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A victorious Tom Brady waves to the world…

The Super Bowl is over. Whether you got the outcome you wanted you have to admit it was a thrilling contest, about all one could ask for in a football game. So good, in fact, that in my opinion the game not only lived up to its ridiculous expectations but eclipsed the famous (and infamous) TV commercials, which have become a significant part of Super Bowl lore and, in many people’s minds, just as important.

I use the word “important” but, really, there is typically nothing important about a football game. Or a slew of advertising for that matter. If anything they are the antithesis of important. Like the half time extravaganza, they are but entertainment, albeit on a grand scale.

I use the word “typically” because every so often such entertainment is actually important. Such was Super Bowl XXXVI, which took place months after the terrible events of 9-11. There the New England Patriots (helmed by the newly anointed Tom Brady) beat the St. Louis Rams by a field goal. Like this year’s model, it was an exciting game going down to the wire. Brady would win his first MVP. Deeper down, however, it was cathartic to have a red, white and blue team victorious. America needed that.

The halftime show was also special, featuring U2, who gave what is widely regarded as the finest halftime show in Super Bowl history. In it, Bono and his mates, paid homage to all those who died in 9-11 depicting each and every one of their names on a massive screen as the band played a soulful version of one of their more spiritual ballads, MLK. They then closed with a rousing rendition of one of their biggest hits, Where The Streets Have No Name. The song is about Heaven. Often accused (sometimes rightfully) of wearing their hearts on their sleeves, never before was such a tone more appropriate.

No dancing sharks. No choreographed dancing. No wardrobe malfunction. Just music. Vulnerable yet confident, like our country.

That game and that show were important. Worth noting, however, was that none of the commercials were. I’m sure there were some good ones. We could look them up. But why? Who cares? With precious few exceptions, advertising is ephemeral. Redemption and beauty are not. Which is as it should be.

Like so many millions of us I enjoyed this Super Bowl. A lot. I smiled at Katy Perry and her confections. And yes, of course, I watched the TV commercials. Two days later I don’t care about any of it. Which, though advertisers wish it weren’t so, is also how it should be.

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Pete “The Cheat” Carroll

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Bill “The Hoodie” Belichick

One could make a case that outside of the Pacific Northwest and New England, the Super Bowl hasn’t a team for the rest of us to cheer for. Just two very successful and unlikable villains. And the winner of the game will likely become even more so. It’s an awesome match-up on paper: the best offense in the league (Patriots) against the league’s best defense (Sea Hawks). Not only that, but the Sea Hawks are defending champions and New England is always in serious contention for the title, having already played in six Super Bowls in this young century.

Like I said, the missive about neither team being particularly “likable” outside of their respective markets has nothing to do with their credentials. With the possible exception of Green Bay, no team deserves to be in the big game more than these two.

Yet, both teams have reputations (much of it self-made) for being arrogant, evasive and just plain douchey. Couple that with a profound propensity for winning and you’ve got a formula for mass hatred. (The New York Yankees are culpable in much the same way.) I don’t even need to explain my position. The team’s marquee players speak for themselves. Their names alone: Bill Belichik. Pete Carroll. Marshawn Lynch. Richard Sherman. Aaron Hernandez.

Not many teams in professional sports elicit such negative opinions from fandom as these two. Ironic that they are both playing each other in the Super Bowl. Ideally, the heel requires a hero for a rival. A Joker for the Batman. Professional wrestling and to a large degree boxing basically exist because of such rivalries. But these two brands are more like super-villains. Two bad guys.

Given the attention paid to advertising during the Super Bowl talking about team “branding” seems especially relevant. I was trying to think of other pro teams (in any league) with similar reputations and could only come up with a few. The first and most obvious would be the Oakland Raiders. From their outlandish former owner (Al Davis) to their gang-banger silver and black threads, no other team embraced their villainy quite like the Raiders.

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Evil by design

With the possible exception of the “Detroit Bad Boys” aka the Detroit Pistons. Dennis Rodman. Bill Laimbeer. John Salley. Isiah Thomas. Good players with bad-ass reputations. The Detroit Bad Boys were legendary.

