Monday, February 06, 2012

Monday Morning QB: What the Super Bowl Analysis Says About Us

It's the day after the Super Bowl, and anybody who actually follows the NFL—particularly those who get paid to talk about it on a network (TV or radio) or publication (print or online) is wringing every last bit out of that.

There's no dearth of debate to be drawn from a sporting event where there was a definite winner declared. It's not a subjective victory as one would find in an awards show like the Oscars (with the inherent absurdity of having artistic works that were not made to be part of a competition vying for the role of being "the best"); all the NFL teams played by the same rules with the same objective. Ideally the officiating was fair and it's a matter of which team better executed their game plan, and that's objectively determined by which one scored the most points by the end. It would seem like all there would be to say afterward is essentially, "Yep, that team scored more."

However, that doesn't fill air time or column inches.

The real key to having a discussion is focusing on the subjective. Did the winning team really play better or did they merely get lucky (which blithely discounts the fact that on every play there's an element of skill and an element of luck contributing to the outcome)? Did the losing team play worse? Which players deserve more credit or blame than others (as though it wasn't a team sport)?

More than that is to delve into the hypothetical, spotlighting some individual plays that had they gone differently then conceivably that would have changed the outcome. This is a delightful mental game where we delude ourselves into thinking that if that one play had an alternative outcome that all the rest of the plays that followed would have necessarily gone a particular way (whether that would be all the rest of the plays that came afterward would have gone the same as they did or would have gone only somewhat differently), despite the conscious awareness that there's no way of knowing how all the rest of the game would have gone by tweaking the result of specific plays.

Is our hubris as a species any more evident than in pretending we could adjust a single variable in a continuum of events and know how the rest of those events would have occurred? This blithely overlooks that each event occurred, at least in part, because the actions taken by those involved were based on all of the preceding events having gone as they did. We don't like to think in terms of the overall gestalt leading to the ultimate outcome, despite the fact that's precisely what the structure of the game is intended to decide.

I'm not saying I'm above any of that, by the way. Clearly we seem inclined to react that way. Heck, that might be why sports hold such appeal. Beyond the sublimated conflict and catharsis offered by a group of individuals competing that appeases our violent inclinations, its true appeal may be that it takes all that and adds in the opportunity to envision alternate realities where we have some level of dominion over the result. In short, it's a tiny way to play God, but where the consequences are not life and death but merely that one set of people are happier and one set of people are saddened.

We want to have a glimpse of omniscience but not to have to take on the entirety of what complete omniscience would entail.

Or perhaps it just suggests we all have a little too much time on our hands. It could be a simple as that as well.


  1. The whole game turned on the point where the Patriots allowed Ahmad Bradshaw to score in the 4th quarter. Terrible mistake.

  2. Oh, great, Marvin--now we're talking about the game. We've been sucked in...


So, what do you think?