Big thoughts on The Who, Tebow, HOF


There it was. The Big Sheaux. The Big Game. The Big Enchilada. L'Enchilada Grand. Velký Enčiláda.


Already come and gone. Another season has fled, and here we stand again, ankle deep in spent confetti and beer-damp streamers, left with nothing to discuss but the endless duality and perpetual opposition of sex and art and the muse of the senses versus science and management and the brute efficiency of rationality. Right brain versus left brain for all the marbles!

In other words, the eternal struggle between Drew Brees and Peyton Manning.

Thesis and antithesis.

With Brett Favre at home, propped up in his rocker, snacking on tana leaves and bruised Avatar blue, that was the epic PR narrative for this year's edition of the Big Game: all that jolly Bourbon Street heauxheauxheaux and Drew Brees reauxlling out le bon temps to chase away the last of the darkness, while Peyton went about the business of cementing his legacy as the most gifted midlevel manager of football distribution in the game's history.

The Saints, all viscera and disaster and redemption, and the Colts, all applied science and the efficient organization of objectives. Thus begins your Super Bowl!

Or, as we refer to it here below 14th street, "the straight Oscars."

There's Peyton running an offense more complex than the disclaimers on your health insurance! There's Drew Brees, doing whatever it is he's lately become famous for doing! But we have company and there's pizza to pay for and drinks to hand out and people are talking and playing the piano and oops! I see the game is well under way! Never let people come to your home for the Super Bowl! Never! In fact, it's 10-6 at the half, and the pizza is long gone before I can even grab a notebook.

Ecce Promo -- Behold the Public Service Announcement!

Some scattered thoughts at halftime.

I grew up with The Who in my ears, and was young when they were young.

But watching The Who perform at halftime Sunday was like watching grandpa climb a stepladder. You've known him all your life. You love him very much, and you respect him, and you know he's done this a thousand times before, but you also know that today's the day we all face his mortality. No one will be seriously hurt. But everyone's going to be very embarrassed. And from now on grandpa won't be allowed to do certain things. Like stadium concerts. Oh, grandpa.

It looked to me like grandpa Daltrey was lip-synching to a prerecorded track, but that grandpa Townsend was singing live. I base my argument in part on the fact that there were many, many television close-ups of grandpa Pete and his grandpa hat, but none of grandpa Roger and his grandpa extensions -- which of course is one of the ways a director might camouflage a lip-synched performance. Or honor a hat.

Which then raises an even more alarming question about the HunnyBear Jamboree Medley of Iconic Countercultural Hits Now Made Toothless By Time And Money we all saw and heard: They recorded that in advance?

Next year: Led Zeppelin performs a laser-show mash-up of their classic catalog of electric blues about low bone density!

I hope I die before I get old.


Speaking of harmless, let's pause for a moment to reflect on Tim Tebow and his mom.

Their long-awaited and much-argued-over public service announcements were hardly the defiant act of civil disobedience some fellow travelers promoted them to be; and they were hardly the inflammatory evangelical throwdown others assumed them to be. In fact, the message was so obtuse as to be unintelligible, mostly inaudible to anyone anywhere not already predisposed to hearing in its dog-whistle frequencies an ultra-high-pitched reminder of the Culture of Life. The rest of us just saw a nice guy who really loves his mom.

Cagey, though. And very effective to have started the public argument pro and con about all this six weeks ago before anyone knew what the ads actually were.

The simplest test of truth at the root of all those arguments was this: Would any network have run that spot if it advocated the opposite?

Of course not.

In exactly the same way you would never, ever see chapter and verse stenciled on the game-day eye black if chapter and verse referred us to the Upanishads, or to a sura in the Quran.

The monthlong blowback to all of it was that everyone left, right and center blamed "The Media." This as part of the new 21st century dynamic in which the zombie press takes the fall for everything.

We report a silly or stupid or important thing, and folks say "Yes, OK, that's a silly or stupid or important thing -- but rather than react to the thing itself and its possible consequences, I'm going to react only to the fact that you've reported it, thereby upsetting me. Thus upset, I will now go online to register my anger in a series of electronic sentence fragments, without ever addressing the substance of the thing you reported. So [insert obscenity here] you, Mainstream Media, and know that I would cancel my subscription if I had ever actually had one."


