February 2nd, 2004

Take the Skinheads Superbowling

I thought about not watching the Super Bowl at all, but I couldn't bring myself to forego the experience completely. I decided to tape it, so I could watch the commercials later -- I am a cultural critic, after all. And, since the TV was on anyway, I periodically checked in while working on various computer issues in the front room.

Kim hates the sound of football -- I think the Cal Bears are the only thing I might watch at home with a degree of impunity -- so I plugged the headphones in.

As it became apparent that a good game was developing, I started to pay closer attention while pretending not to.

After Carolina scored on the 85-yard touchdown pass from Delhomme to Muhammed in the fourth quarter, I abandoned my pretense of disinterest and told Kim I was going next door to watch the conclusion with her father on his big-screen TV.

It was worth it, too, since the game was genuinely exciting up to the very end. No, I didn't really care who won -- a vague preference for the underdog Panthers, but not one I'd fight to retain -- but the game was good enough to make up for my dispassion.

I should probably add that last night, beset with coughing fits and unable to sleep, I watched several NFL Films half-hour recaps of past Super Bowls, spanning the time from the Dallas Cowboys' victory over the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VI (played in 1972 for the 1971 season) until the Cowboys' loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XIII (played in 1979 for the 1978 season).

I missed much of the content, but still saw enough to call forth strong body memories of the time when I really cared about professional football.

The 70s were the NFL's heyday. And I grew up in Pennsylvania, one of the states where football reigns supreme, with only slightly less intensity than basketball dominates in Kentucky, Indiana. Yes, I feel somewhat ashamed that I took it all so seriously.

Why "body memories," you ask? Well, I spent a good portion of my football viewing with a football either held tightly in my hands or descending into them as I acted out plays in slow-motion.

Watching Skylar tonight -- during the Super Bowl, incidentally -- get excited by the U.S. Women's Nationals in figure skating and then supplement her viewing with moves of her own, I remembered my own embodied spectatorship keenly.

For better or worse, the Super Bowl still functions for me as a way of marking time. This is partially a result of accidents of timing, but no less true for being accidental.

The first one I watched, Super Bowl VII, was the first professional sporting event I watched with some comprehension of what was going on. I recall seeing the World Series the previous year, but my memory doesn't match up with the way baseball is actually played. The fact that I remembered the final score of that not-very-memorable Super Bowl -- Dolphins 24 - Vikings 7 -- indicates that I grasped the basics.

The first game that excited me was Super Bowl X, between the Cowboys and Steelers, which featured a Roger Staubach-led comeback that fell short.

The first team I really rooted for intensely was the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XII, whom I had followed throughout their Cinderella season. Unfortunately, 1978 was a very bad winter and we were without power for a week in January, including Super Bowl Sunday. I had to listen to the game on the radio in our dark, chilly house. It was probably a good thing, though, since the Cowboys totally dominated 27-10.

The next year's contest XIII, also a close one that the Steelers pulled out over the Cowboys, like X, was also a radio experience. We were in Ensenada, Mexico in upper Baja. It was our only trip outside the U.S. besides Canada. The poverty and general squalor made a big impression on me. My memory of the Super Bowl is intermingled with that of the porcelain dove I purchased at the hotel gift shop earlier in the day and the way the city looked when we went out for dinner later.

There were other memorable ones after we moved to the D.C. area.

Super Bowl XVIII was a disaster for Washington Redskins fans, which is what I had, strangely, become -- I used to hate the Redskins in the 70s -- but the experience was colored by the fact that we had dropped my mother at the hospital earlier in the day.

Super Bowl XXI happened when I was in Germany. Although I managed to listen to a little baseball and the end of the Syracuse-Indiana NCAA men's basketball title game on Armed Forces Radio -- in the middle of the night, I should add -- I didn't try to tune into the Super Bowl. I think the score was actually reported on German news.

Super Bowl XXII the following year was my first College sports experience of note -- the Big Game was a blow out in 1987 -- watched on our crappy TV with roomates Henry Sume and Roy Edelschein in our 67th St. apartment. Being Washington fans, all from the same high school, heightened our delight at the insanity of the second quarter, in which the Redskins rapidly turned a troubling 10-0 deficit into a 35-10 halftime advantage.

