Perhaps you’ve already heard: The G-Men beat the Pats, 21–17.
Here are my game notes — buffed to high luster, no doubt, by the benefactions of a well-stocked bar situated thoughtfully, let’s see, nine steps from my well-appointed seat.
Americans, especially those of the wagering class, love underdogs, and the Giants go off as lovable three-point underdogs. But with a passion exceeding even their affection for underdogs, Americans hate losers. Good luck on that long trip home, Patriots.
The NFL, both officially and otherwise, emphatically opposes gambling, and for all of the reasons you inscribed in your childhood book of maxims — namely, that gambling is “the child of avarice, the brother of iniquity, the father of mischief, the sister of anxiety, and the uncle of stupidity.” Okay, I made those last two up. But the first three were coined by no less an authority than the father not of mischief but of our very own country (or, quite possibly, by Alexander Hamilton, who for a modest fee would doubtless have been willing to take the other side of the question). There is no gambling up here in the suites, of course. It would be lily-gilding. Some of these guys have already bet a half-billion or so just to buy a team.
The game features two high-profile quarterbacks, one great and the other knocking on the door, as we grizzled sports scribes like to say. Tom Brady is brilliant, no question, but he dresses a bit too carefully, fusses continually with his hair, struts camera-ready poses with off-putting regularity. What’s up with that? This is football, not polo. When he steps out with his wife, a Brazilian supermodel, they look as if they’ve been booked in a fashion shoot. I’m an Eli Manning guy. He’s still slogging along in the shadow of his big brother. Eli grinds it out, year after year: When he’s flushed from the pocket and has to run for his life, you can almost hear him say, Oy! In the open field, his gait is decidedly more geezer than gazelle. Eli is also self-effacing, courteous to all, loyal to Ole Miss, loving to his Mom, faithful to his college sweetheart. I know a GOP voter when I see one.
The coaches offer no such contrast. The difference between the Pats’ Bill Belichick and the Giants’ Tom Coughlin is the difference between old school and older school. They both apprenticed under the legendary coach Bill Parcells whose path-breaking insight was that you can break an opponent’s will by hitting him harder than he hits you. There’s an undeniable logic there, even if it affronts Eastern sensibilities. Coughlin, at 65, still sets the clocks five minutes early at the Giants’ practice facility: To be on time, in other words, you have to arrive early. I’m told that it makes perfect sense once you’ve taken the one-way trip into the heart of Coughlin World.
The rule of thumb when attending Super Bowls, Oscar ceremonies, royal weddings, and other large entertainments is that you must consign yourself, body and soul, to the proper Sherpa. There is no lonelier or more un-American place in the world than the holding pen just outside a velvet rope. Avoid it whenever possible. Or lose the one chance in your life to be up close and personal with Michael Douglas, Steven Tyler, Kenneth the Page, and Amani Toomer. (If you don’t know Amani Toomer, shame on you.)
Hmmm. I may have used that “rule of thumb” inappropriately. A medievalist friend of mine insists that the phrase originated in 15th-century England, where men were enjoined from beating their wives with sticks thicker than their thumbs. A good custom, that. We observe it to this very day in the Freeman household. (Joke alert! Joke alert!)
The modern NFL smells of money, much of it crispy new. Seventeen hundred private planes clot the tarmac at Indy-area airports. Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots is the prototypical NFL owner. Full of puff and posture. He made a fortune in the paper and packaging business and then bought the Patriots in 1994 for $175 million. Forbes magazine recently appraised the value of the team at $1.4 billion. The owner of the Giants, John Mara, is what passes in the NFL for old money. His grandfather, a New York bookmaker, bought the franchise in 1925 for $500. Forbes says the Giants are now worth $1.3 billion.
Suck wind, Bain Capital.
The Giants are hammering the Patriots. We may be witnessing an old-school breaking of wills. Was it Longfellow, the Grantland Rice of his era, who once said, “In this world a man must be either anvil or hammer”? (Or was it Emerson? Orestes Brownson? Nordlinger will know.)
The Pats are beginning to lose focus. Napoleon Bonaparte, a product of that great 19th-century French program, taught us that we should “never interfere with the enemy when he is in the process of destroying himself.” The Giants are interfering, anyway.
I am hopeful that, due to some massive scheduling snafu, President Obama will make a midfield appearance at halftime. Booing is thoroughly American, don’t you agree? No such luck tonight. It’s Madonna, sweetly demure as always.
In the crowd tonight, there’s a handful of one-percenters. The rest of us are all one-percenter wannabes — strivers, wagon-pullers, dream believers. Save for a few crony capitalists and ne’er-do-well nephews, there’s not an Obama partisan in the house. The real question is whether this crowd is for Romney or non-Romney. I’m calling it 65–35 for Mittens.
Football is an atavistically binary game. There is, at the end of every contest, a winner and a loser. That’s it. No runner-up, no armful of plaques for most improved or best effort or some muffled recognition of process at the expense of result. The winner gets the ink, the endorsements, the bonuses. The loser gets nothing, save for a multimedia opportunity to explain his manifold inadequacies. (“Briefly, please. We’re cutting to the winner’s locker room in 30 seconds.”)
There’s a certain appeal to that hard, old-fashioned word: loser. You don’t hear it much in contemporary America, now that the organizer-in-chief has reorganized our community. There’s something about him, maybe you’ve noticed, that simply can’t abide a binary choice. Winners? Losers? They don’t exist in Obama’s America. In his America, we don’t even win or lose wars. If he has his way — and Gallup suggests, ominously, that he might — all Americans would finish the race of life in a 300 million–way tie for last. I suppose that we could all then give each other plaques for Most Public Spirited.
I never attend a Super Bowl without thinking of WFB. His wildly generous hospitality over the years always posed a gnawing problem for his young friends. How could we possibly return his many favors? Could we do so by inviting Bill and Pat to our exurban home teeming with mangy pets and mewling children? I didn’t think so. For the urbane Buckleys, that kind of evening would have been less a favor returned than a sentence imposed. My answer — each of us had his own — was to take them to off-track cultural happenings: a concert featuring an exciting newcomer, lunch at a new ethnic restaurant, anything Yale-related. Things balanced out a little bit, I hope. But I always saved a Super Bowl ticket for Bill. And he always declined. He may have been the only conservative in America who didn’t like football.
— Neal B. Freeman is a longtime contributor to National Review.