February 5, 2012

Are Super Bowls getting better?

I made sure to come home from school on time on Monday, January 16, 1967 so I could watch the entire first ever Super Bowl on tape delay. Super Bowl I had been played the day before in the L.A. Coliseum, but it hadn't sold out, so it wasn't shown live in L.A., just on tape delay the next afternoon at about 3:30 pm. It turned out to be a pretty lousy viewing experience. 

My recollection is that most of the early Super Bowls were either lopsided or inept. For example, Super Bowl VII Miami 14 - Washington 7 was a real bore, memorable only for Garo Yepremian's pass, which was famous for awhile as the worst play in the history of the NFL. The imported soccer player's attempt at a forward pass only goes about 4 inches forward, so he then bats the football up in the air as if it were a volleyball, allowing the Redskins to intercept it and score their only touchdown of the game. 

After awhile, when I was a teenager, I made a rule not to waste time watching the Super Bowls, a rule frequently broken, but one that seemed to be pretty sensible. Conference championship games were often thrilling, but Super Bowls were typically a waste of time. 

At some point in the 1980s I read a theory for why Super Bowls were so bad: the two week layoff between the conference championship and the Super Bowl and the intervening media hoopla posed unusual challenges for coaches. Some coaches made excellent use of the time, while others, unable to restrain their mania, whipped their teams into a game day frenzy by about Day 10 only to have them come out flat half a week later. 

I don't know if that was true, but my impression is that Super Bowls are seldom the stinkers they used to be so regularly. I wonder why that is? Obviously, the skill level is higher, but why do the games seem more competitive? Back in the 1970s, the Rose Bowl was usually more exciting than the Super Bowl, even though the skill level of college players is lower.


Gilbert Ratchet said...

So the great game is even greater?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

The skill of the game improves every year, and all you have to do is look at old films to see it.

Not that historical players would not have excelled in the current era - some would. Great players find a way. Yet only in baseball can we imagine plunking players down in different eras without a considerable period of adjustment.

Anonymous said...

1) Free agency levels the playing field between teams seems the best teams lose players in FA.

2) The NFL draft is designed exceptionally well to help out the worst teams (especially with the recent changes).

3) There are fewer front office mistakes because they have so many more resources, experience, etc.

4) Players are already playing at the top of their game and are multimillionaire professionals (yes, some are clowns). In 1967 players might literally go drinking the night before or show up late to the game because they were doing their shift at the steel mill before it. The difference in skill and commitment was probably way higher.

5) There aren't as many "revolutionary" coaching systems or techniques that people are coming up with. And when people do come up with them teams are adjusting faster.

Anonymous said...

West Coast offense.

Anonymous said...

For the most part, offenses have become more spectator friendly as the rules penalize aggressive defensive play.

Today's game was a bore the first half; the third quarter was not much better. The drama of the final 7 minutes was the result of a close game, and of course, the drama of the last two minutes was great.

However, wouldn't it have been fun if two teams from the NFC could somehow have put on a show for us--Green Bay/Rodgers and New Orleans/Brees.

Not really complaining. I was pulling for Eli and the old school Coughlin, and pulling against
Brady, even though he's from around my area.

I will never forgive the Pats and the officials for the Ice Bowl tuck rule sham.

Auntie Analogue said...

Decades ago I noticed that Media-Pravda's whipped-up pre-game "interest" manipulated millions of Americans into nigh-breathless anticipation of biggest NFL game, so that I took to calling it Stupor Bowl StunDay.

I mean, think about it, the whole nation volunteers itself for mass-indulgence in Huxleian vicarious entertainment - boosted by the soma & Feelies of innumerable chow-down game parties - featuring armor-clad grown men under arcane rules struggling for possession of a bladder filled with air.


But I suppose football - all sports, really - give some evidence of evolution: after all, weren't the rules in the games of Roman arenas rather less, shall we say, "sensitive"?