Rounding out the big three sports, The New York Yankees easily hold the title of the most-reviled franchise in baseball. Players like Alex Rodriguez are about as slimy as they come, and Steinbrenner is infamous. But it is primarily because of their mega-deep pockets and Big Apple cockiness that make the Yankees so fun to hate.

One thing all these teams have in common is winning. It is much harder for outsiders to hate a loser. (Just look at the Chicago Cubs, called “lovable losers”) Indeed, once the Raiders and Pistons stopped winning games their bad boy reputations faded like an old tattoo.

Runners-up for reviled franchise: “America’s Team,” The Dallas Cowboys. Across the pond, we have Manchester United. Loved by its fans. Hated by everyone else. Surely there are others?

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Ernest “Ernie” Banks (January 31, 1931 – January 23, 2015)

Below are two posts I wrote on Facebook, a day apart:

I grew up in the shadow of Wrigley Field in Chicago, which at the time was a very sketchy neighborhood. It was really only safe during Cub’s games. But on those days it seemed the sun was always shining. If you weren’t at the game you could hear it blaring on “Chicago’s own” WGN, from literally every open window and door. Back then kids like us would catch the players after a game walking to their cars. Ron Santo. Don Kessinger. And of course, Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks. Even after losing, which was often, he’d smile and sign an autograph. Wish I still had mine. Good-bye, Ernie. There’s a bench for you in Heaven.

Been thinking about the ‪#‎NFL and all the broken rules, lack of integrity, addictions, concussions and abuses. What do we expect? It is a hyper violent sport played by men trained to use force in order to prevail. That’s what makes it awesome and terrible. Imposing and expecting reasonable behavior is an oxymoron, like telling the bull in the china shop to be careful.

During his Hall-Of-Fame career in baseball (if not his lifetime) one likes to think Ernie Banks was without sin. He was not only a superior ball player but by all accounts was a superior man as well. Always happy. Always grateful. Always willing to sign an autograph, even after losing, which the Chicago Cubs did often. Granted he played before the prying eyes of social media but Chicago’s sportswriters were not known for their subtlety. If he’d been a cheater or a bad dude in any way chances are we would have heard about it.

Contrast him with what we now have going on in the NFL and professional sports in general. Like night and day, right? In my Facebook post I give the NFL a bit of a pass. The bad behavior is because it’s a violent sport. But still…

We’d like to think Ernie Banks was not capable or willing to cork his bat like Sammy Sosa, let alone knock his wife out in an elevator. Lord knows the man had to have his weak moments, but we never heard about them. Unlike Ray Rice, Barry Bonds or Tom Brady, Ernie Banks played for a perennially losing team. Yet, it seemed, he was always smiling. “Mr. Cub” also was a black man playing in a sport that, when he started, still had a “Negro League.” That could not have been easy. Yet, where was the defiance and even the attitude? Can you imagine Ernie Banks yelling into the cameras like Richard Sherman –a multi-millionaire who had just won the biggest game in sports? No, we cannot.

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The “best corner in the league” Richard Sherman, being a clown.

Before one states that Ernie Banks played in an era when things were proper and pleasant think again. His peak years were during the 60’s. The Viet Nam War could not be more damning and contentious, rivaling and surpassing much of what we’re now experiencing in the Middle East. At home, Civil Rights were being fought over in cruel and bloody fashion. Stuff like Fergeson, Missouri was happening on a daily basis. No, Ernie played during an equally tumultuous time. Yet, as far as we know, he was a peaceful man who kept his dignity.

While it is possible Ernie Banks had dark secrets it is improbable. After all, Pete Rose played during the same era and we certainly know about him.

So, how is it that a black man playing for a losing team in the chaotic Sixties could keep his cool, play super-well, and be so beloved by everyone? Good question. (Had it been me I would have totally failed.) Yet, a better question is whether it is even possible for role models like him to exist in modern professional sports. I doubt it. And that’s a shame.

What do you think of the NFL’s “No More” campaign against domestic violence? If you watch football on TV, the commercials are ubiquitous. NFL players look directly into camera and tell us, in so many different ways, “no more making excuses” when it comes to ignoring domestic violence. In other commercials non-players struggle to “start a conversation.” Men get choked up. Women cry. This stuff is sooooo hard to talk about.

