Our Town: Super Bowl LV defined America’s character

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Our Town: Super Bowl LV defined America’s character

The nation turned its lonely eyes to Tampa Bay this week to watch a transcendent force of nature referred to as Tom Brady, that 43-year-old, wrinkle-free, larger-than-life, 10-time visitor to the Super Bowl. Impact champions like Tom Brady, Tiger Woods and Mohammed Ali seem to single-handedly establish a sports’ popularity by pulling in a new viewing audience.

Clearly Tiger Woods did that for golf and Mohammed Ali did the same for boxing.
But when you get past the buzz created by an impact champion, it is worth asking the question of what the real force behind any given sports popularity. The French are an aesthetic nation and thus love the gentility of tennis. Brazilians are passionate and creative and love the random spontaneity and flair of soccer, “the beautiful game.”

Football is America’s chosen sport. In years gone by America loved Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio and baseball, but our interest has waned as our hyperactivity mounted. Basketball maintained its popularity with Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, but there is nothing quite as quintessential as football to describe the American ethos.

If you watch even a single play in professional football, you will observe a few obvious features. Football is aggressive, swift, violent, brutal, tactical, demanding of courage and dangerous. How Patrick Mahomes managed to survive the beating he took during the Super Bowl is beyond me.

Many years ago I met wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson when I was being interviewed there in the Jets training camp. He walked into the locker room just wearing white spandex shorts and I had the impression I was standing in front of a large very muscular oak tree. A year or so later I met running back Emmitt Smith at an Ann Liguori party in the Hamptons and I recall thinking that nothing on Earth could ever knock this guy over.

But does dangerous aggression, brutality, speed, tactical smarts, and a tendency toward violence aptly describe the central character of America? Back in 1835 Alexis de Tocqueville, a French aristocrat, traveled throughout the United States and then wrote what is widely considered the definitive description of the American character. He coined the term “American Exceptionalism,” which refers to our energy, optimism, practicality, social mobility, religiosity, commercialism and our lack of aesthetic awareness. But let’s face facts, a lot of can change in 185 years, n’est ce pas?

So, to confirm and/or deny that this describes the American personality let us review the highlights of Super Bowl LV.

First, we have the commercials from Budweiser, Pizza Hut, Uber Eats, Turbo Tax, McDonalds, YouTube and Logitech. I think there was also an ad selling rides into outer space. I like these commercials because they have such humor and the corporations paying for them have a willingness to spend millions to remind us they still exist. Commercials are as American as apple pie. Maybe even more so. So Alexis got this right.

The halftime show was with a guy named Weeknd. Granted I have never heard of this singer, but you got to figure he must be somebody comparable to Michael Jackson or he would never have been offered the gig. The show was not exactly high-brow entertainment, but it was a spectacle, so Alexis got this right too.

The game itself was exciting if violent, interesting if brutal, amazing if concussively head-bashing. If you blend together Alexis de Tocqueville’s description of our character with my impressions of Super Bowl LV, you have an apt view of America. It’s filled with commercials, speed and spectacle. In addition, we also had a glimpse of the Trump era represented by the way the Kansas City Chiefs committed enough infractions to slowly but surely play themselves out of the game and lose. This is the power of role modeling in the worst possible way. America is unapologetically aggressive, speedy, take-no-prisoners, win-at-all-costs approach to life. And it was good to observe that the team that did less cheating was the team that won.

So, if you are feeling guilty for having spent the entire Sunday watching Super Bowl LV, take solace in the fact that you were getting a first-rate adult education crash course in social studies. America is the land of the free, home of the brave and filled with those who love commercials and embrace weekend spectacles. And on rare occasion we also get to witness a miracle like Tom Brady who defeats time, age and the KC Chiefs all in one afternoon. Who could argue with that?

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