s Super Bowl was pretty good, which got me thinking about how the rest of the Super Bowl’s of my life have turned out. But this won’t be a game ranking, no this is definitively a subjective take on the overall Super Bowl experience. The Super Bowl isn’t just a game, it of course is a cultural phenomenon, a whole day cut out to eat, socialize, watch sports, and celebrate commercialism.

I’ve trimmed down the day into four categories, mostly focusing on the game itself, but also taking into account the Super Bowl party and my personal feelings. Here are the four categories:

Excitement: This is how good the game itself is from a pure football level. The Super Bowl has been known to be strangely close and competitive year after year, making the day all that more exciting.

Interest: This is how based in how interesting the teams were to me at the time. Everyone knows sports is much more thrilling when you have a dog in the fight–the Super Bowl is no exception. If I don’t care about the winner, naturally the game will mean less.

Party: How much fun was the party itself? Were the people under-ly enthusiastic or overtly enthusiastic (especially when cheering for a team you don’t really care about). Was the food good? These are important details.

Result: Who won the game and how was I able to emotionally cope with this?

These rankings will only be the Super Bowls that I remember being a part of, this is from 1997 to the present day; 19 Super Bowls in all.

97

19. 1996: Green Bay over New England

The first Super Bowl I remember has the distinction of being the worst. I was at my friend’s house and remember the game being on in the background, but I think my friend and I ditched it in order to play with our toys. I guess my devotion to the NFL hadn’t quite begun yet.

Excitment: 2 Interest: .5 Party: .5 Result: 1 Overall: 4

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18. 2011: Green Bay over Pittsburgh

We put together a last minute Super Bowl party, which was pretty cool. There were only four of us there and at various points every guest that came over fell asleep; it was quite the party. I didn’t like the Steelers or the Packers either so I don’t think I ever cared about a Super Bowl less.

Excitment: 3 Interest: .5 Party: 1.5 Result: 1 Overall: 6

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17. 2014: Seattle over Denver

The Super Bowl party was pretty low key, which would have been fine if the Seahawks hadn’t stomped all over the Broncos. It was a blowout where the team I wanted to win, didn’t.

Excitment: .5 Interest: 3 Party: 3.5 Result: 1 Overall: 8

2006

16. 2006: Pittsburgh over Seattle

These next three are nearly indistinguishable for me, I was 13-15 and I think I had just discovered third wave emo counter culture, so the Super Bowl wasn’t the coolest thing around at this point.

Excitment: 2.5 Interest: 2 Party: 2 Result: 2 Overall: 8.5

2005

15. 2005: New England over Philadelphia

The Patriots weren’t nearly as exciting, but their games came so close every year, which is remarkable.

Excitment: 3 Interest: 2 Party: 2 Result: 2 Overall: 9

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14. 2004: New England over Carolina

Literally the only thing that separates this from the one that came after it is that one thing Janet Jackson did, yeah.

Excitment: 3 Interest: 2 Party: 2 Result: 2 Overall: 9

1999

13. 1999: Denver over Atlanta

This game was surprisingly disappointing–Atlanta had eliminated the 49ers early and I loved the Broncos–I guess watching Elway and company do it twice just wasn’t as exciting, especially when the game wasn’t close. The lackluster game probably made the party less fun as well.

Excitment: 1.5 Interest: 3.5 Party: 3 Result: 4 Overall: 12

2001

12. 2001: Baltimore over New York Giants

I really really liked Baltimore, they had Trent Dilfer–the ultimate game manager–and one of the best defenses ever. Then they absolutely crushed the Giants, which was fun, but didn’t make for a very good Super Bowl party, because we all went and played video games in the middle of the third quarter.

Excitment: 2 Interest: 4 Party: 2.5 Result: 4 Overall: 12.5

2007

11. 2007: Indianapolis over Chicago

The opening kickoff touchdown was cool and it was nice to see Manning win one, but other than that my memories of a party or any sort of feeling, I remember the party being pretty fun.

