The Super Bowl left a bad taste in my mouth. It wasn’t because the Patriots won. It wasn’t because quarterback and fellow Richmond, Va. native Russell Wilson threw an interception to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. And it certainly wasn’t because the puppy in the Budweiser commercial wasn’t cute enough.
No, the bad taste in my mouth came after the game had been decided — when Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin started a fight after New England quarterback Tom Brady took a knee to run out the clock on Super Bowl XLIX.
Irvin was ejected, and one of the most exciting fourth quarters in Super Bowl memory ended on a sour note just moments after undrafted rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler made his first career interception to stall Seattle’s drive at the 1-yard line and clinch the Patriots’ fourth NFL title in the past 14 years.
Fortunately, the amazing conclusion to the game has overshadowed the total lack of sportsmanship displayed by Irvin and others on the ensuing play. But I, for one, could not let the incident go.
Irvin’s aggression, and the subsequent scuffle, was as damaging and childish as it was pointless. Clearly upset that his team, which had just moments before looked poised to win its second straight Super Bowl, Irvin lashed out and created a fight where their need not have been confrontation. Furthermore, the penalty he incurred got him ejected from the game and moved the line of scrimmage further away from the New England goal line, removing even the slightest possibility that the Seahawks could force a safety and get the ball back for one last-ditch effort at the Lombardi Trophy.
After the game, both Irvin and Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski said that they turned to violence to “defend” a teammate. Having examined the replay of the events leading to the scuffle, however, I see nothing to distinguish the extracurricular shoving from any of the other 124 plays in Super Bowl XLIX. Irvin admitted that he let his emotions get the best of him. Gronkowski aired his thought process on ABC’s Monday night edition of “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
“I got pushed or something, and it was the last game of the year,” the tight end said. “I was like, ‘Screw it, I’m throwing some haymakers.’”
As the culmination of an NFL season that has called both the League and its audience to examine violence relating to the sport and its players with renewed focus, the fight was yet another black eye for professional football.
Famed columnist George F. Will once quipped, “Football features two of the worst parts of American life — violence punctuated by committee meetings.” Football, however, does not have a monopoly on violence in sports. Baseball has brush backs, hockey has goons and basketball has good, hard fouls to send a message. All of these instances of violence in sports are ostensibly to protect a teammate or to regulate the game, done in response to behavior that is unacceptable within the lines on the diamond, rink or court.
What Irvin and Gronkowski did, however, does not fit within that construct. Backed up by both video evidence and their own statements, these players fought because they were upset or perhaps, just for the hell of it. They then tried to hide their immaturity behind the façade of being a good teammate. But being a good teammate would have meant not fighting, not dragging fellow players into a display that degraded the names on the backs of their jerseys as well as the logos on the front, just to defend them.