Feature

The Super Bowl: Perfection denied

Everyone knew this year

Everyone knew this year’s Super Bowl “was going to make history,” said the New York Post in an editorial. Either the New England Patriots were going to walk off the field with an unprecedented 19–0 record for the season, or the underdog New York Giants would pull off one of the greatest upsets in sporting history. In the end, the Giants beat the heavily favored Patriots before an audience of 100 million TV viewers—the largest Super Bowl audience ever. Trailing 14–10 late in the fourth quarter, the Giants mounted a heart-stopping final drive highlighted by several dazzling pass plays, and scored the winning touchdown with only seconds left on the clock. It was the kind of game that people talk about for years, in the same class as the Jets’ upset victory over the Colts in 1969, which propelled the sport “toward unambiguous national-pastime status.”

Stuff your poetry, said Dan Shaughnessy in the The Boston Globe. The Giants’ victory was a case of “history derailed.” All across New England, the agony of this loss is tempered only by a strong suspicion that it didn’t actually happen. Think about it. The 2007–08 Patriots were “possibly the greatest football team of all time.” Led by the great quarterback Tom Brady, and coached by the peerless Bill Belichick, they “annihilated” many of their opponents by lopsided scores, setting numerous individual and team records along the way. It was clearly the Patriots’ destiny to attain a 19–0 season, and the fact that they didn’t indicates that we’ve suddenly blundered into some wacky “alternate universe.” Even though “my heart was with the Giants,” said William Rhoden in The New York Times, I would have liked to see someone manage a perfect season. In this messy, chaotic world, “sport is one of the few areas of endeavor in which perfection can be measured.”

Perfection, though, is meant to be sought, not attained, said Steve Johnson in the Chicago Tribune. Even before their crushing loss to the Giants, the Patriots’ season was “littered with imperfect moments,” from lackluster games that they won by luck rather than by skill to the early-season revelations that the team was cheating by illegally videotaping their opponents during games. If the Patriots had, in fact, won the Super Bowl, people would have forgotten their human flaws and concluded that perfection is, in fact, possible. It isn’t, and if it were, it would be so much duller than our imperfect reality. There’s something to be said for staying “a notch away from flawless.”

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