In the end, the NFL got exactly the Super Bowl they wanted.
The game was exciting; full of big plays and suspense. It came down to the final moments and when the clock hit 0:00, the NFL’s Cinderella wasn’t turned into a pumpkin but rather into a football deity to put on a pedestal (or TV studio chair) and admire. When NFL Films captures this film in the future for one of those 30-minute Super Bowl summaries I so loved as a child it will be all about one of the game’s greats going out a champion. The myth will be complete.
Of course, like any myth there is a lot more to the story. But that also makes this game perfect for the NFL. This game was the ultimate one-game encapsulation of the NFL – they myth that Roger Goodell and his sycophants in the media want you to believe and the much uglier truth they wipe off their $1,000 loafers on the way to the box seats.
The NFL and the media have embraced the Ray Lewis narrative throughout the playoffs. Even quite literally on occasion.
They have pushed the ‘great, godly warrior’ narrative constantly for weeks. Yet, it is the Ray Lewis story they don’t acknowledge that is a greater personification of the NFL. A man that was arrested in connection with the murder of two men and was reported to have been using PEDs last week is now the Ultimate Champion. The man who single-handedly willed his team to a Super Bowl win.
This wasn’t just Ray Lewis’ Super Bowl, it was also Roger Goodell’s.
Ignoring off-field crimes and PED-use in the pursuit of a myth to sell the public is the very definition of the NFL business model today. That he was helped by incompetent refs – or maybe refs that got the memo that this was Ray Lewis’ Super Bowl – who willfully ignored obvious penalties that they have called all season, as well as helmet to helmet hits that the NFL swears need to be removed from the game just makes it a more complete picture.
But, for this week the center of that myth was Ray Lewis. I mostly ignored the hours of pre-game leading up to the show because I don’t need to listen to large, old men talk about nothing and laugh too much but I did catch Shannon Sharpe’s interview with Ray-Ray before the game. No one is ever going to confuse Shannon with any sort of journalist but in one moment he gave us the clearest view of Ray Lewis that we may ever see.
Shannon, to his credit as a former teammate and presumed friend, asked Ray Lewis what he had to say to the families of the two men that died in the stabbing incident in 2000 for which Lewis was subsequently arrested. Lewis’ answer rambled and stammered and ultimately said very little but what I took from its mangling of coherent sentences were the two fundamental facts Lewis seems to believe about that night.
(1) Lewis says ‘God makes no mistakes’ which I take to mean he believes those two men deserved to die
(2) He also then talked about being prosecuted (or in his mind persecuted) because of who he is, not what he did.
In essence, Ray Lewis looks at an incident when two men died and sees himself as the victim. It was the type of bizarre, ludicrous and delusional response that comes when someone has lied to himself (or been lied to by others) for so long that he no longer has a grasp on the reality of the situation. The facts have been molded to fit what he now wants or needs to believe.
We have seen a lot of that lately – just ask Lance Armstrong and Manti Te’o.
The ironic thing is that after years of his defenders ignoring his off-field actions, by lauding his on-field greatness, it was his on-field play that could have been the cause of greater embarrassment. Let’s face it, Ray Lewis got abused in the Super Bowl. He couldn’t have covered a drunk stumbling out of Pat O’Brien’s last night. On the rare occasion he got near a ball carrier they blasted through his arm tackles. Apparently he needed to take a fourth hit of Deer Antler Spray before the game, because three wasn’t enough.
If Ray Lewis were half of the leader he pretends to be when a camera is nearby he would have benched himself because his inability to keep up with Forty-Niner running backs and tight ends nearly cost the Ravens the game.
But Lewis could never do something selfless for his team because this wasn’t about his team. This was about him and the myth of his greatness that he has built up in his head. There will be no comeuppance for him. He will now go get paid millions by one of the NFL’s partners to talk about himself and his God in place of the football game he is supposed to be analyzing and all his co-hosts will just chuckle. He will be a legend to be rhapsodized about over soaring string music and slow-motion replays for years to come. The story is complete, now it is time for it to become legend.
And legends in Roger Goodell’s NFL have no place for inconvenient truths.