Anonymous said...

"Stupor Bowl StunDay"

You're clever and totally not missing out on any fun anyone else is having.

no, please, no one disturb him. He's having way too much fun without us.

Peter A said...

"I will never forgive the Pats and the officials for the Ice Bowl tuck rule sham."

Oh please. That wasn't even close to the worst call in playoff history. The "blown dead" Bradshaw fumble against the 49ers 2 weeks ago was worse, and you can find an equally bad call pretty much every year.

Ed said...

I think Steve is reading too much into this. The bunch of crappy superbowls in the 1970s and 1980s, followed by a bunch of great superbowls recently, can be explained entirely by random variation. Some superbowls will be good games, some will be bad games, but the thing with random variation is that you are not necessarily going to get a ABABABAB pattern, it might well be something like BAAABABB. Then its normal for people to come up with explanations why the last four instances in the pattern are different than the first four, when its really just random variation.

I get the impression from some of his posts that Steve hasn't read Nissam Taleb's "Fooled by Randomness" (which is really just basic statistics, but explained really well), but that if he did he would get alot out of it.

milam command said...

Did you write Yepremian's Wikipedia article? It's really funny.

"Yepremian was born in Larnaca, Cyprus to Armenian parents. On the island of Cyprus, his family did not have indoor plumbing and kept warm in winter by burning olive pits. Yepremian and his brother Krikor emigrated to the U.S. to set a foundation for their parents' arrival. At a loss for a viable life plan, Yepremian happened to watch a few minutes of a football game on television. Yepremian told Krikor he knew the key to success in America: He believed he could kick field goals for a living."

And then it gets better. It's like a Sasha Baron Cohen movie.

Usually Lurking said...

...memorable only for Garo Yepremian's pass...

Funny you should mention him. Yestersay, during the horrible halftime shenanigans, I ended up reading an article about Garo Yepremian in the local magazine. After football he bought a 3 acre farm in Oxford, PA (later to move to nearby Avondale, right near my brother).

His daughter-in-law, when she was quite young) was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. Garo, his wife and his son then spent the next few years driving all over creation trying to find various treatments for her illness. Initially, she was only given 6 months to live, whereas she actually survived for about (if I remember) 4-5 years after the initial diagnosis.

On a separate note, and as a child of an immigrant, I was curious to know if Garo had named his children (2 boys) something Cyrpriotic (or Armenian) or more American. His one son is named Garo, Jr and the other was something also somewhat foreign, though I don't remember

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:29, in Boston we look at the Tuck Call as payback for the TWO crappy calls that allowed the the Raiders to beat a superior Patriots team in 1976.

Most only talk about the phantom roughing the passer call that allowed the Raiders to keep the ball and score the winning TD, but even worse was the non-call when Phil Villipiano got away with mugging Russ Francis on a pass play that would have given the Patriots a first down and the ability to run out the clock.

I can understand people rooting against Brady: he's too rich, too good looking and gets too much high-end tail to have many fans among the mama's-cellar-dwelling Internet commenters!

You're all Chumps said...

Professional Sports are first and foremost profit-driven Entertainment.

While the rules have evolved to make sports more photogenic and teams more evenly stacked with talent, it seems like officials do put their thumbs on the scales at times to make sure the "right" team wins to maximize profit.

For example, to avoid sweeps in planned best of 5/7 series or make sure the bigger market team pulls it out. Or it can be made to make a Hollywood-like tie in to current events or promote certain media-savvy hot properties like Tom Brady.

Certain rules like offensive holding in the NFL and traveling in the NBA allow refs to heavily favor one team without undue attention.

Recent examples are the Pat winning the SuperBowl immediately after 9/11 with the help of the tuck game in the AFC championship game. The Saints winning the SuperBowl a few years after Katrina with not a single hold called on them during the playoffs and many no-call roughing passer against Warner and Favre.

