There is a wrestling ring on a grainy, UHF channel with two large men on the small screen. They pick each other up and slam each other down. They bounce loudly off the mat. They pull themselves right back up and square off again. An announcer is describing the match in a louder-than-life voice as they hold each other’s skulls with ‘The Claw’. Their hands are big enough to crush a cantaloupe. They fold their legs into a ‘Figure-4 Leglock’. This is a submission hold. This is just as good as a shoulder-pin in winning the match.
Other matches take place. The referee stoops to check for a clean fight, paces around the wrestlers. The ‘manager’ of one of the wrestlers sneaks a metal folding chair into the ring and slams the opponent in the head. The ref is being distracted by the wrestler after an illegal choke hold and has his back turned to the chair bashing. The other opponent, with a newly cracked skull (so it seems), who is now ‘unconscious’ on the mat, is pinned. He is so groggy he has difficulty leaving the ring. Yet, somehow, he stands and hobbles away into the wings and despite the booing crowd, this part of the show is over.
This was broadcast TV circa 1979. I was ten years old. Pro wrestling was a real sport. It was really serious. It was something a kid really cared about. Clearly, there were good guys – buff, athletes who greeted the crowd with enthusiasm and charm – and bad guys – evil men who were menacing and wore black spandex. They had dark hair and maybe an evil moustache or a mask. It was easy to tell who to root for, who was ‘supposed’ to win. There was colossal disappointment when the bad guys prevailed, but it happened. This heightened the sense of real danger that really existed in this real sport. Sometimes the good guys, despite all their obvious virtue, did lose. It was all part of ‘The Script’ that later in life I found made pro wrestling more ‘entertainment’ than sport. It was clumsy ballet for burly macho men.
Super Bowl 49 (let’s dispense with the ridiculous roman numerals) had that pro wrestling feel. The brawl at the end where nobody really got punched. The gold-shoed running back who has to be seen popping Skittles. The carefully crafted back-story: the officials looking the other way as the bad guys, the evil empire from the cold North, cheat their way into the game. The outcome: these evil doers wind up triumphant despite the valiant efforts of the good guys from the West who made magic happen with a spectacular, gravity-defying circus catch in the dying breath of the 4th Quarter.
The contest pitted a young champion with a strong arm and quick legs against a handsome but brooding Dark Lord who jealously guards his mighty legacy.
Yet, somehow, knowing that this game, this ‘world’ championship is more pop culture touchstone than athletic event, the hi-def large screen TV broadcast more grand entertainment than a true example of American football, that these gladiators are the centerpiece of a Romanesque spectacle – from the opening odes of American pride, the contestants leaving the coliseum due to dire injuries, to the Super Bowl snacks and half-time entertainment complete with dancing sharks that would make Sid & Marty Krofft jealous, and a dash of actual sport thrown into the 4+ hour extravaganza of commercialism – even knowing all of this, I cannot stop feeling that on this night, at this time, the good guys were really going to win. And they blew it.