The Super Bowl-despite what the NFL, ESPN, CBS, and FOX talking heads want you to believe-is not the greatest event in sports. Contrary to its ever-exuberant and always-exhausting billing, it’s not really the once-a-year-traversable gleaming peak of American sporting awesomeness.
At the same time, though, the Super Bowl-despite what many random crusading blogs on the Internet would likely want you to believe-is not the worst thing in sports, either. That title is still protected under lock, key, and guard by Alexi Lalas’ deceased mustache.
In actuality, the Super Bowl is roughly a 15-minute hype-blanketed game of football between the two best/serendipitous/hottest teams for the Lombardi Trophy and the chance to spend a few weeks on the talk show circuit. There’s a real game with real players and real stakes being played, but it’s a contest that can’t possibly live up to the two weeks of nauseating hype, hot, hotter, and hottest takes, and stupidly engorged narratives forced on it.
On Sunday night, the great unstoppable offense vs. the immovable defense narrative went to hell as the Seahawks buried the Broncos 43-8. Amid a sea of insurance, car, and beer commercials and other 30-second spots averaging $3.7 to $3.8 million apiece, a game was played-albeit one virtually unwatchable to non-Seattle residents. After weeks of nation-wide anticipation and an unholy amount of bulk Tostitos and Bud Light purchases, the spectacle of the alleged greatest event in sports came and went, and as it seems to do every year-despite the six tons of wings and chips I devoured-it left me with an empty feeling after.
The best part of sports-the thing that makes them so weirdly and ridiculously special and important to millions of people across the world-does not come from the over-arranged, uber-anticipated hyper-commercialized moment that is the Super Bowl. Rather, the greatest part of sports is born from the unpredictability and rawness of the moments, however small they might be.
On Friday night, I watched an Aggie Vision-esque live stream of the Boston College vs. Providence College men’s hockey game.
Thatcher Demko had been standing on his head all night. The freshman goaltender was already well on his way to a 30-save shutout-his first as an Eagle. There was action in the crowded crease, and a Providence player skated into Demko, brushing him back. It was nothing huge, not at all a grave offense, but in a split second, Mike Matheson reacted and stepped in.
Headlocking a Friar with one arm and wrapping up another Providence player with his other arm, Matheson did everything he could to drag the pair of Friars out of the crease, struggling to keep them away from Demko until the skirmish came to an end.
It gave me chills. There was nothing that looked malicious about Matheson’s actions-he was unquestionably, uncalculatingly, protecting his goalie and standing up for his teammate. It was raw, it was exciting, and it felt genuine. A brief 20-second stretch in which a player threw his body on the line to back up a teammate without the slightest hesitation reminded me of the brilliant authenticity and raw emotion that lurks beneath the silky-smooth, PR-approved, Papa John’s-sponsored exterior of our sporting landscape.
I’m not saying these moments don’t exist in the Super Bowl or other professional sports-I’ll never forget my sheer elation after Eli Manning’s desperate, awkward scramble and last-ditch hurl to David Tyree for the helmet catch in Super Bowl XLII, and Greg Campbell’s broken-leg penalty kill against the Pittsburgh Penguins was downright awe-inspiring and indicative of everything great about hockey-but they seem to get smothered by the hype and production.
Tonight is the first round of the Beanpot, which, as far as tournaments go, is one of the most fun and exciting in all of sports. The premise is simple: the same four teams-BC, Boston University, Harvard, and Northeastern-battle year in and year out for the Beanpot Trophy. This year, the narratives and storylines are just as simple as the tournament structure: BC and Northeastern are good, Harvard and BU are not-but as my mom would tell me immediately before I would lose another middle school soccer game: any given team can win on any given day.
While the Beanpot may not be the flashiest or most spectacular tournament around, thanks to the rivalries and constantly simmering passions of the teams playing, it unfailingly turns out great hockey and incredible moments.
Two years ago, one of those moments made me a hockey fan. With 6.4 seconds left in the overtime of an incredible battle with BU-and every soul in the building mentally preparing themselves for an imminent and blood-pressure spiking second overtime period-Bill Arnold ripped a shot past Kieran Millan’s glove, dooming BU to a sudden death loss.
Sprinting as much as he was skating, Arnold took off, racing past the boards toward center ice. He tossed his stick and dovehead first into a penguin slide, waving his arms like a face-first snow angel, and then the rest of the Eagles caught up, crushing the beaming goal scorer beneath the energy of a raucous dog pile.
Above the ice, the TD Garden’s upper bowl transformed from nervous tension to joyous pandemonium as every BC student in attendance went absolutely wild, mobbing anyone within hugging distance.
There were no stakes, no legitimate season consequences hinging on that game-when it comes down to it, the Beanpot is worth nothing but bragging rights.
It felt like it mattered a whole lot, though. It was spontaneous, it was exciting, and it connected people through the raw emotions of uncontainable joy and inconsolable misery. It was a moment that will never be forgotten by anyone in attendance.
And believe it or not, it wasn’t wrapped in 60 minutes of commercials.