The Line

The Super Bowl is a cultural event these days, so despite the lack of a rooting interest, I dutifully tuned the television to the appropriate station about an hour before kickoff. The pre-game shows were playing in the background on the small TV in our kitchen while I was cooking. The experts predicted, the ex-players pontificated and no one seemed the least bit concerned about the energy, effort and expense required to put on this extravaganza. If America produces anything these days it's entertainment. The Super Bowl is quite a production, but is it really that entertaining?

Once the matchup is determined every aspect of the game is analyzed, every potential scenario spelled out and every controversy, imagined or real, is discussed in two weeks of unrelenting press coverage leading up to the game. By the time the pre-game shows get started, there is nothing to say that hasn't been said and all that's left is to see the show. The game, the commercials, the halftime show are all predictable and dependable. The game will have unique highlights and the outcome will initially be uncertain, but no matter who wins, no one will be surprised for long. The commercials are never as funny as hoped to be and the halftime show is usually as bad as expected.

Why do we watch this, what do we get out of it? Only a small percent of viewers are actual fans of the teams playing. We see the same routes and runs and tackles and kicks each week in any random NFL game. Players and coaches become overshadowed by the stage. The are no special Super Bowl rules. There are no fresh, new musical acts at halftime (just go back 10 years and grab a random greatest hits CD) and we all know the punchline to every advertisement (buy this beer, this car, this thing). Do we think we are watching history? Do we crave the shared experience? Are we honoring competition and effort and excellence? Or, do we simply have nothing better to do and need an excuse for a party.

Puttering around the kitchen, the pre-game percolating in the background, the reason behind our watching emerged from the reliable ramblings of the coaches, commentators and clowns, each as insistent as the last about their particular insight. In the end, it's all about the lines.

Betting lines.
Offensive lines.
Defensive lines.  Goal lines.
Side lines ... Yard lines ... End lines.

The line of scrimmage.

Players are judged for crossing the clean hit/dirty hit line,
   the good defense versus pass interference line and
   the team player or selfish player line.

Quarterbacks and coaches manage lines of communication,
   while linebackers adjust their line of attack to compromise the quarterback's line of sight.

We don't watch expecting to see something new, we watch because it's predictable. We don't want the extravaganza, we want the structure. We don't want to be challenged, we want to be reassured. The rules will be followed, excellence will be rewarded, the ritual will be completed. The Super Bowl, like what we serve for it, queso and wings and chips and beer and pizza, is comfort food. The lines that define the game give us comfort the same way that children feel more secure in a structured, predictable environment.

An anti-American rapper flips the bird to millions of Americans and the reaction is a collective yawn. It's just part of the show, it doesn't mean anything, does it? The half-time singer lip-syncs her way through the entire set, and that's okay, too, because the presentation and production is more important than talent and art. The unmarried star quarterback father's a child with an actress, then later marries a super model. That's okay, too because, well, times have changed and doing what we want takes precedence over doing what is right. Obscene gestures broadcast world-wide, technically perfect but soulless performances, children growing up without their fathers ... that's all okay because who are we to define the line between right and wrong? There is no rule book for life, right?

Real life does have lines, however, they are sliding down the slippery slope of all the things we've carefully piled up in the name of equity, social justice, "progress," political correctness and guilt. The lines of relationship and responsibility have all been paved over by expert good intentions. Social Security undermines saving. Affirmative Action excuses achievement. Welfare subsidizes dysfunction. Regulation requires risky lending. Zero down minimizes committment. Student loans encourage impracticality. Free condoms bless teenage sex. Charity mutates to public program, excusing private obligation. Elder care is institutional. Anger is art. Cursing is comedy. Progress enables tyranny. The 'Walk of Shame' is honored, while a walk of faith is ridiculed. Over time the bits and pieces of selfishness and giant chunks of entitlement have been wedged in and around the line of proper behavior that defines a civil society, distorting it beyond discernment.

Lucky for us, we have the Super Bowl, where the rules are known, the playing field is marked and for a few hours our chaotic world is distinctly black & white, complete with professionally trained black and white judges to take the blame in any questionable situations. This fabricated world, this game, is isolated, above reproach, a logical, rational place where any uncomfortable crimes or socially unacceptable behaviors can be conveniently confined to the 'off-the-field' buffer. The buffer is emptied when 'off-the-field' behavior outweighs 'on-the-field' performance. Performance must always be the priority because the line for acceptable behavior is too blurred, and performance is an objective measure. Animal cruelty? Domestic abuse? Drugs? Gun violence? Adultery? Injury bounties? Spy cameras? Gambling? Obstruction of justice? Performance enhancing drugs? Rape? Never mind all that, just look at the stats to make your decision on right and wrong. It's much simpler that way.

It's not just the Super Bowl, it's everything. We don't have the guts to say what we believe, what we think is right and what we think is wrong. Instead, we equivocate, we ignore, we excuse and worst of all, we leave it to someone else, some bureaucrat, some expert, some celebrity, some institution to define for us what is right and what is wrong. We abandon principle. It's too confining. We embrace the 1960's counter culture idea of "do your own thing" and equate it with personal freedom, never understanding that this concept of freedom, one with no boundaries, is directionless chaos. No direction means no purpose. No purpose means no fulfillment. No fulfillment leads to a frustrating existence and all this because we think freedom is 'do what we want' instead of 'do what is right.' We are such children.

We need lines to make us happy so we create an elaborate, structured game with every type of line imaginable, while for the important stuff, for real life, we steadily erase them.

Go Cowboys.