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January 23, 2005

The Greatest Day of the Year

It is of course conference Championship day. The best day for football of the year. It is almost a cliche that some games played on this day will be described as "the real Superbowl."

Because the actual Superbowl is usually an enormous let-down. A few steps above the Pro Bowl, actually.

True, there have been some unexpectedly competitive Superbowls, especially in recent years. But, as any football fan knows, the Superbowl is usually won and lost in the first quarter. It becomes quickly apparent which team will win; and the game usually degenerates into a rollover blowout.

Why? Why do playoff games -- single elimination as well, with lots riding on the line -- usually remain competitive and interesting and hard-fought whereas the Superbowl turns quickly into a laugher?

The only explanation is that, whatever emotion playoff games engender, the Superbowl is ultra-emotional; it is the dream of every kid who ever touched a football to play in the Superbowl. And that remains the dream of even hardened veterans of the sport.

It's all about confidence and emotion, I guess. When one has confidence, when one believes in oneself, in one's plan, in victory, in a hopeful future, all things become possible. Confidence feeds on itself, and the team that gets ahead early becomes better and better.

And the team that falls behind, or suffers one three-and-out frustration after another, loses confidence, and that insecurity too feeds on itself. What might be easily done when filled with confidence and hope becomes difficult when the dream seems to begin to shatter. Play becomes half-hearted, uninspired, dispirited, going through the motions.

Playing out the clock. Putting in an appearance for appearance's sake.

And I suppose that's true in most aspects of life, from work to writing to war-fighting to relationships. Feedback cycles are either virtuous or vicious; confidence begets enthusiasm and lust for life, insecurity begets hopelessness and a feeling of futility.

And the Superbowl is one of the hottest crucibles out there; it's a perfect paradigm of the power of hope and confidence, and the burden of hopelessness and futility.

But that likely-disappointing game won't be played for another two weeks.

Today is for real football, not for examining the good and ill effects of human psychology under stress. There may be blowouts today, but most likely we'll have two hard-fought games in which neither team becomes so dispirited as to just give up and head to the lockers by the second-quarter in every way except the physical.

Let's have some fun.

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posted by Ace at 03:39 PM

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