Insights on Super Bowl 50

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February 12, 2016 by NowhereButPop

by Andrew Doscas

super bowl 50

When it comes to football and talking about it, I rank somewhere behind Trent Dilfer, but ahead of Donald Trump.  I don’t understand the NFL as well as I do the MLB or the NBA, but I know more about football than I do about say accounting or supply-chain management.  With that in mind, Super Bowl 50, despite being a rather lackluster and unspectacular game did actually manage to provide some interesting caveats.

For some reason every marquis sports matchup has to have some sort of allegorical or metaphorical value.  The Lakers and Celtics, Yankees and Red Sox, Cowboys and Redskins, there’s tangible value in these rivalries that somehow transcend their sport and manage to encapsulate not only everyday life, but everything we’ve come to know about existence.  To make it seem like a game is more than a game, the media will often try and talk up a particular matchup and elevate it into becoming a contest of contrasting ideological values.  This is how we as people understand almost everything.  If we’re told that one team represents a certain sense of values and that the team they’re playing against represents the exact opposite beliefs, it becomes much easier to pick a team to root for because we then feel like we have both a personal investment in a team’s success and because we feel like they represent us in their quest to vanquish the totality of everything we oppose.  This is why everyone outside of New England hates the Patriots; they represent oppression and make us feel powerless in the face of their rampage and ability to effortlessly elude punishment.

Despite attempts that would make Don King proud, the media failed to successfully bill Super Bowl 50 as a battle of omnipresent ideological antitheses.  The reason why was because up until Cam Newton’s immature postgame interview that reaffirmed everything that people already hate about him, Super Bowl 50 was just another game devoid of any kind of greater meaning.  Super Bowl 50 was a game just like the vast majority of games ever played.  There were no hidden allegories or grand metaphors that could express any divides or contrasting opinions in mankind.  It was a football game, nothing more, nothing less.

cam newton

It remained a game until Cam Newton made it about race.  In America, because race is such a sensitive subject, once the topic of race enters any conversation, that conversation immediately becomes about race.  The week leading up to the Super Bowl, all anyone could talk about was that whether or not Cam Newton was right to say that he’s “an African-American quarterback that may scare a lot of people”.  Black quarterbacks are more prevalent now than they’ve ever been.  In the years following Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb, and Dante Culpepper, anyone who’s not an ignorant idiot dropped the outdated notion that a good quarterback had to be a square-jawed white guy from the heartland.  The last Super Bowl to even feature two white quarterbacks was Super Bowl XLVI.  Super Bowl 50 was never about race; it was about age and the widening generational gap.

Let the following facts sink in for a moment:

  • Peyton Manning is the oldest quarterback to ever start in a Super Bowl
  • At 13 years and 48 days apart, this is the largest age gap between two opposing quarterbacks in the Super Bowl
  • Cam Newton is the 18th youngest quarterback to start in a Super Bowl (60 quarterbacks have gone to the Super Bowl, meaning Newton is in the lower third in QB age)
  • Peyton Manning won his first Super Bowl while Cam Newton was still in High School
  • Newton was 9 years old when Manning first entered the NFL

 

We can’t dismiss this data because it tells us everything we need to know about Super Bowl 50, why people hate Cam Newton and the Panthers, and why Newton reacted as immaturely and terse as he did during his postgame interview.  Without ever entering the national conversation, Super Bowl 50 was a generational battle.  It became all about perception and how one generation observes and understands another generation.  All generations have a sub-culture to them that is unique to those born within a given timespan.  The Lost Generation was famously disillusioned; The Greatest Generation were heroes, The Baby Boomers were caught in a quagmire of balancing the traditions of the past with the progressivism that shaped their present.  Super Bowl 50 was a stunning showcase in the generational divide between Generation X and the Millennials (Generation Y).

On the one side (Denver) there was a traditionalist construction of football laced with a Generation X diligence that sometimes bordered on a malaise.  Following a disappointing early exit from last year’s playoffs, a communist inspired coaching purge, and a broken offensive system, the Denver Broncos made do with what they had, which was a killer defense and the fairy tale inspired optimism of John Elway.  They were resigned to the fact that Peyton Manning, leading the most average offense in the league, had nothing left in the tank, yet they made do with it.[1]  At times though, it seemed like they themselves didn’t think they could win the #1 seed in the AFC, as they kinda lucked into that fortuitous situation.  Three of their four loses came to teams that were below .500 at the time of their matchup, two out of those three even came at home.  But no matter how hopeless and lethargic the offense seemed, the defense always did just enough to carry the load.

Peyton-trophy-800

The resigned and lackluster offense represented the slacker mentality that Gen Xers were given because of their affinity for grunge and Kevin Smith flicks.  Films like Reality Bites and Clerks expressed the mundane hopelessness that they faced on a daily basis.  They were portrayed as doing enough to get by, without having any real aspirations or future plans.  This was Peyton Manning.  Going into this past season he had literally nothing left to give.  He became a human humpty dumpty who was on his way of becoming the Dan Marino of Super Bowl winning QBs.[2]  There was no future for Peyton Manning; this was it.  He had thrown 17 interceptions during the season; he missed six games and had to come off the bench in another.  This wasn’t the Peyton Manning we all knew, to put it in Space Jam terms, “it’s just a wannabe who looks like him”.  Super Bowl 50 presented him with a chance to even his Super Bowl record with a playoff victory, or with the stigma of being 1-3 in the big game.

