What Happens to the TV Critic When His Team Is in the Super Bowl?
Trees tremble, children cower, guests must sign off on a list of rules and other such nonsense. Don't even think about rooting for the opponent or not wearing red.
Well, depending on if you're a die-hard sports fan or not, this short confession is either a whole lot embarrassing or completely understood.
I'm a die-hard San Francisco 49ers fan. As a kid I sat through a couple of super awful years -- a short amount of suffering compared to the longtime fans who used to wear Forty F---ing Niners t-shirts (and not in a good way). But then the sun came out and we toppled the hated Dallas Cowboys and a dynasty was born. Five Super Bowl appearances, five trophies. Team of the Decade! (And yeah, that was a decade far removed now.) Joe Montana. Steve Young. Jerry Rice. Ronnie Lott. Etc. Etc. Etc.
Then came the down years. And up rose my anger. I approach my Niners like British hooligans approach their local soccer club. I don't get angry when the San Francisco Giants lose because there are hundreds of games. There are only 16 NFL games per season. It's hard to get into the playoffs. Once there, you lose and go home. There was a period -- screw you, Packers -- where we were getting sent home a lot.
And I was breaking stuff. And screaming. And kicking things. And swearing in a manner that would make Al Swearengen (Deadwood) blush. It would have seemed childish were I not a grown up. Then it just seemed, well, from a die-hard fan's perspective, the reaction one should have. Burn the world to the ground. Be in a lousy mood for days or weeks. Carry the hurt inside.
And then sometimes have it repeated again the next season.
Which might lead me to throw a Christmas tree out of the second floor window of my apartment. Which I did. Thanks, Packers. (I had already taken the bulbs and lights off a day before, so, no problem).
During what I'll call the Very Bad Years, there were so many losses that there were not playoff appearances. But nobody could watch the game with me. I'd kick pillows, throw Nerf footballs with ferocity and velocity (they are foam, but they bounce around like you wouldn't believe, breaking glasses and whatnot). I would scream, jump off the couch, bound over in gutted agony and fire off a row of expletives that had no other words connected to them. Sometimes I would just fall on the ground, like a spent nuclear reactor after a meltdown, and stay there for hours, getting up only to have beers.
My wife would usually go somewhere else on game day. Then we had kids. They were born during the Extremely Bad Years, then sprouted a little bit into the Not Good Enough To Make the Playoffs But Close Enough To Crush Your Soul years. I couldn't watch with them. Because they would get frightened. "Why is daddy so angry?" Or "What happened to daddy? He's like a monster."
But I would tape the games. If the Niners won, we'd watch as a family. In safety. Turns out the kids liked soccer better. Kids today.
But they wore the colors. Game day was mandatory Niners gear day. And then it was, OK, bye kids, come back in four hours. Call ahead to see if daddy broke the TV or burned down the house. Love you!
When I finally got a kinda-sorta grip on things -- hello Xanax! -- they didn't really want to watch anyway. I knew I had done a lousy job of 49er pride parenting when my son asked, "Have the 49ers ever been any good?" That would start the Five Super Bowl Rings story, which is only slightly longer than the Lord of the Rings movies.
Anyway, they grew up in the lousy era. Then came Saint Jim Harbaugh and the Niners rose again. Last year, during the winter Television Critics Association press tour, the family was visiting and we all had to watch the playoff game where the Niners played the powerful and mighty Saints. That became a legendary game. It also proved that I could watch a game with the family and they could survive it (just barely, for the record) and we could all share in the glory together without me knocking holes through the hotel room wall like a petulant rock star. It was glorious.
I even took the defeat to the New York Giants as well as could be expected, which was not well, but we all lived. Perhaps I was maturing.
This year the family didn't watch games with me. None of them. And Sunday is the Super Bowl. I was faced with a dilemma. All my friends didn't even bother to ask about watching it together. They knew I wouldn't. And so I just assumed I'd watch it alone again. Except that, well, it's the Super Bowl. The kids want to watch it together. Hmm. I was 50-50, and then there was a suggestion that our good friends come over, with their kids, who are best friends with our kids, but not Niners fans. I was choosing solitude. And despite totally messing up the Share Great Experiences With Your Kids thing, I was sure it was the right idea. Even more sure when a third family and their kids were invited.
Not happening. El Lobo Solo. El Niner Solo. Send the Bad Dad Award to me later. I don't care.
But just a couple of days ago, I changed my mind. Both my kids told me it, in fact, did matter to them that we watched together. It was like an arrow to the heart. Or like a Dashon Goldson hit to your sorry ass body (see photo above). And so I agreed and I will be there, in a room full of people, trying to shush them and not worrying if they see me explode. Translation: I'm hoping the Niners blow out the Ravens early, so I'm not an insane idiot in front of friends (family already knows that). Ultimately, I'm happy I agreed. I mean, someone has to teach the kids the proper way to kick pillows and fire the Nerf football into the kitchen. Someone has to make up 49er celebration chants and schadenfreude dances. It's a father's right to have the kids yell "Eat it, Ravens!" at the television.
To make this all work for me, I even got my boss at The Hollywood Reporter to have someone else write about the commercials and someone other than that write about halftime and whatever "how did it play as a television event" stories that might come up. I'm covered.
So yes, I'm praying for a Niners win. I'm praying it's not too close so my nerves don't fray and I don't go all Red Hulk on our guests. And -- perhaps this is important to admit -- I got both kids to sign a waiver giving me permission to bail if the Niners go down by 14 at any point during the Super Bowl.