“The simplest pattern is the clearest. Content with an ordinary life,you can show all people the way back to their own true nature.” — Tao Te Ching, 65, Stephen Mitchell
This weekend the grandest spectacle in all of Mediaworld, the Super Bowl, will draw its millions—both spectators and dollars. I cannot think of another single annual event to which Americans pay such deeply religious homage. The arc of time, from pre-game to post-game, is sacred time, not to be violated by screaming infants, nagging housewives, or tinhorn dictators in Middle Eastern countries. Let Ahmadinejad threaten and bluster! He’ll have to wait his turn; The Game comes first.
I’ve watched a few Super Bowls, even actually sat and watched the football game too, but those games fade into the blurry recesses of porous memory now. I think the last Super Bowl I watched was when Doug Williams was the quarterback for the Redskins. Then the next year he left for Florida and I left the Redskins. Back in those days the Washington Metro area’s water and sewage systems suffered regular shocks on Sundays as thousands of people flushed at the same time during commercial breaks. To remind myself of how long it’s been since I watched football is to call up an indelible image of John Riggins churning up the field, shaking off Don McNeal, for a 44-yard touchdown run and a Super Bowl record. That was XVII in Pasadena, in 1983. Commercial rates for a 30-second ad were $400,000; this year Volkswagen and other companies will ante up $3.5 million for 30 seconds.
To put that into perspective, if you spent $1,000 per day of $3.5 million it would take you close to 9.5 years to blow that wad. Companies now can do that in 30 seconds, and with apparently little return on their investment. An article in Forbes notes that Volkswagen and Honda are topping the list of Super Bowl ads this year, having already released them on the Internet, but in purchasing language VW comes in at 13th. In other words, you have to wonder if spending the company’s money on a Super Bowl ad isn’t a vanity purchase, since on Monday or any other day after the game for that matter, the needle on the selling gauge isn’t going to tick more than a degree or two.
But the Super Bowl, by current standards of entertainment value, is a blowout extravaganza, aiming for shock and awe from start to finish. The football game itself may rank second in reasons-to-watch after the commercials or perhaps even third after the half-time show. Those who mark the beginning of life each year with news from training camp will no doubt appreciate these diversions from the Holy Grail of their team’s heroic struggles, but they will not be denied the play-by-play and the endless angles from which to watch a fumble, a divine reception, and a slow-mo kick into the end-zone.
There is a great divide between those of us who don’t watch and those to whom it would not occur to miss it under any circumstances. I don’t need to see it to appreciate its tawdry grandeur, its cued-up drama, and its celebration of youth, power, and raw egos. Down on the field, in the well of noise that must almost suck the air from one’s lungs, there is a domestic war being fought. To those who have struggled to get to this moment, life, the universe, and everything comes down to yards, minutes, and muscle twitches. Some, certainly not all, would play to an empty stadium, without cameras, satellites or commentators. The contest itself, shorn of the glitter and tumult of commerce, might be enough for some.
For them the hours might hold a pure, numinous, power in which they see with absolute clarity the purpose, the means, and the goal. Emerson said, “We are far from having exhausted the significance of the few symbols we use. We can come to use them yet with a terrible simplicity.”
Professional sports, political campaigns, and corporate strategy are the arenas of Mammon in our time. For those in the heat of the struggle, moments from victory, when the temptation and the means to crush others lies easily at hand, there might be a moment when their true face appears and they must decide whether they will wear it or sell all for a false one. That still point, a blade-edge of decision that maybe only comes with such simple grace once in a lifetime, must not be brushed aside. “It’s just a moment/This time will pass.”