The NFL created the “No More” campaign in response to the withering criticism it experienced for insufficiently penalizing star player, Ray Rice (two games) after a tape came out depicting him knocking out his fiancé in an elevator and then callously dragging her away. The NFL claimed it had never seen the tape, almost certainly a lie. The story blew up all over the world. If that wasn’t bad enough, another star player, Adrian Peterson, was busted for beating the crap out of his very young son with a stick. Peterson, in a pathetic story, claimed it was not abuse because ‘getting beat’ was how he was brought up. The NFL brand and its chief steward, Roger Goodell, took a well-deserved pounding for their indecisive and late reaction, which continues to this day.

Well, I’m also calling bullshit on their campaign. I say “no more” to these annoying and forced commercials. And so are a number of my friends on facebook, many well-known advertising professionals. I’ll let their comments speak for themselves.

These (commercials) are going to do absolutely nothing to help the issue. First of all they’re a complete lie and second they don’t confront, raise awareness, make a point…etc. Nothing. They’re an NFL whitewash…The NFL stonewalled the conversation and now they have the balls to say, “let’s start a conversation.” Unbelievably bad form. -David Baldwin

DO something authentically remarkable and different, and you won’t have to make shitty ads about a significant issue. -Jonathan Hoffman

I HATE them. Why? It’s built on the idea that this really happened behind the scenes. Contrived BS. It’s a lie. -Brian Brooker

Drama soufflé with drama sprinkles. -Katherine Green

Another friend commented the commercials were better than doing nothing. Barely. In my opinion, the NFL is mostly advertising its profound tone-deafness. The ‘crying women’ commercials are painful to watch NOT for the intended reason (the difficult subject matter) but on account of how cloying they are.

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We all know these ‘characters’ are not spontaneously crying. To portray them as behind the scenes and breaking down is clumsy at best, at worst callous and insincere. In the spots featuring real athletes, the men look like meatheads reading cue cards. I don’t believe a word. With the “No More” campaign, the NFL players and the brand come off as bulls in a china shop.

Like a lot of people in this country I love watching pro football. I grew up with the NFL. I also create advertising for a living and have done so for a very long time. Finally, and most importantly, I have a wife and three daughters. Save for the abused themselves, I don’t think there can be a more qualified person than me when it comes to calling bullshit on this campaign.

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And the men who hold high places…

A classmate from Lane Technical High School in Chicago posted this charming group photograph (circa 1979) in honor of Throwback Thursday on Facebook. It is a photo of the school’s newspaper staff, of which I was the arts and entertainment columnist. That’s me far right, in the second row, donning a full head of hair and a Rush tee shirt (both long gone). Right next to me is the cutest girl in this photo, Suzanne. Alas, I can only assume she was told to sit there. Recall I am wearing a Rush tee shirt, which to this day repels women like few things can.

Of course, I do not recall taking this photo, nor most everyone in it. My long term memory is shot from the rigorous “research” I did whilst attending the numerous rock concerts I weekly reviewed. Cannabis Sativa no doubt added positivity to all my band reviews but deducted brain cells as well.

I do remember how proud I was getting this gig, and especially seeing my byline in the Warrior every Friday. (Or was it Monday?) Regardless, I still have all my clippings in deep storage. Very deep storage. The Internet for all intents and purposes was 10+ years away. Getting one’s name in print was for me a truly awesome experience, or, as we used to say back in the day, e-excellent.

During my two-year tenure as feature columnist I reviewed such bands as Rush, Aerosmith, Golden Earring, AC/DC and Judas Priest pretty much alienating me from 98% of the school’s massive population (6200 students!) and most certainly all of its women. Ah, well. The things we do for our careers. I also reviewed new album releases (from my growing collection) as well as the occasional movie. I reviewed Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, which I’m proud to say I adored, even at the fresh young age of 15.

Writing for my school’s paper and subsequently three different college papers remains one of the most satisfying and beneficial things I ever did during scholarship. Now I’ve got this blog, which if my wife and three daughters are any indication continues to repel women.

Author’s note: In the pic’s caption my name is spelled “Steffon,” which is e-excellent!

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