Remember the old Mike Myers "Coffee Talk" sketches on Saturday Night Live?
When Myers' character, Linda Richman, would get a little verklempt, she'd throw out a topic for the viewers to discuss amongst themselves. She'd give them a topic, such as Transitional Romanesque architecture was neither transitional nor Romanesque, and let them discuss it. While we're not particuatly verklempt about anything at the moment, let's steal that idea and throw this one out there for discussion:
The advent of the idea that the Super Bowl was all about the commercials had nothing to do with the quality of the commercials or the amount of casual viewers stuck at Super Bowl parties and everything to do with the rancid quality of Super Bowl games.
In the 20 years between 1980 and 1999, when the commercials and alternative halftime shows became nearly as big a part of the game as the game itself, there were only five games decided by less than double digits. There were two other games decided by 10 points, but one of them was Neil O'Donnell's interception fest against the Steelers and that hardly qualifies as a good football game to watch.
When you're stuck in a room with a bunch of other people after a few beers, you want to talk about something. A discussion about whether or not the winning team will crack 50 points just isn't going to get it done. That leads to people caring about Bud Bowls and talking about advertisements for Diet Pepsi as if they were works of art.
Something changed in 1999, though. That was the year when the Titans came up a yard short of tying the Rams on the final play of the game and touched off a run of great games that made other activities on Super Bowl Sunday largely irrelevant. There was a slow start, with two blowouts in the next three years, but since then we haven't had one truly terrible game.
Some have been a bit boring -- no one's clamoring to watch a tape of the Colts' victory over the Bears -- but all of them have seen the outcome in doubt into the fourth quarter. Some of that has to do with the painstaking attempts to create parity around the league, some has to do with the leveling effect of making two weeks off before the game an annual happening and some is just dumb luck, but the combination has been a boon to football fans.
There's good reason to hope that this year's game will continue the trend. The teams match up fairly well and two potent passing offenses means that there's always going to be a chance for a team to strike quickly to get back into the game. The Giants' pass rush is strong, but we're not quite ready to write off Tom Brady before the game even gets underway. On top of all that, the lack of a strong rushing attack on either side makes it unlikely either team can get out to a lead early and then just sit on it by running out the clock.
Beyond all that, the Patriots have been the biggest benefactors of this golden age. All four of their Super Bowls have come down to the final drive of the game and they have played in the best Super Bowl ever (XLVII against these same Giants), the best fourth quarter ever (XXXVIII against the Panthers) and defended against the funniest two-minute drill of all time (XXXIX against the slow-moving Eagles of Donovan McNabb).
None of that guarantees us a thriller in Indianapolis, but recent history and the two teams make us like our chances. Give a little thanks for this, unless you're an ad exec who though that the game was about you and not the football.