Thursday, February 4, 2010

Lightening up . . .

I was driving back from the gym yesterday afternoon listening to the usual Wednesday political discussion on Talk of the Nation. It was all terribly serious until Neal Conan and his Wednesday sidekick, Ken Rudin (pictured left -- who knew he looked like that?), welcomed one Don Steiner to the show. And then serious went out the window. Or at least out of the studio.

Don Steiner is a Philadelphia-based writer who, among other literary endeavors, runs the blog America Bowl: U.S. Presidents vs. Super Bowls. This blog is based on the lovely, lunatic, innately American concept that anything can be made into a competition. And that since we have now had 44 presidents and are about to have our 44th Super Bowl, it's now perfectly reasonable to pit one against the other in historical order.

In his blog, Mr. Steiner uses football language to discuss both the Presidents and the Super Bowls. Which kind of works in a wacky wonderful way. Take LBJ, for example. (This post is excerpted below.) Vietnam is referred to as the hole in President Johnson's game. As a sports fan who lived through Vietnam and has also read some about it, I can't think of a more accurate way to put it -- at least a more accurate way to put it concisely. Besides, it's amusing. And I'm not sure I've ever before found anything said about Vietnam amusing.

"America Bowl" is lite history -- as in lite beer or lite music. It's party history. And, as we Americans remain mired in political vituperation, bless Mr. Steiner's heart for giving us something politically lite to debate come Monday: President Obama vs. Super Bowl XXXXIV

If you want to listen to Don Steiner talking with Neal Conan and Ken Rudin on Talk of the Nation, click here and go to about 20:30 in the sound file.

And here's the aforementioned excerpt.
Game 36: Lyndon B. Johnson vs. Super Bowl XXXVI
  Here is a story of two eager backups thrust by emergency into Number One roles under less than ideal circumstances. Lyndon B. Johnson, who'd never enjoyed being Vice President to John F. Kennedy, was rushed to Dallas and sworn in as the 36th President after Kennedy was shot on November 22, 1963. Novice QB Tom Brady, who'd played in only one NFL game in his career, stepped in as the Patriots' starting quarterback after Drew Bledsoe went down with an injury in Week 2 of the 2001 season.

Johnson had great moments, but he was a one-way player. Domestically he was first-string, maybe a Hall of Fame candidate. His tenure from 1963 to 1969 -- which included a landslide election win in 1964 -- saw passage of landmark legislation including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawing racial discrimination, the Voting Rights Act of '65 banning racist polling rules, and the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 to create public TV and radio. He launched Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps, Head Start, environmental protection laws, the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities. Foreign policy was the hole in his game, though. He hated having to devote time and resources to the war in Vietnam. But he refused to lose and increased rather than drew down U.S. involvement. Ultimately it was his frustration with ceaseless war issues, at home and abroad, that led LBJ to choose not to run in 1968.

Tom Brady came up huge in the Patriots emotional 2001 season, which was played in the dark shadow of the 9/11 attacks. With the poise of a veteran, Brady led New England to an unlikely division title. He seemed charmed. The Pats got a break in a snowy playoff versus the Raiders when what looked like a Brady fumble was ruled an incomplete pass, and the Pats kept the ball for a game-tying score.

In Super Bowl XXXVI the Patriots would face the Rams with their relentless passing attack, the "Greatest Show on Turf."  The Rams had led the NFL with 503 points. QB Kurt Warner threw a league-topping 36 TD passes to a receiving corps that included Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Az-Zahir Rakim, Ricky Proehl, and running back Marshall Faulk, who also ran for 1,382 yards. But the Pats' defense attacked Warner. CB Ty Law picked off a Warner pass intended for Bruce and took it to the house for New England's first score. After three quarters, the Pats were up 17-3. It wasn't enough. The Rams drove for two touchdowns to tie the score at 17 with 1:30 left. Brady marshaled the Patriots downfield one last time and spiked the ball to stop the clock at the Rams' 24 yard line with 8 seconds left.  Then kicker Adam Vinatieri did it again, nailing a 41-yard FG to ice the game. It was an all-time classic.

LBJ made his mark. The Patriots launched a dynasty. Score this for the Super Bowls.

Score after this match: Presidents 19, Super Bowls 17

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