With Green Bay and Pittsburgh squaring off on Super Bowl Sunday, three things about the current state of pro football keep occurring to me that I'd like to share with you, gentle reader.
TEAM OF THE (PREVIOUS) DECADE The Pats haven't won the championship since 2004, or a playoff game since beating the Chargers for the AFC title four years ago, in 2007. In other words, although I hate to admit it, as a conspiracy-minded friend of mine likes to say, they haven't won a big game since Spygate. Their biggest star is getting old, too. Brady (and his ridiculous hair) will be 34 by next season, and coming off foot surgery. Is Brady done? No. Is he almost done? Yes. I know that the Pats have a gazillion draft picks, a legendary coach, and won 14 games this year, but their reign of terror in the AFC East seems over, even if their run of division titles is (perhaps) not. The ascension of the New York Jets has only punctuated that fact. The Pats were the team of the decade, but it was the previous decade. Let's not say that their dynasty is over. Instead, let's call it complete, and let's admit that it's been complete for a while.
AGONY OF THE FEET Speaking of the Jets, their head coach Rex Ryan is a badass. Ryan and his team said that they would bitch-slap the Pats in the playoffs, and then they did exactly that. Congrats to them. But the coolest thing about the Jets happened off the gridiron: Ryan provided the finest example America has had in years (since President Clinton used Monica as a humidor) of how to let your freak flag fly. As has been widely reported, he loves women's feet. How cool is that? Getting his perennially underachieving team to two consecutive AFC title games ranks him among the most accomplished foot-fetishists in American history, alongside such diverse luminaries as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Quentin Tarantino, Marilyn Manson, and Brooke Burke. (OK, maybe Brooke Burke isn't much of a luminary, but she is freakin' hot!)
MAN BITES DOG Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been accused of sexual assault twice, in Lake Tahoe in 2008, and in Milledgeville, Georgia (hometown of my favorite writer, Flannery O'Connor) just last year. Although authorities did not file charges in either incident, the Milledgeville allegation netted Roethlisberger a six-game suspension, later reduced to four, at the start of this past regular season. Now Roethlisberger is in the Super Bowl for the third time in six years. How will American sports fans react? With outrage, or by ignoring the shadow cast by those repeated allegations? Remember, Michael Vick was (justifiably) pilloried for operating a dog-fighting ring. Although Vick found a measure of redemption with the Eagles this year, he previously went to jail, lost out on years of his career, and was Public Enemy No. 1 for a very long time. The off-field complications of Vick and Roethlisberger are hard to compare, but it will be interesting to see what happens if the Steelers establish their second championship dynasty with Roethlisberger under center. Tough questions with no easy answers will arise. Is America more forgiving of white athletes than black ones? Do Americans care more about dogs than women? Or is the total lack of a backlash over Roethlisberger's spot in the catbird seat a result of him being the youngest quarterback to lead a team to two Super Bowl victories, with a possibility for a third on the near horizon? Where's the outrage?
Take Back The Night, indeed.
Rick Wormwood can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.