Excitment: 2.5 Interest: 3 Party: 3.5 Result: 3.5 Overall: 12.5

2011

10. 2010: New Orleans over Indianapolis

We went over to our friends house for this one and had great food as well as fun betting sort of games. The game itself wasn’t overly exciting and I probably would have liked to see Manning beat New Orleans, but it was fun overall.

Excitment: 3 Interest: 3.5 Party: 4 Result: 3 Overall: 13.5

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9. 2008: New York Giants over New England

Things were still hazy with this game, I think I was at my small group leader’s house, but I don’t really remember. I have vague memories of being the only person cheering for the Patriots undefeated season to be completed, but that could be wrong. Another intense game, but it was disappointing because I always wanted to see an undefeated season and that chance was taken from us.

Excitment: 4.5 Interest: 4 Party: 3.5 Result: 2 Overall: 14

2012

8. 2012: New York Giants over New England

This year featured the party I probably put the most effort into, it featured prop bets for prizes, homemade mini-pizzas, and a root beer keg (it was a mostly under-21 crowd). I was reeling off of a 49ers loss to the Giants, so it was a little depressing to see the Giants win again, but at least the game was exciting.

Excitment: 4.5 Interest: 3.5 Party: 5 Result: 2 Overall: 15

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7. 2015: New England over Seattle

This year was fun, we got to see Richard Sherman do this, we saw an amazingly lucky catch followed by a game saving interception at the one yard line, and Tom Brady won his fourth Super Bowl ring. Our party was great, lots of good food and drinks.

Excitment: 4 Interest: 3.5 Party: 4 Result: 4 Overall: 15.5

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6. 2013: Baltimore over San Francisco

One of the toughest to rank. On one end it is perhaps the most special of the Super Bowls, the only one–in my memory–in which the 49ers participated. On the other end, it was the most miserable day because, well, yeah. At least the 49ers made it close, coming within yards of winning their sixth championship. The blackout made it memorable, though it increased the stress I was feeling at the time. The party was a lot of fun, though nobody cared near as much as I did–this was probably a good thing, because it would have made the moment so much sadder. *Sigh*

Excitment: 5 Interest: 5 Party: 5 Result: .5 Overall: 15.5

BRADY ARCHULETA ZGONINA

5. 2002: New England over St. Louis

I talked previously about why I like New England so much and this is one of the reasons. Those Rams were so dominant and to watch a young Brady show them up was pretty miraculous at the time. I must have had people over to my house that year, but I don’t really remember the party.

Excitment: 4 Interest: 4.5 Party: 4 Result: 4.5 Overall: 17

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4. 2003: Tampa Bay over Oakland

This one feels special because I was really into Tampa Bay that year. I’ve always been a fan of strong defenses and the Warren Sapp lead Bucs were one of my favs. Not to mention they beat the Raiders, the local rival to the 49ers, stomping them pretty miserably. The party was at a family friend’s house and I remembered we played football at halftime.

Excitment: 4 Interest: 4.5 Party: 4 Result: 4.5 Overall: 17

2009

3. 2009: Pittsburgh over Arizona

This was a very unique Super Bowl, for starters I hadn’t really kept up with the NFL season–probably the only year of my life–I was in the middle of doing YWAM and didn’t have access to a television. One of my team members had been keeping up and he was a huge Cardinals fan. He had followed along with every game and had gotten quite a few others on the Cards bandwagon. As the playoffs started, we left to go to China and later Thailand. The day before we left China for Thailand we stayed up watching the Cardinals beat the Eagles in our Chinese hostel. For the Super Bowl, my friend and I got up in the wee hours of the morning and one by one we were joined, huddled together around his computer to cheer on Arizona against Pittsburgh. I ended up having to miss the end–an exciting finish–to go do ministry at a prison, but the memory lives on.

Excitment: 4.5 Interest: 4.5 Party: 5 Result: 3 Overall: 17

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2. 2000: St. Louis over Tennessee

I was only nine and again had a bunch of my friends over to watch the game. These early years’ Super Bowl parties are so special to my memory that even though I didn’t enjoy the results to this game–I hated the Warner-lead Rams who were the 49ers division rivals–I loved this experience. The Titans were a great team to cheer for–Steve McNair, Eddie George, and Kevin Dyson, their cool uniforms, and having been part of one of the greatest moments in playoff history–and their run was so close to clinching it all. The last second Dyson stretch to the end zone was a moment that is only found in the movies. My friends and I were cheering so hard for Dyson to make it in and though they didn’t make it, it was an incredible moment to experience.

