Saturday, January 28, 2012

Hard Time

T.F. Green and Newark Liberty airports are not destinations often thought of with longing. But that's how the Patriots and Giants are thinking of them today. The flight to Indianapolis tomorrow represents about a 90-minute escape from the disorienting limbo of the Super Bowl off-week.

It won't be until they check into their maximum security luxury hotels that the players will absorb the wretched truth that they've only exchanged limbos. Being closer to the Super Bowl in terms of three-dimensional space will not bring it any closer in the fourth dimension of time. There's an eternity of tedium left until kickoff.

By both circumstance and design, the Super Bowl is very different from every other NFL game. By far the biggest difference, the most real of all the so-called "distractions" is how much sitting/standing/lounging around is involved for the players. The world championship of professional football is a test of patience as much as it is of strength, skill and will.

Tom Brady, taking one for the team as usual, spewed forth the obligatory "we wish the game was today" bromide this week. But cliches get that way because they're true. That's how Brady does feel, that's how they all feel. And that Brady knows full well how much time he's got left to fill up before 6:30 p.m. February 5 only makes his longing more acute.

Every football fan knows the feeling of wistfulness, aggravation and disorientation that comes on the weekend of the Super Bowl offweek when it sinks in there's no game to watch -- unless you count the Pro and Seniors Bowls, which no one does. Magnify that feeling by about a trillion, and you almost halfway to imagining how the Pats and Giants all feel.

Want to imagine another good test of patience? Think of answering the same question 10,000 times in a week. By and large, players don't mind the obligatory time they must spend with the media at the Super Bowl. It's something to do besides review the tapes of the Pats/Giants last six games one more time. It's nice to have the world make a fuss over you, too. But they'd like it better if the media got together and agreed to ask every question only once and shared the answers.

"The Super Bowl," observed Drew Bledsoe, not usually known for wittiness, "is a place where you get tired of your own life story."

Coaches, who deep in their hearts would prefer playing one game a year for which the practiced incessantly, are grateful for the extra time the Super Bowl makes for planning, preparing, and fretting. Players aren't, unless they're dealing with an injury as Rob Gronkowski is. They're used to having three days of practice and a week of study before a game. A few, like Brady, get more out of the extra time. Most get little or none, and there's always one or two for whom the delay creates the paralysis of analysis.

At the 14 Super Bowls I was blessed enough to cover, by the Friday before the game I couldn't wait for it to be Sunday evening. That's a writer! Believe me, all my fellow scribes felt the same way. That sentiment was one of the very rare occasions where I believe that for a microsecond or two I had some distant inkling of what it was to be like one of the people I was covering.

Well, football players are supposed to be able to take it, including tedium. The real problem comes during the Bowl itself. The first item on Bill Belichick's Super Bowl game plans is a full discussion of just how much standing around there is AFTER kickoff. Halftime is longer. The commercial breaks are much longer, and there are more of them. Rest assured every replay will take twice as long as usual. No official wants to be the zebra who makes the call to decide a Super Bowl, let alone a wrong call that does. The waiting will be enforced on 90 men whose bodies contain more natural biochemical stimulant than could be produced by all the meth labs of Fresno in a decade.

Considering how awful that waiting must be, and considering how a sport built on repetition and routine makes its championship game as singular and different as possible, I always feel there's no bigger miracle in sports than Super Bowls which are well-played and dramatic contests. It speaks well of the contemporary NFL that 21st century Bowls have so often been memorable or at least diverting ones.

I do know this. If I possessed some way of measuring the collective psyches of football teams to determine which of two rivals was the group that was least easily bored, I'd never ever lose a bet on the Super Bowl.


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