February 4, 2013
I was not excited about Super XLVII. The Baltimore Ravens have long symbolized to me the exemplar of having crossed the line that divides reasonable aggression and belligerence. This is a blurred line, indeed, and I don’t suspect many football fans can easily parse the differences. My Chicago Bears, after all, are defined by their history of tough (nasty?) play on the defensive side of the ball; it’s just that I’ve grown up rooting for them. Of course, it helps my cause that Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary, and Brian Urlacher have all managed to avoid implication in a Super Bowl murder mystery that hangs over the now-sanctified head of Ray Lewis, even 13 years after it happened. Suffice it to say, I didn’t find the “Saint Lewis” storyline to be a compelling reason to root for the Ravens.
Meanwhile, despite spending a good part of my youth in northern California while the San Francisco 49ers became a 1980s dynasty, I have never cared for them. This is a bit harder to explain, as I can’t recall any specific reason that turned me against the 49ers (though that beatdown they gave the Bears en route to Super Bowl XIX may have contributed). In any case, my dislike of the 49ers continues to this day. And, while so many in the sports media appear infatuated by their head coach, I find Jim Harbaugh to be an appropriate representation of my increasing discomfort with football. I assure you this is not another Chicago thing, as Harbaugh’s stint as the their starting quarterback simply blends into the mix of endless mediocrity that Chicago has endured at that position.
Perhaps this simple image will do.
Other photos from yesterday’s Super Bowl may prove more memorable, especially those that celebrate Lewis’ triumph in his final game or, more compellingly, the partial blackout in the Superdome that suspended play for 34 minutes (it’s worth reading Dave Zirin’s take in The Nation). So why, then, this image of a furious coach pleading with the referees to throw a penalty flag?
For some, the championship was decided by the final offensive play run by the 49ers, a fourth-down attempt to score a touchdown, just five yards from the endzone. Never mind the questionable play-calling or execution on downs one through three (It was first-and-goal for San Francisco from the Ravens’ 8-yard line); rather, attention is now on the final pass attempt, during which it appeared wide receiver Michael Crabtree was held. He probably was, but that is hardly of interest to me here. Instead, I am struck by the histrionics of Harbaugh, who barked and bawled and blustered at any official he could find, pleading relentlessly for a holding call. It was not to be, but his tantrum provided a series of images that have been nicely cataloged by Yahoo! (the photo above appears in this article, courtesy AP).
Harbaugh has long been described as extremely competitive and intense. The “Wow, the Harbaugh brothers are coaching against each other in the Super Bowl!” storyline that found heavy circulation in recent weeks revealed that younger brother Jim’s obsession with winning isn’t at all new. The example of older brother, John, reminds us, of course, that one needn’t be a confrontational bully to achieve success in football, much less any other walk of life. Too often, however, American culture upholds this kind of hypermasculine intensity as a virtue, a sign of commitment and determination. I would submit that it’s unhealthy, a disproportionate response in both degree and kind.
Jim Harbaugh’s tirade only cements his image as defiant and immature. The gang over at Bad Lip Reading, for example, recently lampooned the 49ers coach by dubbing, “I want it now! I want cake now!” over footage of (once again) raging Harbaugh:
I don’t mean to make too much of the antics of an enraged coach. Yet, in the context of a Super Bowl that, for me, was already loaded with symbolism about violence and aggression, Harbaugh’s screaming plea will be the enduring image of this game.
– Michael Butterworth
(crossposted from The Agon)