Excitment: 5 Interest: 4.5 Party: 5 Result: 2.5 Overall: 17

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1. 1998: Denver over Green Bay

The first Super Bowl party that I ever hosted, likely spawning warm nostalgic feelings that will make me excited for any Super Bowl. My friends all came over and we ate food, watching and cheering on John Elway who I desperately wanted to avenge my beloved 49ers and the Brett Favre whom I despised. The Mile High Saluting Broncos were such a fun team to watch and Terrell Davis’ dominant performance was one for the ages. We also can’t forget Elway’s “Helicopter” run, which somehow sticks into my mind vividly to today. Being seven years old, throwing my first party, and having it be a team that I liked so much beat a team that I despised absolutely is my favorite Super Bowl.

Excitment: 5 Interest: 4.5 Party: 5 Result: 4.5 Overall: 19

 

The Disobedience of Marshawn Lynch

NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks Team Media Availability

I have a confession to make: I kind of love Marshawn Lynch.

For some of you this is no big deal, for others–the 49ers fans of my friends and family–this is a huge deal, even a deal breaker. Lynch is on the biggest rival of my precious 49ers–the Seattle Seahawks. Not only that, but he is a sort of 49ers killer, seemingly unstoppable even with the 49ers’ top tier defense.

Now in the world of 49er fandom it’s not entirely unacceptable to like Seahawks’ players. Russell Wilson is an acceptable choice, his humble demeanor and religious beliefs do a lot for him, making him a likable figure. But Lynch is a somewhat cocky and brazen figure, not quite on the level of Richard Sherman, but close.

Yet I can’t help but admire the performance he has put on for the media this week. He has been known previously to dislike talking to the media (read Dashiell Bennet’s piece if you want an outline of his history and Bennett’s opinion on why it’s okay ) but this week he really went for it. Lynch completely trolled them, only showing up so that he wouldn’t get fined (as he repeatedly stated) and then left after his minimum time had been reached.

I love this for a couple of reasons. The first reason is it is almost a form of civil disobedience. Lynch doesn’t want to be put into this situation–we can debate whether he is right for not wanting to–so he responds to it in a way that sheds light on how stupid the situation is. He could show up and regretfully answer questions or he could skip the whole thing and get fined, instead he shows up and holds a mirror to the parade, showing us all how ridiculous we look.

Now I like the spectacle of the Super Bowl, it’s a fun event that at this point is probably the seventh largest holiday that America celebrates (1. Christmas 2. Thanksgiving 3. Easter 4. New Year’s Eve 5. Fourth of July 6. Valentine’s Day). Without the large media coverage, it probably would not be as fun of a day, so I’m accepting of the situation. But one thing I hate–which leads into the second reason I love what Lynch is doing–is the sports media.

Think about the kind of coverage we get from them, Michele Tafoya’s interview with coaches headed to the locker room–“Well, we’re trying our best and hopefully we’ll score more and be able to win”–OH REALLY!?! The coaches and players almost certainly don’t want to talk to media during the game and probably aren’t thrilled to talk to them after. The information we receive from them usually isn’t anything important, because they are not going to give us their actual, real game plan, and so we are left with some sort of pre-scripted statement that essentially means nothing. Pre- and post-game coverage wastes everyone’s time, well, except for maybe Michele Tafoya’s!

Yet players are forced to participate in this even while they must maintain league standards for what they say and how they present themselves. You must be subject to this interview and you must wear our brand and you must not say anything controversial or WE WILL FINE YOU. Civil disobedience may actually be necessary.

Lynch’s actions will certainly impact how other players behave in interviews just like it will impact the NFL’s policies. The NFL will try to stop this, likely with larger and stricter fines, but perhaps by loosening the types of forced interviews. Players will continue to figure out ways to undermine the NFL’s efforts at controlling acceptable behaviors. But my question is about what happens to the media–how will they evolve and adapt?

