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February 27, 2012 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Nothin’ But Net

The 2007 Super Bowl was gifted with the perfect story.

The villains were the New England Patriots. Arrogant quarterback Tom Brady, commanding one of sports’ highest salaries and married to a supermodel, led one of history’s strongest teams to an unbeaten season.

Coach Bill Belichick (who fittingly looks like Emperor Palpatine) earned the nickname “Belicheat” for recording his rival New York Jets training. Remember how upset we got when the Aussies filmed the All Blacks training? Seriously, fuck that guy.

They formed the classic evil empire, unlikable in every way.

Stopping them were the New York Giants led by Eli Manning, one of the nicest guys in the league yet confined to the shadow of his brother Peyton. They’d struggled throughout the season and coach Tom Coughlin seemed lucky to have a job. They worked hard through the playoffs and somehow made it to the big stage.

It was the classic David v Goliath story, stolen straight from the annals of some archetypal sports movie, except even Hollywood writers can only dream of that shit.

Me? I was supporting the Patriots.

What they had done was remarkable. No team had ever won all 18 games before the Super Bowl, and I thought going
the whole way would be an awesome achievement.

A movie director will employ all sorts of methods to make sure you don’t accidentally cheer for the wrong guy, like making the characters more relatable. As a sports fan, allegiances are pure. I had every reason to cheer for the likable underdogs, but there I was in my corner of Nowhere, Manawatu, inexplicably hoping the Hollywood villains would take the glory.

Unless you’re a Pakistani cricketer, nothing is staged. Nothing is fake, except the injuries to pampered soccer players. Where other forms of entertainment follow a formula, a sports match leaves you with the sense that anything might happen.

Even the villains are genuine. Coach Belicheat didn’t care what other people thought of him provided he won, but in doing so he naturally became an unlikable guy. Quade Cooper made himself unpopular by declaring himself “NZ’s Public Enemy #1” because he’s an idiot who takes PR advice from Anthony Mundine. Ironically enough he injured the same knee that he hit Richie McCaw with: the stories just write themselves.

Sport allows us to see the peak of human physicality and achievement. We marvel at Usain Bolt and admire Benji Marshall’s wizardry. And what lady (or gentleman: we’re not here to judge) didn’t at least double-take when Sonny Bill took his shirt off?

We love watching the All Blacks fly our national flag. We love watching our rivals Australia get belted. We love watching our olympians stun the world. We love the rarities where the Black Caps aren’t completely useless. We love the Cinderella stories. We love watching that perfectly drilled play come off.

And it’s more than just on-field entertainment. New Zealanders delighted at Piri Weepu coming back from a crippling ankle injury to carry the All Blacks to World Cup success (one drink for mentioning the World Cup). The sporting world has all kinds of stories and never fails to keep us entertained.

That’s what we hope to convey in this column throughout the year. I’m not going to ramble about Newcastle United’s latest formations. We’ll discuss everything from how religion is expressed on and off the pitch to whether you’re sexist if you don’t like women’s sports (tennis is excused: everyone loves women’s tennis).

All you have to do is pick up a copy of Salient every week, and let us do the rest.


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