Tried to forget, but the Super Bowl aftermath was a painful reminder how obsessed America is with surface, symbolic foolishness such as handshakes.
We can’t even bask in the afterglow of what was arguably the greatest NFL championship game in most of our lifetimes. Irrational haters of the New England Patriots couldn’t even enjoy the Philadelphia Eagles bandwagon ride long enough to reach the victory parade before turning their jaundiced eyes to Tom Brady’s body language.
Brady didn’t pause for a meaningless photo opportunity with winning quarterback Nick Foles after last Sunday’s game. This development nearly exceeded the coverage given to Bill Belichick’s benching of every stereotypical New England sports fanatic’s favorite physical and behavioral liability, Malcolm Butler.
At least the latter was a legitimate story that had some bearing on the game and its place in history. The former is just more of the same foolishness that lives rent-free in our brains while truly bad people and things threaten to take over the world.
And it’s a recurring story. Brady’s in good company, joining Peyton Manning, Cam Newton and LeBron James as pro athletes who’ve sped off to take a shower or a leak without sticking around for a championship celebration that didn’t involve them. Those guys didn’t deserve a shred of criticism, either.
We’ve become a populace of soccer moms, and that should not be interpreted as discriminatory toward futbol or the fairer sex. It’s irrespective of game or gender. It’s an attitude. It’s this mind-numbing idea that “it’s only a game,” and when the horn sounds we should all hug and kiss and hold hands and go out for ice cream.
Part of this is the players’ fault because of how they behave after regular-season games. The cameras catch them kneeling in a prayer circle, holding an autographed jersey swap, or engaging in some other look-at-us moment. There’s altogether too much butt-slapping for my money after watching grown men beat each others’ brains for three hours, and unfortunately we see it as the norm.
But have you ever actually watched a Super Bowl, other than paying rapt attention to the commercials in hopes you’ll see something that makes you righteously indignant? I mean really watched. You probably have, since 14-or-so of the past 15 haven’t been decided until the final seconds.
Funny things happen when that gun goes off. The league and the stadium go into full this-is-the-biggest-moment-since-the-American-Revolution mode, and the media covering the game are complicit. A deluge of confetti descends from the rafters. Large sections of the field are cordoned off. And yes, a phalanx of photographers surrounds both coaches and both quarterbacks to the point where it’s almost impossible for them to breathe.
Foles – and deservedly so – was immediately accosted by his wife, his baby, his agent, his Sunday School teacher, somebody wanting him to profess his love for Walt Disney, and a thousand other folks he didn’t even know.
Being human, I feel confident saying the last thing he wanted or needed at that point was the validation of an awkward embrace with Brady. You can make the strong case that Brady did the sportsmanlike thing, which is let the dude enjoy the moment without sticking his five-time champion’s nose into the mix.
The problem is that we’re so obsessed these days with what to tell our children about the behavior of people who are peripheral to their life, at most. How about telling them not everything in the world is black and white? Tell them that, yes, we shake hands after their AYS game, but there may come a day when circumstances force you to send your buddy a text message saying, “Nice job,” and that’s OK, too.
I’m still not totally sure when this hyper-analysis of star players’ every move became the norm, or when forced post-game interaction evolved into an expectation. It almost certainly coincides with the ubiquity of social media. It has become easier than ever to spread the anti-gospel about people or things we don’t like.
Hockey geeks (and you know who you are) get all high-and-mighty about their handshake line after the final game of every postseason series. Hey, whatever gets you through the night. I can tell you that at the end of every baseball World or League Championship Series I’ve ever watched, members of the losing team picked up their hats, gloves and chewing tobacco and marched single-file to the clubhouse without ever interacting with the winning team, who were too busy pig-piling and pretending champagne is fit for human consumption to care. At no time did it ever occur to me that hockey players are better sportsmen than their baseball counterparts.
At least the hockey deal is tradition. Anybody who tells you an on-field meeting between the two quarterbacks in a Super Bowl is traditional, or essential, is spouting garbage. It’s postmodern prattle. On the contrary, there are old-timers who are wholly uncomfortable with how lovey-dovey the fraternization has become. Myself included.
Both quarterbacks played their guts out. Both are class acts. That’s what you tell the children. And tell them to stop intentionally looking for man-made reasons to disparage greatness while you’re at it.
Kalle Oakes was a 27-year veteran of the Sun Journal sports department. He is now sports editor of the Georgetown (Kentucky) News-Graphic. Stay in touch with him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @oaksie72.