Check out Brian Touhy's book on Amazon or a brief compilation of radio interviews with annoyingly loud music interstitials.

A good point raises is the court case brought by a NYJets fan against the NE Patriots for spying and thus cheating and helping to fix the outcome.

The US Fed Appeals Judge decided that fan and NFL ticket holders do not have a legal right to see a fair and honest game being played by the rulebook since pro sports are primarily entertainment.

That is, according to the Fed Appeals Court, pro sport leagues are entirely within their legal right to fix pro sports games via their employees like refs, athletes, coaches etc since no bribery or other laws are being broken.

691 said...

The games of the last decade have certainly been more interesting than much of the 90s. You have to go back to the Bucs-Raiders in SB 37 to find a blowout. SB 35 between the Ravens and Giants was a blowout too.

The story of the last decade, however, is spectacular finishes. It all starts with SB 34, where Mike Jones tackles Kevin Dyson at the 1-yard line to prevent the winning score as time expires. Then you have TD drives in the final few minutes or FGs as time expires (Vinateri and the Pats). More dramatically, teams scoring touchdowns with a few minutes left (Patriots; Cardinals) and then the other team (Giants; Steelers) driving for their own winning score.

Of course, not all the games went down to the wire; they were interesting games but no significant lead change happened near the end. So I think it's mainly random chance accentuated by a few very dramatic finishes.

DCThrowback said...

I thought someone was going to make the joke that the Super Bowls got much better after my Buffalo Bills stopped making them, but I see no one happened down that dark and dusty road. Phew.

Bill said...

Are NFL coaches getting douchier?

I'm having trouble imagining, say, Chuck Noll, telling his team not to try to stop the Cowboys from scoring. Similarly, I'm having trouble imagining Tom Landry telling his halfback to fall down on the one yard line if those bastard Steelers try to let you score. And, even if they did tell their players such douchy, unsportsmanlike things, I'm having trouble imagining their players not telling them to fuck off.

Not saying coaches didn't do bad things in the past, but I think they were less douchy bad things.

It isn't just Asians who embody this bizarre "the rules don't formally outlaw it, so it must be OK" total lack of sportsmanship or honor. Belichik and Coughlin gots them some round eyes.

Svigor said...

I thought it was common knowledge that the improved Super Bowls were a reflection of the increased parity between conferences, which was a reflection of the salary cap rules that followed in the wake of the bit-too-obvious Cowboys thing?

Am I imagining this?

Svigor said...

And I agree with the other guy, this one was a bit of a snoozer. It was close throughout, but other than that, meh.

DCThrowback said...


Good points all, except the Titans would've only tied the game v. the Rams in 2001 w/ the potential Dyson TD. (The final score was 24-17, right at the oddsmaker's number of Rams -7).

The NFL's dream of parity has come true - and it means better ratings. There's no golden rule that says the NFL has to remain popular (to quote Gregg Easterbrook), but for now, they appear to have found the golden goose and are working hard at keeping it alive for a long time.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Similarly, I'm having trouble imagining Tom Landry telling his halfback to fall down on the one yard line if those bastard Steelers try to let you score. And, even if they did tell their players such douchy, unsportsmanlike things, I'm having trouble imagining their players not telling them to fuck off.

A colleague and I went around on this and concluded there were too many variables associated with "postponing" a sure TD and counting on a field goal in the final second. Go for the go-ahead TD, then tell the defense to win it.

Re: the dullness factor, the offensive plays are designed to exploit split-second openings. There just aren't a lot of opportunities to look spectacular--the play either happens or it doesn't.

The positions have become hyper-specialized and the game favors ridiculously fast-twitch loaded players. I enjoy it less every year.

helene edwards said...

Even if the game as a whole was a yawner, SB I had perhaps the most entertaining play of all time seen in context. On Donny Anderson's first carry from scrimmage, he knocked Fred "The Hammer" Williamson out of the game with a concussion.