Like Cobain, Kevin Smith, and Tarantino, all of whom had no education and nothing going for them; they channeled their own ineptitude and road the waves of their creativity.  They wrapped themselves around what was working and stuck to that.  They didn’t try to be something beyond themselves.[3]  The Broncos, with their great defense and aging QB didn’t try and recreate the past, nor did they try and become something that they weren’t.  Manning didn’t delude himself into thinking that he could still launch the ball downfield, so they ran the ball way more often than is customary in today’s NFL.  They saw the reality of the situation and acted accordingly; that reality may have been a shitty one but it allowed them to play their game and take care of business in the Super Bowl.  No matter how lazy the offense was or how uninspired their wins were, they made do with the hand they were dealt.

Whereas the Denver Broncos, with their meager offense and fading prospects, surprised the world with what they were able to accomplish with their crushing defense and realistic, if not cynical, outlook on the season, the Carolina Panthers were the exact opposite.  They were young, energetic, and could beat teams on all three sides of the ball.  They were the expectation, not the underdogs that the Denver Broncos were.  For the Panthers, their path to the Super Bowl began once they defeated the two-time defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks in Seattle during week 6 of the season.  After that game the national spotlight was thrust onto them as serious contenders to win the Super Bowl.

They took this momentum and the added attention and proceeded to wage a lightning war across the NFL.  They would go on to lose only one game all season, and their defense only gave up 20 points or more on three occasions after the game in Seattle.  Led by league MVP, Cam Newton, the Panthers came to represent Millennials, or rather every negative stereotype that the rest of the world has of Millennials.  They were too flashy, undeservedly arrogant, and dismissive of everyone around them all the while basking in the attention they were given.  They were good and they wanted everyone to know that.  Between Newton’s self-congratulatory praises and Josh Norman body slamming Odell Beckham Jr. to the ground, they were a team that while talented, was also immature and emotionally combustible.  They wanted constant praise and adulation without actually winning anything yet.  This false sense of accomplishment embodies the criticism directed at Millennials that were raised in an environment where every achievement no matter how trivial is praised and kids get medals and trophies just for participating in competitions.

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Adding to the sense of entitlement that people say Millennials are plagued by, is their non-existent work ethic.  This stereotype, while misplaced in Millennials, is absolutely true of the 2015 Carolina Panthers however.  All year long they played down to their opponents level, and then completely phoned in the second half of their playoff game against Seattle.  In that playoff game, they literally stopped trying for the entire second half.  Regular season games against the Colts, Giants, and Saints were much closer than they ought to have been because they took their foot off the gas once they got comfortable with their lead.  That’s to say nothing at all about their lone loss in Atlanta where it looked like no one on the Panthers actually gave a shit at all.  They simply expected to win games because they thought they would just by virtue of being the better team on paper.  They underestimated opponents, and even though it didn’t cost them all that much, the box score to a handful of games betrays them as a team that was susceptible to becoming complacent with their status.  They seemed content with how they played, and seemed to care very little about improving and putting the effort in to truly rampage through the season.  It’s very difficult to say that the Panthers had the drive to want to be dominant.

Another criticism of Millennials is that because they’re so coddled and handed everything by their parents, they’ve become ill-equipped to handle adversity.  This comes from the perception that many rites of passage into adulthood are delayed; things like paying bills, finding a job, getting a mortgage, and starting a family are all happening later in life than ever before.  One of theories behind this phenomenon is that parents of Millennials are supporting them well into adulthood now instead of these people supporting themselves.  Regardless of whether or not this stereotype is actually true, it was most definitely personified by the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50.  Realistically, the Panthers were out of the game after Denver recovered a Cam Newton fumble for a touchdown in the first quarter of the game.

With their ego deflated and facing an early deficit, the Carolina Panthers let everyone know that the game was over after the first quarter.  Despite their sometimes arrogant play, and their lethargic tendencies after building a large lead, the Panthers never really faced a defense like the Broncos all season and were not prepared at all for the challenge.  So, when the going got tough, Newton and Co. packed it in early.  The body language was clear, the Panthers, Newton in particular, saw the Broncos defense as an insurmountable juggernaut.  Instead of simply trying to halt the one-man avalanche better known as Von Miller, the Panthers offense simply resigned themselves to the fact that they had no chance of winning the ball game.  A challenge was thrust upon them which they shirked the opportunity to overcome that challenge.  It would have been one thing if they got outplayed, but still put forth a valiant effort like the Broncos did in Super Bowl XLVIII, or the Raiders did in Super Bowl XXXVII.  Instead, they were like the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV, a team that had submitted to defeat without putting up much of a fight.

This revelation that Super Bowl 50 pitted youth against the mature and symbolized culture clash between generations became all too apparent during Cam Newton’s now infamous post-game interview.  You know, the one where he only gave terse, non-answers to harmless and routine questions.  His post-game interview made Bill Belichick and Tom Brady look gracious in defeat.  It was unprofessional, unbecoming, and unacceptable for a leader of a team and the face of the sport.

