I've gotta say, even for a life-long Broncos fan like me, all of the hoopla has been a tad bit overwhelming. I mean, when the game ended, people started shooting off fireworks all over the city, just about every house and/or car is displaying a Broncos flag, And everywhere you go, people are decked out in infinite varieties of orange and blue. There are Broncos snow sculptures...
... and dogs dressed up in Broncos outfits...
... and Broncos displays at the grocery store...
Even the ski resorts got in on the action...
Yesterday there was a big victory parade and rally, and estimates are that a million people showed up! For a split second I thought about going myself, but thankfully sanity prevailed and I watched the spectacle on television instead.
Of course, with all of the celebrations, the wall to wall television coverage, and general football craziness, some folks have been raising the inevitable question: With so many important things going on in the world today, why is everybody so excited about a stupid football game?
And I've gotta admit, it is a valid question.
But rather than just brush it off with the usual "people are shallow jerks" sort of response, perhaps it's worthwhile to take a deeper look and really ponder that question. What is it about football that is so compelling to so many people?
Well, here's my take.
I think that football is a form of entertainment that has an appeal on many different levels. On the surface it might look like a bunch of guys in some sort of a street brawl, but underneath the crunching shoulder pads, the leaping catches, the muscle-twitching foot races, and the bruising tackles, football is an incredibly intricate, complex and cerebral game of strategy. It's almost like a chess match played with living pieces.
There are complicated schemes that require players to move with choreographed precision. The coaches have to draw up a game plan designed explicitly to exploit the unique weaknesses of each opponent that they face, and they have to be able to switch the whole plan on a dime if the opposing team figures out their strategy.
And the players aren't simply mindless pawns that a coach is moving around on the playing field, it's more like a game of poker, where you are actively trying to bluff, misdirect and otherwise confuse your opponents. Of course, the players also have to posses an amazing level of physical ability, which in and of itself is fun to watch.
And even beyond the action on the field, and the calling of the plays, there's also a whole other strategic game behind the scenes where the owners and general managers have to choose which combination of players they can afford under the salary cap.
In a sense, it's almost like a Shakespearean play where there are elements designed to appeal to the aristocracy, the groundlings, and everyone in between.
But aside from the multi-layered appeal, football is also a sport that not only allows for a certain level of diversity among it's players, it pretty much demands it.
Here's what I mean. When you look at a soccer team, or a basketball team, what you'll see is a collection of players who all have a very similar body type and set of skills.
Of course there are nuanced differences between the positions, but nothing as radical as the different body types and skill sets that you need to build a football team.
I mean, in football not only do you need the wide receiver who can run like the wind down the field and jump like a gazelle to catch the passes...
... you also need the giant hulking offensive linemen to protect the quarterback.
You need the short muscular running back who can make quick moves to throw off the tacklers...
... but you also need the precision place kicker to make the field goals...
And that's just scratching the surface of the different skills you need to build a good football team. And here's the thing. All of those guys have very different, but equally important jobs to do, and each one is critical to the team's success.
So it's a real team sport in every sense, and I think there's something very compelling about that whole narrative. There's a big obstacle to overcome, and the only way to do it is by working together.
Just thinking back on my high school classmates, it's really clear to me that this sort of required diversity plays a big role in the broad appeal of football. I mean, football has a place for the typical high school athlete, but it also has a place for the lumbering fat kid who failed every gym class he ever attended. It has a place for the towering tall kid who can see over defenses, but also has a place for the short kid who can slip under the tackles but couldn't dunk a basketball if his life depended on it.
At my high school reunion last summer, it was heartening for me to see a guy - who I mostly remembered from grade school as the awkward "big kid" - hanging out and joking with the school jocks. Apparently the body type that is ridicule-worthy in grade school, makes for one heckuva left tackle as one gets older. I have no doubt that football changed the entire trajectory of that kid's life.
But beyond the players, football even found a way to include the band geeks...
... the singers...
... and of course, the pretty-girl cheerleaders.
But perhaps most important of all, football is the only sport that I can think of where the fans watching the game are not just casual observers who are there to provide moral support for the team, they actually have a non-trivial impact on the outcome of the game.
This is because when the quarterback is standing behind center barking out the signals, he's not just talking gibberish or making noise, he's communicating with the rest of the team. He's reading the defense, telling the players which guys to block, and may even be changing the entire play.
So for an offense to be successful, they need to be able to hear each other. This is where the fans come in. If the crowd is quiet when their team has the ball, but makes deafening noise when it's the opponent's turn, it gives the home team an incredible advantage.
They call this phenomenon the "12th man" because the effect is almost like having an extra player on the field.
So in a sense, football is a sport where the fans actually get to participate, not just watch.
When you add all that up, I think it's easy to see how football offers a pretty big tent, were a vast number of people can feel like they have a personal stake in the outcome of the games.
And here's where I'm gonna wax poetic and get all mushy and philosophical on you...
We live in a society that is incredibly divided in very damaging ways. Our society pits us against each other in an infinite series of us's and them's based on race, and religion, and income, and politics, and the list goes on.
But somehow football has found a way to transcend many of those divisions and unite people who would generally not want to associate with each other. Perhaps when we replace the real divisions - like liberal vs. conservative - with an arbitrary one - like Broncos fan vs. Panthers fan - it somehow allows us to re-draw our social boundaries, and look at a person who we would normally see as one of them, and instead see them as one of us.
Now I'm not saying that it's some sort of panacea, because obviously there are racial and cultural tensions surrounding football just like there are everywhere else in this society. But if something as silly as a game of football can allow us, even for a few hours, to reach across that divide and see the humanity in people that we might otherwise find it easy to vilify... well, it gives me hope.
And maybe when seen in that light, it becomes a little easier to understand why it is that we care about football.