The next year may rank as the most surreal of my Super Bowl experiences. Somehow, I convinced Annalee -- she was without television -- to listen to the 49ers nailbiter against the Bengals with me. Not only that, she actually seemed interested as the game drew to a close.

Super Bowl XXIV I watched alone in the living room of my 57th St. anarchist household, on a TV that got terrible reception. The game was such a blowout it didn't matter.

For the next one, between the Giants and Bills, I watched the conclusion in the bedroom on Kim's wheelie-cart TV -- she used to transport it back and forth between there and the living room -- and got to see the infamous Scott Norwood missed field goal that became the kernel for the plot of Vincent Gallo's Buffalo 66.

The next three Bills losses were a bit of a blur, though I did enjoy watching the Redskins beat them. Each time, I watched somewhat furtively, trying not to annoy Kim with the sound of the spectacle.

Super Bowl XXIX (played in 1995 for the 1994 season) in between stands out, because Josh and Laura came to visit us in Vallejo and watched with me, while Kim went to the Century Cinedome on Admiral Callaghan Lane and saw rats scurrying about in the deserted movie theater.

My most visceral memory from the preceding season is another radio memory. My dad was out for a business trip and the two of us drove up to Clear Lake and back, listening to the super tense Cowboys-49ers game in which Deion Sanders proved his worth.

For Super Bowl XXXII, I opted not to go to the Fine Arts with Kim and her friend Morrie from Bass, because I had a sense the Packers-Broncos game would be good. I watched it downstairs at La Val's on the big screen.

During Super Bowl XXXIV I was actually in Tucson on the second day of my "campus visit" -- a second, horribly extended job interview that those in my profession often contend with -- and watched some of the first half in Jen Bryan's apartment while she graded -- I think -- in another room and Greg Jackson, my junior-faculty host for the day, recharged his good-host batteries.

I sort of felt bad about missing the second half, thought about the fact at dinner -- a bad meal at Kingfisher, incidentally, despite the place's laurels -- but didn't mention it for obvious reasons. I really regretted it when I discovered that it had come down to the last play. Of course, I was frantically condensing and rearranging my job talk that night, so I could only devote so much time to my regret.

For Super Bowl XXXV the following year, I could barely muster up interest. I remember listening to the game as I ran weekend errands around town. But I was clearly still in recovery from my November pneumonia and had less energy for sports. I'm pretty sure that was the day that we learned that Russie had taken a grave turn for the worse and decided to fly back to California as soon as possible. And Tibbs was sick too. It was a dark time, perfect for a dreadful game.

Super Bowl XXXVI was a whole lot better. I watched the second half on Kim's father's big-screen TV. Skylar played in front of the TV. And even Kim paid ten-seconds-worth of attention to the exciting conclusion.

About last year's, the less said the better. The Raiders looked so awful it's painful to think about. And I'm not even a Raiders fan, really, though I will root for the Bay Area over other places in almost every case these days.

It's funny how many of my Super Bowl experiences revolve around either the absence of television or the difficulty of finding a television to watch. Many of my most vivid memories of the game came via radio. How many Americans can say that?

It's the televisual spectacle to end all televisual spectacles, the orginary televisual spectacle in a sense, at least for Americans.

The procession of recaps last night on ESPN helped to fill in some of my radio memories with images, but routed through the particular aesthetic of the slow-motion gravitas of NFL Films -- let's hear it for Ted Byfield, who praised that aesthetic and very little else during his time on the Bad List -- which is sufficiently different from actually watching a game to prevent me from feeling that my memories are completely "normed."

Shit, I could have spent all the time I devoted to writing this to looking at Janet Jackson's exposed breast.

I've got my media all mixed up.
  • Current Music
    All Mod Cons - The Jam - All Mod Cons & Sound Affects (Gold Disc)
  • Tags

Top of the Rock

Here's Skylar on the Mendocino Headlands last summer. I felt it was necessary to present her in a more relaxed pose than the last picture, lest anyone think that she is totally consumed by her own intensity.

Skylar looks left, wearing her blue Sleeping Beauty hoodie

Do note, however, that she is on top of the rock. . .