Sunday, February 6, 2011

Thoughts for the Super Bowl: Playing According to Rules in Sports and in Life

Only a few more hours until the Super bowl begins and my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers will play the Greenbay Packers. I am not going to any Super Bowl parties, but will be at home in Columbus armed with plenty of food and alcohol. I will have my laptop on so readers should feel free to twitter  me. In the meantime I thought I would take the moment to speak about rules, both in sports and in life.

As an Asperger I struggle in social situations in large part because the only way I know how to deal with people is through clearly defined sets of rules. Other people always seem to be able to get away with general appeals to fairness and decency, which, not surprisingly, always ends with other people being able to do whatever they want and me being left to pay the bill. One of the reasons why I like sports so much, even if I personally was never any good at them, is because sports are a realm of human interaction defined solely by rules with no pretension of there being anything else. In a sport like football there are two teams trying to score more points than the other. After four quarters of fifteen minutes one team will win and the other will lose. (Unless there is a tie at which point the game goes into overtime.)

Whether or not Steeler and Packer fans like each other today, they all agree about the rules of the game. You score points by moving the ball down the field to score a touchdown or a field goal. You have four downs to move the ball ten yards or the ball is turned over. A catch is a catch, a fumble is a fumble and a sack is a sack. This goes for the formal rules on the playing field as well as the more informal rules of sportsmanship. There are no pretensions of vague pleas to socially acceptable behavior and allowing the most deserving to win. I find a comfort in these hard fixed laws, even when they do not go my way.


I have very strong memories of the first Steeler AFC championship game I ever saw. I got up that morning in January 1995 convinced that the Steelers were going to crush the San Diego Chargers and head to their first Super Bowl in my lifetime. Things did not go as planned. After jumping out to a 13-3 lead, the Steelers gave up two touchdowns in the second half. In the closing minutes of the game they drove down the field setting up a fourth and goal at the Charger three yard line. Neil O’Donnell’s pass was stuffed on the goal line and that was the end of the game. How could it be that my Steelers had lost and all those months of playing a great season had come to naught? Should not there be one final thing to be done to give the Steelers and fans like myself what we “deserved?”
The next year, the Steelers made it to the Super Bowl to play the Dallas Cowboys. No one gave the Steelers much of a chance, but, down throughout the game, they found themselves, in the final minutes down only 20-17. At which point Neil O'Donnel threw an interception and the Cowboys won 27-17.
When I was in eighth grade at the Lubavitch school in Pittsburgh, I competed in a contest in Jewish law across the Lubavitch school system in North America. I was one of four students from the school selected to go to Toronto to compete in the championship, my own personal Super Bowl I thought. The first part of the championship was a written multiple choice exam held Saturday night. As I am sure has happened to many of my readers, after going through the exam once I went back and changed several of the answers that I was not sure about only to find out later that I was right the first time. The top third of contestants got to go on to a final oral round. I was the one person from the Pittsburgh team who did not make the cut. After the names were read out, our school principal, who traveled to Toronto with us, came over to me to congratulate me for a good effort. As he walked away from me to watch the finals, in my mind I was calling out to him: "is there not something you can do, some way you can pull some strings to let me also stand in the finals?"     

Of course the rules of the game have also given me some moments of victory such as in the Super Bowl two years ago, when, down 23-20 against the Arizona Cardinals, Ben Roethlisberger threw one of the most incredible touchdown passes in Super Bowl history to Santonio Holmes.

Sorry Cardinal fans, Holmes feet were down and in. The Steelers won their sixth Super Bowl, 27-23.

Hopefully this Super Bowl, Roethlisberger will produce another incredible pass, this time perhaps to Hines Ward or Michael Wallace, to win a seventh Super Bowl. But if he comes up short like Neil O’Donnell then so be it; that is how the game is played. I only wish that people could be honest with themselves and recognize that life must also be played by rules through both winning and losing.

1 comment:

Miss S. said...

Hmmm I'm older than you, yet I don't remember that AFC Championship game. Yet I do remember people hating Neil O'Donnell.

Go Steelers! :-D