“This can’t be happening,” I said as CBS cut to commercial break.
The eerie silence of the crowd, the mute announcer’s booth and the quick cut to a commercial break commenced a 34-minute delay due to blackout during the Super Bowl. I knew immediately it was a black out and I was even more certain it was going to trigger and irrational response. Twitter exploded with comments and reactions immediately. It ranged from the obvious and mundane “OH MY GOD”, “No Way”, to golden quips such as “George Bush doesn’t care about black people in the Super Bowl” and “Beyonce turned out the lights” was tweeted by numerous people on my timeline. Between the quirky one-liners and mass hysteria, the conspiracy theorists were already cooking up their half-baked assertions about how and why the blackout occurred.
However, I was horrified. It was perfectly clear what would happen after the blackout ended: the Niners were going to make a comeback. Every one feared that would be the outcome. At that moment I made a 180 and began rooting for the Ravens. Not because I was overly concerned about the storybook ending of Ray Lewis or crowning Joe Flacco, but for the (murky and at times questionable) sanctity of the NFL.
Sports conspiracy theorists don’t need much to run amok and the blackout was just that opportunity to do so.
The Super Bowl game is no stranger to conspiratorial allegations of shady behavior. Leading up to Super Bowl XXX, Neil O’Donnell had an impeccable interception percentage. Only during the game his favorite target happened to be the Cowboys’ Larry Brown. In Super Bowl XL, there were a number of calls so dubious the head official apologized to the entire city of Seattle a few years later. Even the Patriots’ Super Bowl XXXVI upset over the Rams four months after 9/11 had 12-year old me screaming about a fix.
The one thing that tends to ruin sports discussions for me is the suggestion that a league, the mob or players themselves fix games. I’m not going to say that it’s never happened (1919 Black Sox scandal being a prime example), but it doesn’t happen nearly as much as some fans suggest.
Not even close.
These paranoid theories are largely based on the idea that random acts outside of the realm of normal patterns have to be a part of some grand scheme either by the players or a higher power. Other top down conspiracy theories imagines an all-powerful puppeteer manipulating players, coaches and referees.
The really nutty aspect about the sports conspiracy theorists is that they watch even suspecting that it’s “all rigged”. To these people professional sports has the same appeal to them as Vince Mcmahon’s WWE. Given the comparisons people make to Roger Goddell and David Stern to the fictional “Mr. Mcmahon” one would think some actually believe that sports is being managed by megalomaniac commissioners who control the outcome of sporting events. I would venture to guess that’s not why most of us watch sports.
We watch because we know although these athletes are professionals, that sports are prone to human error on levels from the owner’s box to the 53rd man on the bench. We enjoy it when they show that sort of vulnerability, that imperfection that reminds us of ourselves.
When the blackout occurred and Kaepernick led the Niners down the field for back-to-back touchdowns, I feared Super Bowl XLVII was only going to be remembered for the controversy surrounding the blackout. I was afraid the dramatics, the ebb and flows of the football game and the power of momentum would be lost in the narrative after the game. Luckily, Baltimore and Joe Flacco righted the ship to a narrow 34-31 victory over San Francisco. Crisis averted.
No irrational talk about the Goddell ordering the blackout to save the 49ers chances of winning nor any speculation of Goddell sabotaging the Ravens chances of winning over some bias against the city. The blackout was just another bizarre accident and an odd footnote in Super Bowl history.
Then I received a text from a 49er fan “Did you see that?!? It was clearly holding on Crabtree! Goddell and the NFL screwed the 49ers just so Ray Lewis could have his stupid Last Ride. It’s all rigged!”
I guess it could have be worse.