It’s great to be a pro football fan in Alabama. You can be for whichever team you like, without the cultural necessity of choosing one of the state schools as is required for the college game. Since the only pro teams in Alabama pretend that they aren’t (the University of Alabama’s and Auburn University’s teams), i.e., the only overtly professional league (The NFL) doesn’t have a team here, I don’t have to worry over being the “good fan” and pledging my loyalty to any particular team.
So I have about a half-dozen NFL teams I like: Pittsburgh, Chicago, New England, Indianapolis, Philadelphia and Green Bay are the stalwarts, and then I might pick up another team here or there if I’m liking how they’re playing. For instance, I rooted for Tampa Bay the year it won the Super Bowl, and for Atlanta a bit this year, at least until the Packers eliminated them from the playoffs. But I didn’t root for New Orleans last year. Too bandwagonish. Besides, I thought the whole business of equating their Super Bowl run with redemption for the city after Katrina was utter hogwash. Football is a game. It is a metaphor for nothing.
Of course, during the seventies and for a while after, Dallas was everybody’s team in Alabama, along with much of the rest of the public without a local franchise. I was a kid and fell into line as well. Which yielded great disappointment, as the Steelers brought out the “boy” in Cowboy time and again in those classic Super Bowls of the era.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell must have cringed when the Jets and Steelers won out to play in the AFC championship game. On the one hand, he’s got Rex Ryan, who, while sometimes humorous in his brash pronouncements, grates after a while, and at least implicitly promoted a culture on the team that led a trainer to actually believe that tripping an opposing player when he got pushed out of bounds on kick coverage was okay. On the other, Goodell’s got the Steelers, whose quarterback he suspended for the first four games of the season for having been accused of sexual misconduct, and whose best defensive player (Marvin Harrison) he fined a total of $100,000 for playing football like, well, a football player.
Football won yesterday. Goodell lost, and would have, no matter the outcome. Good for football. But kudos to Mark Sanchez for a gutsy performance. He’s such a likable guy–humble, yet very talented. Like all great or soon-to-be great players, he understands–even if his coach doesn’t–that in a league as competitive as the NFL, pride and hubris will soon enough prove embarrassing. Pride doesn’t have to go before a fall. Humility can, too. Because everybody eventually falls. And when the fall comes, a humble heart allows the fallen to come out looking graceful and poised, instead of silly. Sanchez, only two years in the league, gets this. His coach, not so much.
With two of my favorite teams in the Super Bowl, I can’t lose. But I’ll be rooting for the Steelers. I think Mike Tomlin is the best coach in the business right now. While football isn’t a metaphor for anything, his leadership style is an excellent example of what leading, teaching, coaching, managing, etc. in any organization is about. As he said in an interview last night–it’s his job to put his players in a position to have a chance to succeed, i.e., it’s not about him; it’s about them. Which is almost biblical if you think about. What was that Jesus said about the “last shall be first and the first shall be last”? By making himself last, Tomlin’s put the Steelers in a position to be first. Go Steelers!