Not precisely college football, but then, the gridiron world is focused elsewhere this weekend:
When SMQ was a kid, he would more or less internally freak out in the days leading up to the Super Bowl. The most enduring gift of Christmas 1990 was a silver anniversary book chronicling the first 25 Super Bowls, with often stunning art and pictures still imprinted on the brain - along with every result, MVP, site and most scoring plays - long after the book has been lost. He set logo-doodling records in elementary school; by junior high, he ran an informal pool among a couple dozen students to guess the degree of pain the 49ers would inflict on San Diego (won by the girl!). In high school, he lent his name to the annual "Super Ultra Mega Super Bowl Pick Extravaganza," his highly anticipated prediction of the game. He once held a party for 11-year-old friends and was almost despondent afterwards that they had flitted out to play chaotic driveway basketball by the third quarter of a close, burgeoning Buffalo upset. Before Dallas beat Pittsburgh a couple years later, SMQ was so worried about getting home from an out-of-town trip in time for the game he reportedly turned mildly violent at some provocation by little sister of SMQ and then blacked out or something, legitimately unable to account for her wailing accusations when parents returned a few minutes later. There remains no widely accepted version of the incident (or, it must be said, any repeat, that being the sobering end of adolescent sibling-directed torment). When other students came to school talking about the commercials after historically incredible wins by Denver in Super Bowl XXXII and not-yet-eternally-despised St. Louis in XXXIV, it was only through near-shaolin discipline and oppressive awkwardness he managed to maintain sufficient external peace. Why didn't they get it? In college, at a bar in New Orleans, they got it when SMQ and roommate became temporarily one of a throng of jubilant Patriot fans - however illegitimate New England's Super path - celebrating the defeat of the intensely-loathed Ram monolith. Tebucky Jones' icing, eventually negated fourth down return for touchdown was that precious moment of spontaneous emotional bonding among otherwise guarded, cynical human strangers most non-sports fans in a non-revolutionary age will never realize. SMQ's milder distaste for New England and choking choker Tom Brady five years later will never take that away.
Never did any of these eccentricities match the sometimes fantastical obsession for college football he demonstrated at the same time via pre-Internet previews hammered out on his dad's old typewriter and polls and weekly picks among classmates (November, 1995, FSU rallies from 24 down to tie Florida and Lil SMQ goes 14-0-1 for the week in his social studies pick `em, bitches!), but the larger point is that, whatever the eventual outcome, the Super Bowl has always held for him that mythological, defining status. Yet, two days from this year's version of the game, he still hasn't decided if he's going to watch it.
This has everything to do with the Saints loss in the NFC Championship, catalyst of a deadening pain without which SMQ would never consider missing the Super Bowl. When he wrote about turning off Super Sunday in that game's immediate aftermath, it was more a rhetorical response to the immediate pain of New Orleans' very real hopes turning to dust and blowing, leaving the Saints no closer to having one of those immaculate end zones painted gold and black than they've ever been; even as a kid, even when imagining some alternate world Super Bowl of his own choosing to act out in his bedroom, SMQ never permitted himself to put the Saints there. It couldn't be imagined and reality confirms again that, well, yes, it really can't.
But the succeeding two weeks haven't been painful.
SMQ hasn't ruminated on the Saints much, positively, negatively, neutrally. Immediately after their loss, after driving a couple hours, he watched the Patriots and Colts play a great second half without any ill-effects. There was an article in the local paper about Mississippi native Archie Manning, whose sons still command huge sentimental support in this state, pacing around the RCA Dome in a fit and having to avoid watching Peyton's game-winning drive as it happened, then coming home to the tape that night and discovering his TiVO had stopped recording the broadcast before the drive, too, and SMQ read the whole thing. Early last week, he heard someone on some outlet somewhere decry the automatic assumption by the rest of the world that one of the teams would walk all over the other, but SMQ didn't know which team was supposed to be which and didn't find out. Saw a reference to Media Day having occurred. Haven't turned the radio from mentions of Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith or of Super Bowl ad costs. When coming across some stray mention of the actual game, or a commercial, or, like, a couple seconds of Mark Schlereth on an outdoor set wearing a t-shirt and baseball cap for no discernible reason, or the occasional mug of Brian Urlacher on some sports site, he hasn't cringed or felt nauseous. No stabbing of eyeballs, biting of knuckles, throwing of heavy books. Or light books, or any book, or anything else.
It's not that he's been consciously avoiding SportsCenter or Inside the NFL or the front page of ESPN.com or any particular writer's column, because it was plausible to say he's pretty much avoided most of those things in general for the last few years (SMQ actually had not read Gregg Easterbrook in two years, despite assumptions otherwise, before checking in to sate his Saints lust leading to the NFC Championship). It's not that he's had to catch himself turning reflexively to some channel or another and had to think, "Wait, will there be clips of Drew Brees getting sacked and stripped and Bears dancing about on their field of sludge?" the way he thought he would. It's just that SMQ hasn't cared. When he sets the TV to wake him up to Saved by the Bell instead of "Mike and Mike in the Morning," it's because he just realized the former was possible. He's put more time into studying recruiting, for god's sale, which he really doesn't care about, and never has. Sunday's game carries about the weight for him as the Super Bowl he played against the Colts with Chicago and record-shattering quarterback Cade McNown on Madden 2001 (20-6, Bears, in a shocking defensive triumph for the worst-ranked unit in the league, in case you were wondering).
So the answer to the question of whether a sports fan can manage to elude hype for the most hyped event of the much-hyped era of over-hyped hype, is yes. Yes, he or she can. Easily, while running a Web site devoted to the same sport. And barely notice.
But the game, the game itself, can this be plausibly missed? In the grand scheme, certainly - we are at war, and Rex Grossman is not Napoleon - but the Super Bowl is not Colts-Bears/Not Saints. It's an institution with a history to be respected, and SMQ's history with the institution is to be respected. The Super Bowl is significant tradition. For the first time ever, though, it's also conceivably painful. Not definitely, but conceivably. Good lord, what else is there to do during the Super Bowl? Read? SMQ doesn't know exactly how he's going to play it - if he does watch, it will be for some familial or social purpose. Father of SMQ has a new, fancy television, which could effectively debut in style if some currently debilitating kinks are worked out.
He is pretty certain seeing the Bears on the field will make him fell some degree of, at very least, melancholy. But if he does watch anyway, SMQ will definitely be rooting for those bastards to play the game of their lives - the Bears don't have to win, but you took the Super Bowl away from us, Chicago, and you damn well better make it count.