They are–for me–an insufficient and uninteresting part of sports, but there is potential there. Longer forms of sports journalism can bring insights into the minds of athletes, coaching decisions, and other larger sociological parts of sports. The media either needs to put more effort into getting grander results in the moment or needs to figure out better questions to ask to get better results. “What was going through your mind when you made that play?” and “How are you going to approach [insert athlete name] tomorrow?” aren’t going to cut it. We live in the age of Marshawn Lynch and until somebody does figure this out, let’s celebrate Lynch and his Skittles.

In Defense of the Patriots

belichick brady

Casual sports conversations typically devolve in three ways: The first is the fan bro-down, in which two fans of the same team talk about “our” struggles as a franchise, complain about certain players, and riot at coaching decisions. If it turns out, there is no overlapping fandom the conversation then turns to the big event, revolving around a discussion of which team will win. After this, who will win changes into who we want to win as we present our criteria for who we like and why that story is what we are pushing for.

This NFL season–for those of us without a home team to cheer for (*sob*)–those teams whom people believe to be deserving have been the Broncos–with non-controversial QB god Peyton Manning–and the Colts–with heir to the non-controversial QB god Andrew Luck. The Seahawks have gotten a lot of hate, but the team that seems to have the ire of the people that I regularly converse with is the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady lead New England Patriots.

The Patriots are in the middle of a couple of familiar things right now. They are entering into their sixth Super Bowl in the last 13 years and are in the middle of another fairly large cheating scandal. These two things lead to acceptable reasoning for not liking the Pats. Continued success is just the worst for an outsider, and I would probably cheer for the Yankees to lose every game even if they had lost every game for five straight years, just because I perceive them to have won so much. The cheating things are also unacceptable, but there are too many unknown details to truly have any strong opinion on this. These are enticing reasons to hate the Pats, but I feel like the dislike is strangely directed at Belichick/Brady.

This is where I must put forth my opinion, because I, 49ers faithful that I am, find myself constantly cheering for the Patriots in non-49ers related scenarios. Part of this likely harkens back to that first 2002 Super Bowl, in which Brady miraculously leads the underdog Patriots to a victory over the “greatest show on turf” St. Louis Rams. These underdog charms may still be in some part of my heart even as Bellichick/Brady have gone from rebels to brazen kings.

But I don’t think that’s it entirely. There is something about seeing the best be able to be the best and to do it over and over. Unlike the aforementioned Yankees franchise, the Pats don’t have unlimited wealth and have risen to the top despite very flawed teams. Their continuous success is instead based in the brilliance in Belichick’s work as a head coach. He finds ways to exploit other teams, avoiding convention to instead do what he thinks will work and his success at doing this is undeniable. Brady too has turned subpar receivers into record breaking All-Pros with his amazing ability. There is something inspiring to seeing this approach work over and over again.

We must address their personalities as well, because there is no denying they come off as cocky. Brady is dating a supermodel and seems to boss around his teammates, the portrait of the jock Homecoming King everyone hates in all the movies. Belichick looks like a slob and his social graces are lacking at best. Both are flawed characters in the story lines we make up in choosing who to cheer for.

And I think this is exactly why I like them. Instead of plastering himself in all sorts of annoying commercials about State Farm and Papa John’s, Brady is only seen in ads where he is made to look like a model. Sure this is absolutely ridiculous, but at least Brady isn’t feigning to be anybody else. So many sports stars are treated like celebrities and they try to live up to this, creating these marketing campaigns to make themselves look good. Brady is good at what he does, he’s rich, and he doesn’t want to feign that this isn’t true–he doesn’t want to hang out with us commoners. Good for him, he doesn’t have to, his foremost responsibility is to perform and I like to watch him do it.

I’ve heard others complain about the Belichick press conferences, his short worded answers to the media are hardly insightful and don’t have the candor and charm of other personnel. That is great, in fact it helps his image as this man who was just on a completely different level than everyone else and would be one of the greatest coaches of all time. If anything Belichick is hilarious in his response to the media, who tend to be more annoying than the sports stars themselves.