But other than the crib notes stenciled on Sarah Palin's palm (or were they simply fashionable henna tattoos that coincidentally spelled out "energy," "budget tax cuts" and "lift American spirits"?), nothing unsettled the republic last week like the intense national argument over the voting for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In the interest only of peacekeeping, and whether your favorite got in or not, here's the thing we all need to remember: There is neither rhyme nor reason for any choice. Everyone arguing about numbers and metrics and yardsticks needs to understand that we make the yardsticks, too. The numbers mean nothing if there's no algorithm by which they can be made meaningful. Football is not a statistics-driven game.

It's about storytelling, not science. Which is the art of the human, and therefore completely subjective. The only question worth asking about any candidate is, "Did he stir the imagination?"

A little less pomposity and ponderous institutional self-regard -- it sounded this year as though Dick LeBeau or Rickey Jackson had reshuffled the credit derivative disaster or discovered a cure for the common cold -- would go a long way to reminding us that it's all supposed to be fun. And that football, no matter how America seeks to inflate it, is just a game.

Until the selection process has some agreed-upon criteria -- which it does not, nor will it ever -- it's all just an expression of popularity and force of personality and pigskin voodoo and magical thinking and arguments made a posteriori.

Invariably, in cases like this someone involved in the process will say, "Well, we've made everyone unhappy, so we must be doing something right."

No, my friend, I'm afraid it just means you've made everyone unhappy. Which conjunctivitis or bankruptcy do quite effectively, too. "Unhappy" is not the universal outcome of, or synonym for, disinterest or fairness or impartiality you seem to think it is, Mr. Wrongheaded Excuse Maker Guy.

Nope. Sometimes unhappy is just the result of your awful, awful, awful decision-making.


The only thing worse than the actual voting, and the obsessed and obsessive coverage of the actual voting, is the international Internet message-board debate that now accompanies it. Which is only just now dying down and can best be summed up as "I know you are, but what am I?"

Here's a tip: Joe Namath isn't in the Hall of Fame because he had better numbers than other players. He's in the Hall of Fame because he had better Fame than other players.

Hall of Fame.

Again, guys, not the Hall of Long-Horizon Regression Analysis.

Hall of Fame.

But what can you expect from a culture that indentures its 13-year-olds to factory football? As we reported here last week (no doubt upsetting many of you), new USC football coach Lane Kiffin has penciled in a kid for future use as a quarterback once they've both gone through puberty.

Not to be outdone, Urban Meyer is now talking to the folks at Genentech/Nike Labs about opening his own in vitro football farm.

Back in time for the second half.

Which I honestly don't track as well as I should because there are now the cupcakes to serve and the doughnuts to pass around and there's a discussion about real estate and a photo album to look through, but the onside kick was pretty cool and the comeback was pretty tense and the next thing you know it's over and some demons have been exorcised and some ambitions put to rest and some people are very happy and some people are very sad.

Saints win.

As a literary matter, here's where we gather loose ends about greatness and time and humanity; about history and about art and science, and about the blahblahblah of the human yadayadayada.

Truth is, though, the game is already long gone. And none of what we felt, none of what we're feeling now will ever feel the same. We're already engaged in misremembering it.

Even in this age of complete digital recall, from here on out, that game you saw can only be conjured as an act of imagination.

The one is science, the other art. Without the one, no other.

And with no Bloated-American-Spectacle-Within-Which-We-Seek-Those-Things-That-Might-Define-Us-As-A-People on the national calendar for -- let me see -- another six days, at the Daytona 500, we should all thank Providence, or Destiny, or at least those good folks at Doritos for another tin-plated, nacho-flavored opportunity to pursue some honest moral inquiry and cultural self-examination.

If you disagree, I suggest that, as Gov. Palin reminds us all, you talk to -- or from -- the hand.

Jeff MacGregor is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. Please continue to submit your answers to his question "What are sports for?" You can e-mail him at jeff_macgregor@hotmail.com.