The Power of the Super Bowl
By BJ Bennett
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Men will soon play for a worldwide distinction, to have an asterisk officially etched alongside their names.
For even the greatest of athletes, a Super Bowl championship completely rewrites a legacy. A win in the single biggest game in all of sports doesn't just go on your resume, it goes on a shiny, new identification card: 6'3'', 225, brown eyes, brown hair, organ donor, then "Super Bowl winner" in italics and bold. Like the other band adorning the fingers of many grown men, a Super Bowl ring merges two into one: here, it's man and myth.
When the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers meet for Super Bowl XLVII, dozens of players, many with already-storied careers, will lay it on the line for a chance to play on forever through film, story and song.
"You have no idea. It's like, as a kid growing up and you wanting that one particular toy that you knew you probably weren't going to get for Christmas, but you kind of kept your faith in your parents to get that toy. Then when you did open that gift and see it, you are just the happiest kid in the universe. That is exactly what it felt like when we won that first Lombardi Trophy. It was an unbelievable feeling," acknowledged former Georgia and three-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots running back Patrick Pass on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network.
From grade-schoolers playing football in the backyard to old men sharing gridiron epics of the past, the Super Bowl is always the stage on which points are scored and tales are told. For those competing, victory gains them entry into the game's most hallowed fraternity. It's a club universally recognized as the best of the best. Some wait years for access. Others, despite Hall of Fame numbers, never can get in.
Though there is no actual location for football's forever home, the fellowship does have a modern day map.
"I remember in 1987, I was able to watch Phil Simms. After they won the Super Bowl he was the first one that got to do the 'I'm going to Disneyland' commercial. As an 18 year old kid we all said that was a neat deal," remembered former Florida State and Super Bowl winning NFL quarterback Brad Johnson on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. "Then close to 20 years later I was holding my son, the confetti was falling and I'm saying 'I'm going to Disneyland'."
The days leading up to the Super Bowl have become the busiest time of the year for the sports media. Reporters flock to locations like Atlanta, Miami and New Orleans to mingle with the celebrities and pose any and every question to any and all they see. The pre-game scene is one unlike anything else. Amidst parties and pomp, what-if's and women, those involved must find a way to insulate themselves from the many distractions as they try to maintain focus for the most important day of their career.
"Once the ball is snapped, it's football. Everything else outside of that doesn't really matter at the time. You are out there playing, you are doing your job and that is all that matters. Everything else will be there after the game is over," stated former South Carolina and NFL quarterback Anthony Wright, who won a Super Bowl with the New York Giants, on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network.
The power and pull of the Super Bowl is unrelenting. Even time can't slow the emotions. Years, decades, after a win, players maintain memories of and relationships with the people and the places that bring them back. Wherever life takes a champion, a small part of them will continually be where that title was won.
"It's been, probably, 18 years since we won the last one and I was a part it. The 49ers will always be a part of my life, my legacy. So I'm very excited that we are back in the Super Bowl," admitted former Florida State and San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl champion running back Dexter Carter. "I went to four NFC Championship games out of my seven years. I've been very, very close and didn't get it, so the one that I do have means the world to me because that's what we all play for. Without a doubt, it's truly the biggest game of these guys' careers. It's huge."
Even when teams change, the bond becomes the tie that binds.
"I think Ray Lewis is the only guy on that team that was on the Super Bowl XXXV team, besides O.J. Brigance holding it down. It's a greet feeling to know the work that they are putting in and the type of organization that is and how they care about the team and the players," explained former Tennessee national champion and Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl winning running back Jamal Lewis on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. "It's going to be pretty much a dog fight, a very physical game. I think it's going to be close, one of those grind it out slugfests and I think we will probably win it by three."
For players with college championship rings, feats which oftentimes come with national super-stardom, the Super Bowl is still an entity all its own. Well over 100 million fans from across the globe will watch, media from all walks of life are in attendance and the aforementioned wave of high society gives the game a very real red carpet feel. To date, many are lobbying to make the day after the game a national holiday.
The Super Bowl simply transcends demographic classifications and blends sports and pop culture. Grammy-winning singer Alicia Keys will sing the national anthem this Sunday and Beyonce, named People Magazine's Most Beautiful Woman in the World, will perform at halftime. In the last few years alone, Madonna, the Black Eyed Peas, The Who, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Prince and the Rolling Stones have provided entertainment at the break.
The Sandy Hook Elementary School chorus will sing "America the Beautiful" pre-game, a fitting reminder of life's fragility and where football should and shouldn't fit in. Super Bowls of the past, during Desert Storm and after September 11th, 2001, played poignant roles and maybe even helped congeal the fragile feelings of a nation.
"Those people who were in the World Trade Center, I'm sure a lot of them were avid football fans. Just to know that they wouldn't be able to watch the game on that big day was emotional. We all felt the pain of the families of the people who passed on 9/11," Pass added.
The encompassing nature of not only the game, but the entire event, is what sets the Super Bowl apart.
"The biggest difference is the Super Bowl is the biggest event on the planet. When I say everybody is there, everybody is there. It was amazing to me to see reporters from all over the world. I would have to give the edge to the Super Bowl just because of the nature and magnitude of it," former two-Miami national champion and two-time NFL champion linebacker Darrin Smith added on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network.
Sunday's Super Bowl storylines are remarkable even for a game like this. Brothers John and Jim Harbaugh will lead the Ravens and 49ers, respectively, Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis will play his final game and second-year San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick is looking to continue his surprising run of dominance. In the end, one collection of coaches and players will stand ever-changed.
"It's something that you live with," Johnson concluded. "I asked a lot of people before we actually played and a lot of the guys that lost said it was overrated, all an event, really just a big party. The guys that won it will tell you it's one of the greatest days of their lives. I'm on the latter. All of the hard work you put into it, the dreams you have. To come through, it just doesn't fall in your lap. That was a special moment and I'm proud to say I'm a Super Bowl champion."
Men will soon play for a worldwide distinction, to have an asterisk officially etched alongside their names. Even if memories may fade years down the line, these are efforts that come already bookmarked with a place in history.