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"The Grand Spectacle Of A Steel-Breaded Cheese Sandwich"

By C. Robert Dimitri | Miscellaneous | February 3, 2011 |

By C. Robert Dimitri | Miscellaneous | February 3, 2011 |

It is that time of year again. Yes, we have almost reached the Sunday afternoon when you can take advantage of empty streets and empty stores in the name of running errands, as millions of people gather around televisions in the name of watching the Super Bowl. Of course, you would be missing the game.

I have vague memories of the contests a few years prior, but my clearest full memory of watching the game goes back to 1984, when the Los Angeles Raiders dominated the Washington Redskins. I was cheering for the Raiders that day; I am not certain if that support was linked to the fact that the Raiders shared the name of my future high school team or to an early manifestation of my own hyper-political correctness. (Go find a respectful mascot, Washington!)

Regardless, the game did not keep my interest for long, as it was the first in a string of several horribly lopsided Super Bowl blowouts that made the mid-80s and early 90s editions less than dramatic, with a couple notable exceptions that cemented Jerry Rice as hero and granted Scott Norwood the perception of goat. We have recently been spoiled by the big game; it makes for a stark contrast between my youth and my adulthood: the expectation of a poor game versus a competitive one. With the betting line between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers currently at only two and a half points, this year holds the promise of another exciting contest.

Whether the games have been close or not, the NFL has solidified its position as America’s premier sports showcase over the last few decades on the strength of this annual spectacle. The pre-game hype is deafening, the scrutiny of analysis attains a ludicrous level beyond feasible practicality, and culturally it has become a social occasion that rivals long-held national holidays. Perhaps nothing better symbolizes this excess than the advertising tied to the game’s broadcast and what has become an obsession with the high-priced commercials that are aired over the course of the game.

I admit that I had a phase when I bought into the frenzy and obsessively watched every single advertisement. As I did not want to miss the game itself either, this essentially meant that the only time I could take my eyes off the television screen was during the Super Bowl halftime show. I was no longer in my commercial-watching phase at that point, but this practice partially explains why I missed the infamous breast-baring of Janet Jackson.

Yes, there is entertaining creativity to be found in the manner in which corporations shill soft drinks, beer, tortilla chips, shoes, automobiles, web providers, etc. (There is also crassness to be found in it, as we have seen before.) I understand the value of name recognition, but at a certain point at this level it all seems futile to me. Millions of dollars and all the bouncing cleavage in the world are not going to physically alter my taste buds thereby convincing me that I prefer Pepsi to Coke, are they? Thank you for those charming ads with the Clydesdales, Budweiser, but you have not increased the probability that I will be drinking one of your beers.

Regardless, one of the many blessings of the internet is that I can rely on someone else to sift through the advertising chaff and let me know on Monday about the best and worst in Super Bowl commercials. In conjunction with this, over the years I have honed my own mutant superpower that enables me to completely tune out all television advertising. Even when I happen to notice and enjoy an ad, it is very rare that I could tell you exactly what product was being advertised. I consider this a blessing and my little (futile) counteraction against becoming a lemming, even as I head to the refrigerator like one of Pavlov’s dogs for a tasty Dr Pepper immediately after half-hearing one of those advertisements.

I am not here merely to ramble about my own consumer brainwashing, though. Returning to the topic of the game, football fans could not ask for two teams more drenched in historical significance.

On this yellow canvas made all the more yellow by the cheeseheads and “Terrible Towels” strewn across it, we have two formidable fighters. In the black corner, we have the Pittsburgh Steelers. They have won more titles (six) in the Super Bowl era than any other franchise. They have claimed two of the last five titles, and with three in six years they would challenge the New England Patriots as the arguable “team of the decade.”

In the opposing green corner are the Green Bay Packers. This is the team that won the original two Super Bowls, and the championship trophy for which these teams contend is the namesake of their legendary coach from those bygone days. If the power of “Vince Lombardi” and his ubiquitous motivational quotes are not impressive enough, the Packers are the team that has more professional football championships (twelve) to their credit than any other, including three Super Bowl titles of their own.

Upping the ante on this circus is the location of the game. The game will take place in the gaudiest of new arena monstrosities, Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. With its immense exoskeleton and unbelievably gigantic video screen that is suspended above the field, some locals appropriately refer to this behemoth as the “Death Star.” The Packers and the Steelers will not be intimidated by the setting, but I cannot help but conjure the mental image of Gene Hackman’s Coach Norman Dale reassuring them with a gigantic tape measure illustrating that the field is still one hundred twenty yards long from goalpost to goalpost and fifty three and a third yards across. I suspect a movie-loving high school coach has probably already done something along those lines during the Texas high school playoffs.

Those are merely the trappings for the narrative, though. What will matter on the field are these two particular teams. For the first time in 28 years, the teams competing in the Super Bowl are also the two teams that gave up the fewest points over the course of the season. The two stars for these top defenses, Troy Polamalu and Clay Matthews, finished a close first and second in AP Defensive Player Of The Year voting. (The Steelers’ James Harrison finished third in the voting.)

On the offensive side of the ball, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger finished third and fifth, respectively in quarterback rating, and each has shown great poise in leading their teams through the playoffs. Rodgers seeks to escape the shadow of Green Bay’s former star Brett Favre, and Roethlisberger seeks redemption after a four-game suspension to start the season for his much-publicized violation of the NFL’s conduct policy.

The Packers faced must-win situations to end the season in order to squeak into the playoffs as the sixth seed. They are the first six seed from the NFC to qualify for the Super Bowl, echoing the same achievement by the Steelers on the AFC side when they won the title five years ago.

Such is the prelude to Super Bowl XLV. (If nothing else, the Super Bowl keeps America knowledgeable about Roman numerals.) What will be the outcome of this steel-breaded cheese sandwich? Hardy steel would seem to have the upper hand, but it is easy for cheese to melt and escape. Even cold shredded cheese has a tendency to extend beyond a sandwich’s confines onto the plate. Of course, if the steel were in the shape of a Hot Pocket, the cheese could be better contained. In my experience, though, when you microwave a Hot Pocket, the cheese manages to seep out of those seams in the crust. Plus, it is probably unsafe for you to be placing steel in a microwave, and I do not think that Hot Pockets can afford a Super Bowl advertisement.

By this infallible logic, I will flout my supposedly better judgment and pick the Packers to win. I am rooting for them regardless, and I just learned yesterday that the “G” on their helmets stands for “greatness.” Who can argue with that?

Enjoy the game. Barring that, enjoy the Puppy Bowl, which will be featured on the second television screen in my living room.

C. Robert Dimitri would probably bet on the Steelers if he actually were foolhardy enough to place money on this game. Depression over the end of this NFL season is bad enough, but a seventh Super Bowl victory for the Steelers on the home field of the Dallas Cowboys would make for a most unhappy offseason. If you are participating in one of those football score betting grids on Sunday, may you draw a 7, 3, or 0.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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