Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

The Super Bowl, Testing Survival Instincts

Forget all the hype about the announcers, the commercials and the half-time show. There's another reason people tune in to the Super Bowl: they want to see who survives. It's the great American reality show.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now if you want to watch something besides Peyton Manning on Sunday, our commentator Frank Deford says you have plenty of options.

FRANK DEFORD: Someone wise once made the observation that in the entire history of humankind nobody had ever washed a rental car. Likewise, do you think anyone has ever chosen to watch a game on television because of the announcers? Yet guaranteed, reams of copy will be expended next week analyzing the call of the Super Bowl by whoever it is that announces the game.

NFL play-by-play announcers are like NFL interior offensive linemen. They're at the top of their profession, they're good, but we should only pay attention to them when they make mistakes. Guaranteed though, we will also hear a lot about the Super Bowl halftime show, which is one of the more egregious wastes of talent on the planet.

This year the star is Prince. Last year it was the Rolling Stones. If you're a fan of Prince or the Rolling Stones, you go to one of their concerts, right? Who wants to see them for a few minutes in the middle of a football game? Would you want to go to a concert and watch, say, football players running a few pass patterns between acts? I don't think so. Everything in its place.

You know what they ought to have instead of halftime entertainment? They ought to play over the best commercials of the first half so everybody could get to see them again. Next to the game itself, everybody likes the Super Bowl commercials best. If we showed them over at halftime instead of building a big stage for Prince to sing a few bars, we could vote on our favorite commercials. We love to vote on stuff nowadays, don't we?

Actually, I think what we like is to see people get eliminated. The funny thing about reality shows is they're not real at all. Reality is dull. It's the competition that makes them so appealing, especially that somebody always gets eliminated. That was the brilliant secret that "Survivor" came up with.

Baseball and basketball and hockey have a problem with their playoffs because those sports have series, not one-game knockouts. You have to watch several games before the specter of elimination rises up. I think this helps explain why baseball has never been more popular, never had greater attendance, but why the ratings for the playoffs and the World Series are rather ordinary.

But another reason why I think the Super Bowl is so popular is because it's only in the regular season the fans play fantasy football, where you create your own imaginary teams. People get so wrapped up in their fantasy teams that real teams don't mean so much.

But the Super Bowl has no fantasy competition and there's no tomorrow and somebody is going to get eliminated. The Super Bowl is just the great American reality show.

INSKEEP: Frank Deford of "Sports Illustrated" does the Super Bowl Shuffle from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

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Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford