Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Black and Gold Superbowl

There are times when the argument of home advantage- fact or fallacy?- in sport is muted, struck dumb by a wall of noise. At Anfield on the 4th of May 2005 Liverpool were carried to Istanbul and their fifth European Cup by the phenomenon. Chelsea's players walked out of the dressing room puffed up, prepared, upright- only to buckle, faced with a weight of catcalls and whistling that elicited a visible, physical reaction in the players. Their shoulders dropped, they faded. Romantics might argue that the atmosphere willed balls over the line, caused shots to be dragged wide. A more serious takeaway lies in how communication was compromised by the atmosphere- Benitez's tongue was bloodied by his vocal exertions, but need he have shouted at all? Plans and preparations were laid in the days ahead, last minute advice was dealt out, and the players walked out. For all the imploring and wild gesticulation, there is a rupture between player and manager. When Gerrard et al. took to the field they had a different kind of support, a motivation that morphed from a Spanish lilted whisper in the ear, to a throaty scouse roar. The Superdome on Sunday night is a greater example- anchored not by romantic notions, but by the fans effecting a real schism between coach and player. Noise levels were especially important for Vikings QB Farve pre-snap, who found calling an audible a virtual impossibility. Adjustments, changes in tack, however innocuous, are unwanted on game day. Communication problems were tenable- on the final drive of the 4th Quarter, the Vikings were penalized for to many men on the field. Field-goal range was yielded, Farve paused for too long, passed, intercepted. A mental mistake, an unforced error. Or perhaps a crowd-force error. These errors cost the Vikings a place in the Superbowl in a game they dominated on almost all criteria- rushing yards, passing yards, downs and possession time. But a host of turnovers- three fumbles and two interceptions- proved their undoing. The occasion seemed to haunt them- the Superbowl loomed large. But, the Dome loomed larger. Special mention goes to Garrett Hartley, especially with Viking's coach Childress icing the kicker, for the most important swing of his boot in Saint's history. What a wonderful story it would be if the Saints can win in Miami on the 7th. Ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, a franchise which some predicted would flat-line has a pulse again. The party in New Orleans would be colourful, long and loud.

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