Superbowl XXXVI, proclaimed by the National Football League to be a tribute to September 11 (themed “Heroes, Hope, and Homeland”) underscored the fact that there is something inauthentic about a spectacle that allows sports-bar patrons to experience masculinity vicariously by watching well-padded millionaires smash into one another for control of a leather ball.
The Fox Television Network, which had exclusive rights to broadcast the game, had promised “the most stirring, patriotic and emotionally charged Super Bowl ever.” Indeed, it proved to be a wartime pep rally, with spots made by players saluting the troops, satellite images from Afghanistan, and delegations representing police and fire departments as well as the Armed Forces. And while Irish rock band U2 won the prize for most testosterone-filled act—notwithstanding the irreverent spectacle of fans wildly cheering lead singer Bono, leather jacket lined with Old Glory, preening beneath the names of those killed by the terrorist attacks projected onto a giant bed sheet—the pregame show won the prize for most patriotic.
The pregame show was a film in two parts, with ex-NFL stars reciting excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, and the former living presidents (Nancy Reagan filled in for her ailing husband) celebrating Abraham Lincoln in his own words.
The announcer began the show with the question, “Just...