Super Bowl XL and the Grand Script


Two things always confused me about the Super Bowl XLrefereeing:   (1) Why did the league believe they could be so daringly obvious with their script manipulation?  

It's one thing to take a tight game, and make one or two controversial calls that swing the game.  It's another thing to take a 21-point win, and turn it into a 10-point loss, with a series of eight or 10 howlingly obvious referee'ing mistakes.

Any soccer mom - of which a billion were watching - could see not only the bad calls of Super Bowl XL, but also the gameflow.  Seahawks charge, take back control of the game - bang.  40-yard penalty again, Steelers dodge a bullet.  Anybody could have seen the flow of the script, and everybody did.

This question was answered for me in -- well, after -- the 2011 UEFA championship.  Mighty Barcelona has, according to Cesc Fabregas, the greatest soccer team in history.  Arsenal, improbably, won the first leg of a home-and-home series by a 2-1 score.  But in the return match in Spain, the referee threw Arsenal's superstar off the field in the first 10 minutes of the game.  Van Persie, in a very loud stadium, didn't hear an offside call and continued on to kick the ball at the goal a second or two later.  The ref jumped on his opportunity, red-carded Van Persie, and the match was over.  Barcelona was through.

It wasn't this howler that helped me understand why the fixes are so blatant.  It was the reaction of soccer fans after.  Fans, even Arsenal fans, defended to the death the idea that the ref's decision was within reason.  95% of Arsenal reaction, from the cheap seats, was that it was a shame that the referee did not show ... better judgment.

A skeptic is one who wants sufficient evidence.  A cynic is one who rushes to negative judgment.  This attitude of sports fans, of wanting to believe in the illusion at any cost - lest their fun be tarnished - is a threat to our democracy.  It permeates to more important sectors of society and gives sinister forces free reign.

Why in the world would John Roberts make a suddenly, last-secondly-reversed decision that contradicted his entire judicial career?  To even ask whether back-channel forces were at work --- > draws canned laughter from the laugh track.

At my age, anytime something bizarre occurs in sports or politics -- a soccer player turns up dead in a stairwell, or Michael Jordan suddenly decides to play baseball, or a justice/congressman casts a completely inexplicable vote -- I being to wonder whether this one is another case of Back Channel Influence.

Question Authority.


We said there was a second thing that puzzled us about Super Bowl XL.  (2) Why spend so much of the NFL's credibility capital on this game?

The two games in NFL history most obviously fixed, as I see the, were likely Super Bowl XL, and Super Bowl III.  You can see what was at stake in 1969 - the league merger, TV ratings, and a whole lot more.  But what in the world was at stake in 2005?  Why would the Pittsburgh Steelers be a team that the NFL had to see win?  Was it just that Bugsy Malone happened to drop $75M in a bet on Pittsburgh?  Doesn't that happen every year?

Hruby flatly tells us:  The league wanted Holmgren punished.  He'd made thinly-veiled, public, references to crooked referees.


This, I can buy.  The invisible hammer NEVER comes down so hard, as when a member of the community starts threatening to expose the invisible hammer.  By punishing Holmgren during an actual Super Bowl, the league sends a message loud and clear.  If we gotta blacklist you, there's no stage so brightly lit that you're going to hide from us.


There is one other thing that has puzzled me about this whole system:  how about retired, ex-members of the community?  What stops them from blowing the system sky-high?

Two things:  (1) the league can come after you after you're retired.  In lots and lots and lots of ways.  And (2) a lot of times, people do blow the whistle after they're retired.  When they do, our society laughs them off as Conspiracy Theorists.

This is about ten degrees off the post-retirement subject, but who listens to Tim Donaghy now that he's in jail?  Do you even remember what he said?  Or do you just remember that he's in jail?




I remember the '69 Super Bowl quite well. I seem to remember the (years, decades) later buzz about a fix occuring.
Morrall had a crappy game, terrible. Hardly reason to think he had been paid off, though. There were almost no penalties in the game, so it wasn't the refs. Morrall was a career backup, mostly. He may have choked, but throwing some picks is hardly evidence of a fix.
So, then you have to look to Namath's Bachelors III fiasco. Man, he was the hottest commodity in NYC, not to mention the planet. Certainly he had questionable folks backing his bar, but if the fix is in, usually you hide it. No secrecy here. Everybody was hanging onto Namath and wanted a piece of him, goons, too.
The Jets won because they played an incredibly clean game (1 fumble lost), Snell smashed the ball down the Colts throats, and Namath was at his most efficient, Sauer always open.
The Jets were pretty dang good, in a league that was underrated. The Chiefs whacked the Vikings the next year, you will remember. Ran for nearly 150 yards against the feared Purple People Eaters, with three HOF'er up front. The Viks were a huge betting favorite in that game, too.
Fixed games? It has happened, I don't doubt. But there just isn't any evidence, minus the outcome itself, that suggests Super Bowl III was rigged.
I'm betting against it! :)


"Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean someone isn't following you."
It almost stands to reason, when you step back and look at the big picture and the powerful motives at work, that (A) serious attempts have been made, both episodic and systematic, to rig major sports so far as possible for the financial and political benefit of those in a position to do so, and that (B) there are times, just how many we have no way of really knowing, when those attempts succeed.
This is not just in sports, it is in politics, business, and international relations. The differences are only in scale and sophistication.
We know these things happen because of the percentage of times when the attempt or the success is revealed at some point. People go to jail for bribing officials, sports scandals erupt, later history reveals the unspoken codiciles between heads of state that belie or fundamentally alter the public statements made at the time.
Most Seattle sports fans I know are convinced that among cities eligible for the favor or disfavor of the powers that be in pro sports, we are routinely disfavored and at best ignored.
It makes me wonder if we REALLY should seek to get back into the NBA game, because all we're asking for is more resentment and grief. The miracle of Oklahoma City is unlikely to recur with a team that's originating and staying in Seattle, whether we call them the Supersonics or the KickusintheButts.

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