I’ve written this before, but I still believe it–sports stars do not have to live up to our strangely moral expectations–they are people who are doing a job that is for some reason the most watched piece of entertainment in America. Sure I’d like it if Belichick/Brady were super nice people; I’d also like it if you gave half of your money away to support charities who work amongst the poor.

You don’t have to cheer for the Patriots this upcoming Super Bowl, but I would suggest doing so, because those Seahawks are a bunch of jerks!

A Lamentation

All my songs will be in minor for the night.

My eyes weary from 15 years of hopes dashed by a distance of 5 yards.

5 yards the difference between excitement and lament.

Between Queen and The Smiths playing through the speakers.

This is all arbitrary, I know; I can view the sports world from a large enough distance to recognize that.

It still sucks.

It’s like having to throw away your favorite childhood toy, it makes no difference in your life, but in a small way it does.

I suppose things take on the emotions that we attribute to them.

Houses, cars, clothes, and sports, they all exist in a sort of neutral form; what we think of them dependent on the experiences we go through with them.

They provide the setting to the ups and downs of life and, at times, can even invade the narrative at times.

In sports we cling to narratives, some giving us hope (the Olympics are chock-full of these), others causing us despair (Lance Armstrong).

The David vs. Goliath stories capture us, while we root against those we perceive to be “bad” people.

We really don’t have any good clue on who’s good and who’s bad, but it adds to the narrative; adding to the emotional weight of each pass or score.

In the end, it really is just the background. Part of the setting that our culture (and a lot of others) deems important.

The season is over and at this point it’s weird. It’s almost exhausting to think of having to do this again next year. As a fan, I don’t want to have to face another loss in another game like this. I can’t think of anything else to compare it to.

I’m sure come September, I’ll be all ready to go, but the finality of this game is deadening.   The narrative has run dry; stopped 5 yards too short. It’s ready to go into the metaphorical box in the attic with 15 other years of memories, only to be looked at during nostalgic binges.

I guess this is a letter goodbye to this season. The credits are rolling and Andy has just handed over Woody, never to see him again.

Ahhh sports.

 

Sports

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In my last post I wrote about my history with the San Francisco 49ers; the ups and downs I faced as a young sports fanatic. I concluded it, by stating that this year’s Super Bowl is personal for me. When you think about this though, it’s quite strange. I have no stock in the 49ers, I know nobody involved in the organization, if they win or lose it should not personally affect me in any way, shape, or form…

Yet, I have probably faced more heartbreak (of which I consider genuine) at the hands of sports teams than I have girls, friends, or anything of the sort. I have a personal investment in these people who have mastered a set of skills that society has for some reason deemed important.

Why is that?

These are questions that I have pondered, not extensively, but a little bit, which I think is something that is more than the average sports fan has. Why do we love sports? Why don’t people ask themselves this more often?

I guess the main reason is that it is a distraction from our lives and thinking about it takes away from people’s main purpose in enjoying it, the not thinking aspect of it. But I do think critical thinking is important, so think about it I will.

I have broken down this attraction to sports (and subsequently games as well) into 3 different categories. Each person has their reason for enjoying sports and I think that they may fall into at least 1 of 3 categories: Competition, Creativity, and Community.

Competition:

Competition is a desire to see who is the best; a desire to see the best physical specimens doing what they’re best at and seeing one conquer another. This perhaps comes out of some Darwinian nature or throwback to days when war and world domination was even more common than it is now (or at least more violently prevalent, because this certainly exists in more subtle ways today).

I don’t really ascribe to this worldview that mankind is mere beast and I’d like to think that we can choose to live above a “survival of the fittest” ethic, but sports certainly does give us a world where compassion is naught (though sometimes we’d like it to exist which I will touch on later).

I think you see this type of fan particularly in more violent sports such as mixed martial arts, boxing, or football. Football fans have recently faced a dilemma between keeping the violent nature of the sport at the risk of the health of the people who participate in it and with each new rule there is always the outcry of complaints that they are ruining the sport.

