#KeepPounding into Super Bowl 50

I’m very much looking forward to Super Bowl 50 in almost two weeks, for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, my favourite team, the Carolina Panthers, are playing in it. So I’ll be rooting for them the whole way! Second, a good friend’s favourite team, the Denver Broncos, are playing. So my friend and I can talk smack at each other for a little bit and then taunt the other person for a year should their team win. Third, I’ve never missed watching a Super Bowl, for as long as I can remember. Growing up in the US with a football-loving family, we would make snacks and have friends over for my family’s version of a party. Living abroad later, I would go to pubs or friend’s houses or stream the game. Seeing as how the game starts very, very late for my local time, this means my sleep schedule is messed up for a bit, but that’s okay. Currently, I don’t have plans on 8 February anyway, so I can have a bit of a lie in that day. Fourth, I love football. Specifically, NFL football, despite the hypocrisy of the organisation (more on that later).

This is only the second Super Bowl appearance for the Carolina Panthers. Which is actually pretty impressive, seeing as how they’ve only been in existence for 20 years. Indeed, it seems somehow appropriate that they are in the Super Bowl during their 20th anniversary in the league. It would have been a fun storyline if the other team that came into existence in 1995, the Jacksonville Jaguars, also made the Super Bowl, but obviously they didn’t.

Panthers SB

Anyway, I have a lot of hope for the Panthers this year. They’re the NFL’s top scoring team, they’ve got a dominant defence (defense, for the Americans), a good mix of rushing and passing, and, perhaps most importantly, have quarterback Cam Newton playing at a high level. He’s really blossomed this year into not only a great leader for the team, but a great quarterback in general. The knock on him in his previous seasons was that he was a rusher who could throw and he would often make mistakes at critical times (like throwing an interception in last year’s playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks that was returned for a touchdown). This year, though, he’s not only a great rusher, but really blossomed into a great ‘traditional’ QB playing out of the pocket. This year he’s shown he can beat a team in multiple ways — throwing, rushing or not doing much and relying on a great defence. He should win the league Most Valuable Player award this year, and deservedly so. I have to admit, when the Panthers selected him in the draft a few years ago I thought they made a mistake, but I’m glad I was proven wrong. He should be a great player for years to come and, hopefully, this will be just the first of many Super Bowl appearances (and wins).

On the other side of the field will be Denver Broncos QB Petyton Manning. This is probably his last chance to win a Super Bowl. He’s 39, didn’t play particularly well this year, is owed a lot of money next year and has been dealing with some pretty serious injuries during the regular season. It would be surprising if he didn’t retire during the off-season. It would be fitting if he could go out a Super Bowl winner, leaving on a high note like a few others have done, notably former Broncos QB and current Broncos executive John Elway, who retired after winning his second Super Bowl back in the late 90s. Manning has been a great player for years, holding almost every NFL record available to quarterbacks. He has such great knowledge and love for the game that it’s hard not to respect him as a player, even if you don’t support his team. Whilst I do respect Manning, I’ve never particularly liked him and definitely don’t want him to win the Super Bowl this year. He could win, but I don’t want him to. Though he hasn’t had a good year (by his standards), obviously the rest of the team has played well enough to be one of the last two teams standing. There are some great receivers on the team, and the defence is the top-ranked in the league. So the Broncos will have a shot to win. But my money and heart are with the Panthers.

That being said, the NFL is a horrible organisation. Commissioner Roger Goodell, in particular, seems to be a megalomaniac and hypocrite; in my opinion he’s just a thug in a tailored suit. His style of authoritarian rule and mishandling of several issues has really put me off him. When he was first appointed Commissioner and wanted to ‘clean up the game’ by eliminating certain hits and focus on player safety, I was all for it. Football is a violent sport, for sure, but there are definitely some things that shouldn’t be allowed, and he tried to fix those broken things. But in the last few years he’s shown just how out-of-touch with reality he is. Beginning with Ray Rice’s 2-game suspension for domestic abuse through to the ‘Deflategate’ debacle, he’s a reactionary person with no real plan. The NFL is a sad place when a man can beat a woman and receive a shorter suspension than someone who smokes marijuana or uses some dietary supplement that happens to have a banned ingredient. Granted, that policy of domestic abuse suspension did get changed, but only after a very loud, very public outcry. Even the marijuana rules got changed recently to allow for a higher threshold, but with it being legal for medicinal or recreational use in about half of the states in the US now, the whole policy outlawing its ban needs abolishing.  As for ‘Deflategate’, I think Tom Brady did probably know about deflated footballs, but the initial penalty outweighed the crime, and there was no actual ‘proof’ so far as I could see. It also seemed to be a fairly common practice around the league.  Goodell went way above and beyond any theoretical authority he had in issuing a Brady suspension. The fact that it has gone to a federal court and is now still pending over a year after the initial incident has done more to harm the ‘image’ of the game than any potential effects of an under-inflated football (just look at the results of the Colts-Patriots game last year where the Patriots dominated in the second half after ‘properly’ inflated footballs). But Goodell’s ego won’t let him back down with any sort of grace or apology.

Furthermore, the talk of making the NFL safer for players seems to be just that, talk. Some recent changes involving concussions are a great first step, but that pales in comparison to things that haven’t been done. If the NFL really wanted to make it safer, it would require mouth guards to be worn, which has been theorised, and possibly proven, to reduce concussions and brain injuries. Even if they don’t, it’s possible they do, and so should be required equipment if there really was a desire to improve player safety. Furthermore, the NFL plays games on Thursdays (and Saturdays in late December and January), making for short recovery times during those weeks. Again, football is a violent sport, but having games so close together definitely increases potential damage to players and adversely affects their health. The same goes for a proposed 18-game regular season. Those two issues are more about making money than player safety. It’s also ridiculous that most NFL stadiums receive some sort of local subsidies and tax breaks, meaning normal taxpayers have to support a multi-billion dollar industry to make already-rich owners even richer. Until recently the NFL was a ‘not-for-profit’ entity, meaning it received federal tax breaks as well. How it could have ever qualified for such a status in the first place is unbelievable. In short, the NFL, and most sport leagues in general, is a horrible organisation bent only on increasing profits for its billionaire owners that pays lip service to player safety but isn’t actually concerned with it.

None of which will stop me from watching Super Bowl 50. Maybe it says something about me as a person. But the Super Bowl is also the highest-rated television event in the US — and therefore one of the highest around the world — making me just one small part of the issue. I’ll be cheering on my Panthers, encouraging them to #keeppounding (a mantra the team uses inspired by former player and coach Sam Mills, who died of cancer a few years ago). Even if they don’t win, I want them to play a good game. But I’d prefer for them to win.

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