MIAMI—As the Super Bowl captures the country's attention, excitement over the NFL's championship game is muted somewhat by the persistent question of whether winning, or losing for that matter, holds any absolute value—a question that has many football fans pondering the meaning of the game itself.
"We always say that one football team 'wins' the Super Bowl and one football team 'loses' it, but when you think about it—really think about it outside the narrow framework of scoring points—is that an accurate assessment of what happens?" Wheeling, WV resident Matthew Holland said. "One team celebrates while another walks solemnly back into the tunnel, but why? Another football season will begin again soon, and in the fullness of time, another Super Bowl will be played as if nothing had happened. And in a way, nothing has."
Holland's ambivalence toward what he calls "the tenuous and ephemeral concept of victory" is representative of a large and growing movement in football fandom. Although Super Bowl parties are going ahead as scheduled, many are puzzled, and even resentful, saying that in the span of a lifetime nobody ever really wins or loses, a fact that, by natural deduction, would also include Super Bowl participants.
"Name one absolute thing that makes one team a Super Bowl winner and the other a loser besides the score," Colts fan Gary Lam said. "You can't. It's all relative. They both play in the same game for the same amount of time in the same sport after playing the same number of games. Any differences, such as how many times one team gets the ball to a certain area or propels it through the uprights, are relatively minor. Saying that scoring fewer points is what makes a loser is disingenuous."
"The Cowboys scored more points than the other team in quite a few Super Bowls, but they were huge losers," Lam added. "And still are."
The question of whether a Super Bowl could actually be won took root in the popular consciousness when ESPN analyst Chris Berman posited the idea while reviewing 2009 highlights during a regular-season broadcast of Sunday NFL Countdown. Berman, dictionary in hand, said that winning was defined not only as finishing first, as in a race, but as succeeding by striving or effort, or by overcoming an adversary.
Berman further theorized that these conflicting definitions muddy the idea that there can be a clear-cut Super Bowl winner, stating, "After much thought, I am left with the question: What if both teams are succeeding by striving? And what if both teams actually have conflicting concepts of what constitutes their opposition—not a mere football team, but an adversary physical, metaphysical, or perhaps even emotional? If we agree that this is the case, then each team may have its own unique definition of success independent of the other, a definition rendering any so-called 'final' score moot."
Berman's ideas grew in popularity as the segment spread through YouTube, gained momentum on various football message boards, and inspired long late-night conversations among millions of ardent football fans. Soon the nation began to consider the idea that the Super Bowl may not be the final, ultimate expression of football.
"All our lives, or at least from the time it was first played in 1967, we believed the Super Bowl was something to be won, but we never bothered to question, What if that's all wrong? What if that's all just hubristic bullshit?" said Robert Holcomb, owner and head bartender of Rob's Sports Dugout in Wantagh, NY. "So yeah, I'll open my bar and watch these people cheer for their team, but maybe for the first time, I won't know what they're really cheering for. In the end, aren't we all just a barely self-aware collection of atoms? Couldn't we all return to dust at any moment?"
Although many fans share Holcomb's misgivings, most say they will still watch the game this Sunday and will do their best not to let existential questions affect their enjoyment.
"I am going to watch the game for the tackling, running, and throwing, not because they are a means to an end, but simply because each action should be celebrated in and of itself," New Orleans resident David Menninger said. "After all, whether or not a Super Bowl can actually be won is a question that will never be answered to the satisfaction of all football fans."
"Except in the case of the Vikings," Menninger added. "If there's one thing we all know for sure, it's that those schmucks are never going to win the Super Bowl."