Soupey XLVII

Long term sufferers of this space may recognize this as a painful admission. But you have to hand it to those Great Americans who annually deliver us the Super Bowl in all of its prefabricated glory. Just when you think they are out of tricks and have a showdown few might find compelling the result is Soupey XLVII.

Not that it was an epic, mind you, at least in terms of art, although it's not surprising that many are quick to proclaim it one. But even if you too view this year's pageant as more a contrivance featuring too much in questionable taste it's assuredly destined to be bickered over endlessly and that's what most counts. Just keep 'em jabbering, old Sport! In the end, it's all about ''the buzz!''

Who needs quality when controversy is a viable option? Where once bread and circus was enough to keep the masses purring, nowadays the feeding of sufficient grist to the talk shows does the trick even more brilliantly.

In another painful admission, I've been commenting with varying degrees of suspended disbelief on the last XLV Soupeys and had happily concluded there was nothing new to say. Then along came Soupey XLVII, immediately proclaimed by ESPN's Boomer Berman -- no stranger to over-statement -- as, "the wonderful and wild one out of the Bayous."

Okay, so it was indeed "wild," or more precisely, "weird." But ''wonderful?" Give me a break!

Soupey XLVII was saved by the lights. When they sagged early in the third period, the game was devolving into a joke. A certain Jacoby Jones, hometown lad from New Orleans, had just waltzed -- essentially untouched -- a cool 108 yards with the second half kick-off to give the pugnacious Ravens a 28-6 lead that seemed twice as large in terms of on-field dominance.

Jones' fabulous romp was the most stunning kickoff return since the Packers' Desmond Howard ran one back 99 yards against your Patriots to cement Green Bay's embarrassing route of the local pets in Soupey XXXI. The Baltimore team, laden with nasty veterans, was making San Francisco's team, featuring young and untutored upstarts, look quite silly.

As this is written there's still no official explanation for what happened to the lights and why half of them blinked out totally as the rest seemed to be -- heaven help us -- flickering, and about to expire.

May I ask, how many of you have ever been in New Orleans' ill-advised Superdome, now boasting the sponsorship of a prestigious German car-maker but still a bit of a dump? I've had the honor three times and I can tell you the place is scary; a vast and unnaturally cavernous hell-hole with long, dank, dark, passageways leading nowhere that you might not wish to traverse at mid-day when they're fully flood-lit.

One suspects that when the lights began to dip, a touch of terror must have drifted through the cheap seats. Keep in mind, New Orleans is blithely called "the crime capital of the United States", municipal leader in all the bad stuff. But in a miracle that may affirm Soupey XLVII's historical stature, nobody got mugged let alone murdered this remarkable night; aside, of course, from the Ravens. Almost!

If there's no rationally explaining why Baltimore went into a swoon when the curious power problem suspended the game for 34 minutes or why, conversely, it roused San Francisco from dubious slumber we can only know it simply happened. It's why we play the games instead of jamming all the pertinent data into a computer; more great testimony to the fundamental notion that any dumb thing can happen and invariably will. Moreover, it's never only about which team has the best talent, nor should it be.

When the lights went out the game had seemed essentially "over". Soupey Sunday's annually humongous television audience is mainly composed of casual fans; sort of like the folks who go to church only on Easter Sunday. Many -- maybe even most -- were watching their first game of the season. It's Soupey's side-show laced with all the superficial folderol that attracts them while simultaneously driving true students of the subject a bit daft. The casual fans have little taste for one-sided romps.

So about the time the lights went down you could imagine vast legions of viewers across the republic jumping ship and clicking over to the latest preposterous ritual melodrama that's become all the rage, "Downton Abbey" on Masterpiece Theatre. Try as they might the Harbaughs could never be as goofy as the aristocratic Crawley Family.

If it was the pyrotechnics of Beyonce's half-time show that sparked the surge that dimmed the lights -- as is being widely (if amusingly) speculated -- the NFL is surely indebted. It may even have been enough to atone for the mediocrity of her act. Frankly, I find Roger Goodell, the beleaguered czar of the NFL, a more likely suspect. Anything to save those ratings, don't you know.

Whatever, we should be satisfied that in the end the right Harbaugh boy prevailed. John and his kid brother (by all of 16 months) Jim may look a lot alike but they are quite different chaps with much different personalities. John was the dutiful, hard-working, son who plugged his way to the top. Whereas the intensely wired Jim was the family's star, famed while still a teen. It shows.

While John was an engagingly gracious winner Jim was a predictably grumpy loser, spurning a simple post-game interview with CBS which had just spent an entire day glorifying him all over the universe. To anyone who will listen he is griping bitterly about the officiating, although he well knows the calls evened out.

Granted, the last big call -- that desperate pass play that climaxed Baltimore's gallant goal-line stand in the final seconds -- was a classic toss-up. Interference could have been called on both defender and receiver. But little brother Jim also well knows there's no way the championship should have been decided by the intrusion of an official making a call that thin. The non-call was the right call.

In a pleasing note, the officials ended up high among the day's heroes. Ref Jerome Boger was unflappable. They all did a terrific job under extraordinary circumstances. Given that the season began with so much controversy over officiating their work was special.

Not quite so pleasing was the glorifying of the Ravens' long-time chief thug in residence, linebacker Ray Lewis, who might well have spent the last dozen years in a penitentiary for his still not satisfactorily explained role in a notably vicious double-homicide. Instead he gets to end his lusty 17-year career being credited as the pure inspiration of the Ravens' mighty triumph as he's borne off to retirement on a resounding chorus of hosannas. Utterly amazing!

Amazing too was the brilliance of Ray's performance in fending off all reasonable inquiries into his past behavior, which reached a crescendo Super-week. Forgive me, but some found his invoking of the Almighty with every other breath a bit tiresome. But give the rascal credit; he got away with it, did he not? He should now become a politician. Methinks he's a natural.

Otherwise, the NFL and, in a wider sense, the game itself escaped the week with a minimum of attention to the issue that now dominates football and is certain to change the game, if it doesn't destroy it. And that would be -- obviously -- the very delicate matter of player-safety.

It was at least talked about, although mainly rationalized and excused by the football crowd. No surprise there. Alas there's much more discussion impending and it will be staged in the law-courts where sky-rocketing litigation prompted by battalions of aggrieved former players will soon be heard and those battles will be both nasty and expensive. Hard times are ahead for this league, this game.

Meanwhile they'll have the memory of bloated and bombastic Soupey XLVII to soothe them. It was full of sound and fury signifying something. But, I must confess, I'm not sure what.