I’m not really a super sports maven, but the with Super Bowl coming up Sunday everyone has an opinion or a favorite. I tend to think the NFL has opened up the game too much; I rather liked the old school running game, and miss the challenge teams faced in trying to shut down a running attack with dominant backs like Emmett Smith, Tony Dorsett, or Eric Dickerson. In other words, the game went downhill when the wide receivers became better known than running backs. It isn’t football any more; its passing ball. Still exciting, but at the same time more predictable and therefore less memorable. At least that’s my opinion. As Dennis Miller likes to say, I could be wrong.
As I mentioned in passing the other day, I like a matchup between two teams named for old school working class American occupations, rather for for animals of various characters (“Seahawks?”) or more modernist team names, like the Jets.
Noting this year’s team symmetry sent me back to a very old but excellent article from the Manhattan Institute’s fine City Journal from 1995, entitled “Who Lost Super Bowl III?” by Geoffrey Colvin. The article interpreted that famous clash between Johnny Unitas’s Baltimore Colts and “Broadway” Joe Namath’s New York Jets as a totem of what we came to call the “culture wars.” As Colvin explains:
Yes, you’re right in recalling that this was one of the most famous football games ever, and it has received tons of media attention over the years. But what hasn’t sufficiently been appreciated is the enormous load of symbolic freight it carried, quite accidentally, thanks to the events of the just-ended annus mirabilis of 1968. The game slammed many of its millions of viewers hard in the chest, left them dazed and disoriented, because it was an almost perfectly framed ritualized combat between the Old Culture and the New Culture then at war in the larger society. And the New Culture won.
Colvin offers a lot of great observations in the piece, and it is tempting to load up the quotes here. Better to RTWT, as the blog saying goes. But I can’t resist at least one more to convey the flavor of the piece:
These two symbolized the cultural conflict of the era in other ways as well Don’t trust anyone over 30? Unitas was 35, Namath 25. As the divorce rate began to rise and some thinkers even questioned the value of conventional families, who would prevail–the devoted family man or the swinging bachelor who said he “would rather go to Vietnam than get married”? Namath didn’t go to Vietnam because his famously rickety knees got him classified 4-F; this didn’t stop some from calling him a draft dodger. Unitas was too old to be drafted but visited Vietnam in 1967; on his return he reported, “I didn’t see any long hair in Vietnam, but I met a lot of heroes.”