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And just like that, football season is over.
Of course, there is no “just like that” like the Super Bowl, that truly American spectacle of excess, from the day-long pregame show filled with commercials that have become almost as important to watch as the game itself, to the halftime show extravaganza, to a Super Bowl-worthy finish, highlighting three of the best players on the field: Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, and Aaron Donald.
For the record, the Los Angeles Rams won Super Bowl LVI (56 for you non-Roman numeral folks) over the Cincinnati Bengals, 23-20.
Stafford, who was rescued by the Rams from the Detroit Lions after 13 miserable years just for this moment, kept going to Cooper Kupp, who had the best receiving year (by yardage) in the history of the league until finally connecting on a one-yard touchdown pass with 1:25 left in the game to give Los Angeles a 23-20 lead.
At that point, overtime didn’t seem out of the question, not when all the Bengals needed was a field goal by Evan McPherson, the rookie kicker from Fort Payne who had not missed a kick in the postseason and was as responsible for Cincinnati being in the Super Bowl as any player on the field.
But the Rams’ Aaron Donald, who has long been considered one of the best players in the league regardless of position, made a one-armed tackle on third and one, then spun Bengals’ quarterback Joe Burrow on fourth down, forcing a wild incomplete pass, on what may have been the final play of Donald’s Hall of Fame-worthy career (and what a way to go out).
With 46 seconds left in the game, all it took was one Rams snap, and the game - the season - was over.
For the second year in a row, a team went out and got a veteran quarterback who proved to be the missing piece for a Super Bowl win. It’s easy to forget that the 34-year-old Stafford came in the league seen as the equal of Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Peyton and Eli Manning, and yet for 12 years, he was more like Archie Manning, putting up great numbers for one of the worst franchises in the league. It took the Rams giving up on Jared Goff, who took them to Super Bowl LIII but was unable to find the end zone in a 13-3 loss to the New England Patriots (and the aforementioned Brady), to elevate Stafford to a place in that NFL quarterbacking pantheon.
This NFL postseason was far better than perhaps any other in history. Every game seemed to one-up the previous game. There were stunning upsets. There were five games that ended on a game-winning score, either in overtime or with no time left in regulation. No previous NFL postseason even had four such games. It capped a season in which 34 games were decided by a winning score on the final play—again, the most ever.
If you love football – and with all apologies to baseball, football has been America’s Game for the last 50 years – today is when time stops.
It’s ironic that NBC went straight from broadcasting the Super Bowl Sunday night back to the Winter Olympics, a sports spectacle in itself. But watching men and women in sequins spin around the ice or pushing a sled down a narrow, ice-covered chute just felt silly (but I watched).
Speaking of baseball: major league baseball is in its third month of a lockout that started on Dec. 12. (Did you even know?) Commissioner Rob Manfred said last week at the MLB’s owners' meetings that “The status of spring training is no change right now," but it doesn’t look like spring training will start on time. As for a March 31 Opening Day, Manfred said, "I'm an optimist, and I believe we will have an agreement in time to play our regular-season schedule."
We have basketball tournaments coming, which are usually so exciting that they make the regular season feel irrelevant. Thankfully in Alabama, we have the No. 1 team in college basketball in Auburn, and the University of Alabama, UAB, and South Alabama are all projected in the most recent NCAA tournament “bracketology” to make the NCAA Tournament field. But the beauty of college basketball is that any team can get hot in a conference tournament, earn an automatic bid to March Madness, and make up for whatever went wrong in the regular season. That makes conference tournaments and the NCAA Tournament perhaps the best month of sports in any year.
But who are we kidding? Suddenly, weekends that were booked from August until February suddenly seem empty, and you find yourself wondering, “What do we do with all this free time?”
The answer? We do what the most religious among us always do when the emptiness of the present hits us.
We worship the past. And yearn for the future.
September can't get here fast enough.
Ray Melick is Editor-in-Chief of 1819 News. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com.