Even something like the sprints of track and field play into this, where we just want to see someone run as fast as possible out-performing each other person by pure physical power and not much else.

This aspect of sports is one that is not the main attraction for me, but even I fall into the desire to see who is the best. This can be seen in relentless pursuit of perfecting playoff systems in order to truly find out which team or person is best and to label them “champion”. Even baseball has recently done this, a sport which can be argued, is the least physically dominant and leads every sport in the use of statistics (MATH!) in winning (see Moneyball). Every sport has a desired outcome which seeks to discover who is the best, the way the game or sport is designed figures into the second category.

Creativity:

Sports has no inherent meaning and adds no value to our lives. They exist in an interesting place that is between entertainment, recreation, and business. When you think about it, it is similar to the place that movies, music, and television play within popular culture. There are people who make a living off of each, those who do it because they love it, and those who pay for it because they enjoy the experience it gives them. While sports probably fits closer to the low culture aspects of everything listed above in that it is more pure entertainment and doesn’t purposefully tell us about the human condition, but the mere fact that people set about creating something in order to add (or take away) from our lives in some sense makes it a kind of art.

Each sport has its own set of rules and strategies to adapt to those rules in order to provide the best possible outcome for the person or team participating. The process of coming up with rules in order to create a satisfying game requires some sort of creative ability. Sports are not invented on a daily basis, but if you consider each sport as its own medium like painting or sculpting then it works like any other art form. Most painters and sculptors base their works on hundreds of years of people who have come before them; building upon the use of basic tools and ideas to express something of their own. Look at any elementary school recess and you will see kids adapting a set of rules provided to them by professionals to fit their own limitations (examples of this would be the creation of “Ghost Runners” in whiffle ball, the existence of kickball, or 2-hand touch football with all its street adaptations.)

Sports do not provide inherent meaning to our lives and at times they might seem to bring us back to some barbaric mindset, but they also help us to satisfy a creative itch that seems to exist in mankind. Most games are brilliantly drawn out down to the most minute detail, something that does not get talked about or really recognized at all.

Community:

It is a common notion that man wants to be a part of something larger than his or herself.   Poet John Donne famously put it “no man is an island”, connecting with others is something that seems to resonate within most people.

Sports have become more than a game played between individuals on some sort of playing field, they have become historical events filled with analysts, experts, and places dedicated to discussing each step taken. There are blogs, radio stations, podcasts, newspapers, water coolers, etc… all providing forums for talking about sports.

There is no doubt in my mind that sports have become such a giant part of our existence due to this ability to bring people together. We talk about coaching decisions, misplays, and phenomenons that we can hardly believe existed, things that are not as enjoyable when experienced alone.

Last weekend’s 49ers game that advanced them to the Super Bowl (and inspired this barrage of thoughts) I, due to circumstances, had to watch alone. While the game was one of the most important sporting events to me personally in my lifetime, it simply was not the same as watching it with people I grew up watching games with. I wanted to feel excited, but felt restrained.

On the opposite hand, complete strangers will embrace in celebration due to sporting feats. Going to a game or even a sports bar with unknown people cheering on the same team will draw people closer than many other things will. You can’t get some men to say more than 5 words to each other (I know because I am one of them), but throw sports into the mixture and you’ll get a conversation longer than this post.

This is probably the reason that people can get so violent over sports. It is like the reverse effect, causing people to antagonize and even act aggressively toward one another despite the fact that the outcome of a game shouldn’t really affect them (all betting aside, literally).

Sports is not alone in providing community for people, really being a subculture mostly consisting of middle-aged men, more manly types of men (mostly). I think it does the same thing that celebrity gossip sites and magazines do for women, science fiction does for nerds, and politics does for most of its followers (these are all sweeping generalizations), it provides a way to connect to others.

While all 3 of these aptly C-starting categories provide reasons as to why sports are such a huge part of our world, it doesn’t fully explain the heartbreak and joy experienced as a sports follower, I hope to continue this in a later post (perhaps in a post-Super Bowl lament or in jubilance depending on what happens) about the way we seem to crave positive narratives in our lives.