Super Bowl Improving with Age

Dan Drezner makes a point that has occurred to me as well:

This is an age when it’s fashionable to complain about everything in America going downhill. So it’s worth pointing out that, compared to my youth, the Super Bowl is an event that has improved with age. This past decade the games have been far more competitive than the first 25 Super Bowls. The NFL has been smart enough to dispense with the military metaphors. Even the halftime shows have gotten better — props to Bruce Springsteen.

It has long been a cliche that the Super Bowl never lives up to its hype, with most games being lopsided snooze fests.   That was in fact true for years, with games such as the two thrilling matchups of the Steelers and the Cowboys in the 1970s decided outliers.  From the mid-1970s through the mid-1990s, most games were absolute blowouts, with the “true championship game” occurring in one or the other conference final.

From Super Bowl XXX onward, however, there have only been three bad games:  the 1999 Denver-Atlanta bore, the 2001 Ravens blowout of the Giants, and the 2003 Gruden Bowl.   The 2006 Steelers-Seahawks game wasn’t great, either, but it was at least competitive.  Otherwise, the games have been very competitive, with the outcome often still in doubt in the closing minute.

The NFL has worked for years to achieve parity, rigging its draft and scheduling to make it hard for great teams to stay great and giving bad teams a chance to get better.   Until the introduction in the early 1990s of free agency and a salary cap, however, well run teams (the Cowboys, Steelers, and 49ers most notably) stayed on the top year after year.   Now, though, it’s virtually impossible to keep more than the core of a team’s talent in place for more than a year or two.   Teams that have figured out how to make the “system” more important than individual players (Patriots, Steelers, and Colts) have managed to be competitive despite the obstacles.  But, now, even the Cardinals have a shot at winning Super Bowls.

And, while I’m not a great fan of halftime shows, certainly Bruce Springsteen beats Up With People.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Triumph says:

    And, while I’m not a great fan of halftime shows, certainly Bruce Springsteen beats Up With People.

    Yeah, but you can’t beat it when they had Michael Jackson’s sister stripping! Springsteen can’t hold a candle to that.

    Next year, they are having Alan Greenspan sing the Star Spangled Banner–which will be pretty cool.

    The Super Bowl would be 10 times better if they brought Rush Limbaugh in to do commentary. His Monday Night Football stuff was brilliant.

  2. Eneils Bailey says:

    In the past; I have tried to watch the Sunday Night Football games on NBC.
    Their Pre-game, Halftime show, and Post-game shows was like watching rotten fruit get even more rotten, attending a wake, and waiting for the dead to awaken.
    On Sunday, I watched the actual football game with Michael’s and Madden, they did a good job, as they did on most Sunday nights.
    During the Pre-game show, during halftime, and after the game on Sunday, I watched the Puppy Bowl on the Animal Channel.

  3. steve s says:

    This is an age when it’s fashionable to complain about everything in America going downhill.

    I think what you’re referring to is an individual’s age.

    There’s no surer sign that I’m talking to someone 50+ than they non-stop gripe about how terrible these days are the government, the politicians, the taxes, the culture, the movies, the coloreds, the youth, blah blah blah whiny old person crap from time immemorial.

  4. John Burgess says:

    certainly Bruce Springsteen beats Up With People

    Not by much.

  5. Drew says:

    I dunno. I thought the 85 Bears complete and total destruction of Tony Eason and The Patriots was pretty cool.

    Of course, my wife briefly dated Tony in college…so maybe watching Dan Hampton crush the pathetic little life out of that spindly, scaredy eyed schmuck……ahem, well, never mind.