He didn’t say anything controversial or inappropriate, but because he chose not to be all that responsive and dismissed or deflected most the questions directed towards him, his own actions reaffirmed all of the negative traits that his detractors use as ammunition in their criticism of him.  He’s a sore winner who goes out of his way to mention how great he is, yet in defeat he turned into a sore loser who essentially refused to speak to the press about the loss.  Everyone loses at one point or another in sports, but every athlete has a responsibility to at least dignify the public with a postgame appearance that conveys good sportsmanship.  It’s absolutely ok to be upset, angry, or sad after a crushing loss, but to act immature and unprofessional, especially after all the theatrical antics that followed a win, gave all of his critics even more flames to fan as they continue to hurl denigrations at the reigning MVP.

To make matters worse, he even defended his actions the following day by admitting he’s a “sore loser”.  That doesn’t excuse his actions though as no player wants to lose.  In fact, everything he said, things like “show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser” and “If I offend anyone, that’s cool” suggest that he’s completely unapologetic about his behavior.  To abandon good sportsmanship in favor of a passive-aggressive temper tantrum is a terrible message to send to his legion of young fans.  Throughout the season, his actions conveyed a sense that it was ok to rub an opponent’s face in a loss, but once they lost the Super Bowl his actions suggested that he was beyond reproach and that he could act like a chump and a loser.

This isn’t supposed to be a “bash Cam Newton” article, because I really have nothing against him.  I think he’s a great player who, for the most part, has had a positive effect on the NFL and young kids everywhere.  I just believe that his actions during and after the Super Bowl surmise every negative stereotype people have of Millennials as a whole.  His poutiness and surliness betrayed a sense of entitlement, his refusal to process and accept defeat with grace and professionalism conveyed nothing but a failure to confront adversity, and his continued defiance of sportsmanship in light of Super Bowl 50 demonstrate nothing but unadulterated arrogance.  In short, Newton behaved like a petulant child throwing a temper tantrum at the super market because his mom didn’t buy him a candy bar.  Everything people claim to hate about Millennials, they see in Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.

Super Bowl 50 wasn’t about race despite everyone’s attempt to contextualize it that way.  It was about age and how society analyzes, categorizes and, condemns different generations.  With all the uncertainty surrounding the Broncos offense, head coach, and future, they came to represent Generation X—A group of people with seemingly no aspirations or direction yet somehow able to cultivate a culture out of that nothingness.  With a meagerly functional offense, a head coach at odds with his quarterback and lingering doubts about the team’s overall ability, the Broncos forged an identity around their defense, much in the same way that Kevin Smith and Richard Linklater crafted their career around slacker-culture, or how Kurt Cobain offered nothing to this world except for his own misery and hypocritical neuroses.  With resigned resolution, the Broncos defied the odds and proved that they had something to say.  And just like with Gen Xers, the mainstream didn’t care what they had to offer until they were starring us right in the face.

With their hipster beards and aesthetically epileptic choice in fashion, the Carolina Panthers became the iconoclastic representative of everyone’s vitriolic disdain for Millennials.  They were the flashy new kids on the block who were acting like kings of the league despite having not yet won anything.  There was a sense that because of their premature arrogance, they didn’t really deserve to win the Super Bowl.  Their choice of style over substance made them extremely popular amongst Carolinians and children who had no idea that Peyton Manning was once the greatest player in the league.

Super Bowl 50 was a chance for Millennials to assert themselves as major players in our culture.  If the key to the future wasn’t going to be given to them, then they’d take it from the darling of the previous generation.  The assumption was that guys like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Ben Roethlisberger had their day which was now over.  These young usurpers were ready to annunciate themselves as the new power and they would do so at the behest of all their fans riveted by their unorthodox play and capricious behavior.

But the Panthers failed, and Super Bowl 50 belonged to the incumbent, symbolizing that the present wasn’t quite ready for what these young whipper-snappers had to offer.  It wasn’t ready to accept the high-flying acrobatics of Jonathan Stewart, or the grizzled play of Greg Olsen.  Instead, it preferred the zeitgeist of structure and precision and a QB who knows and accepts his limitations yet is still playing with something to prove.

With his postgame interview, Cam Newton won himself no fans, but gave his critics all the fuel they would need to keep their disdain of him warm throughout the rest of the winter.  In those three minutes he became the stereotypical Millennial whose team ingratiated themselves towards young people while eschewing everyone against them.  Super Bowl 50 pitted the cynical wisdom of the Denver Broncos against the impatient ambition of the Carolina Panthers.  Just two years ago the Seattle Seahawks were the future of the league, but now that title belongs to the Carolina Panthers.  In the previous two Super Bowls both of those teams suffered defeat.  Maybe Chuck Klosterman was wrong then; maybe the future doesn’t always win.


 

[1] They only scored 30 or more points twice and averaged about 22 point per game for the entire year.

[2] An oxymoron and paradoxical statement, I know.

[3]Well Cobain did, but that’s because he was a disingenuous hypocrite.

 

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