Last Sunday the American football season reached its peak with Super Bowl LV. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the 55th edition of the annual spectacle, their second triumph after 2003. The Bucs gave the defending champions, the Kansas City Chiefs, a 31 – 9 hiding.
The rules of American football are simple. For an outsider, the difficulties lie in looking past the irritating American razzmatazz and endless commercials, as well as sitting through a game for about three hours with only 15 minutes of action. And yet, somehow, I get caught up in this irresistible showpiece year after year.
Over a period of about five months from mid-September until the first weekend in February, every season builds up to a climactic finale. Then it is over. Nothing for the next seven months.
The kingpin of American football is the quarterback. If you think a rugby flyhalf controls a game, then think again… In the history of the sport, no one is bigger than the Bucs’ Tom Brady. The legendary quarterback has played in ten Super Bowls, winning seven. His counterpart at the Chiefs is one of the game’s rising stars, 25-year-old Patrick Mahomes. And Brady’s age? Well, he is 43 and reckons he has another two seasons left in him.
For some reason Brady’s age took me back to a typically sweltering December day in Paarl. I was having a cold one with my late brother, Jannie, when the former Springbok centre, Marius Joubert, dropped by. Jannie and Marius were the same age and friends from before primary school. It was 2004 and all we could talk about was Marius’s famous hat-trick against the All Blacks earlier that year at Ellis Park. Like Mahomes, Marius was 25 and a rising star.
Marius sat with his legs stretched out in front of him on another chair. After an hour or two and a few more cold ones, he got up to go home. It was a slow process with a lot of creaking. Marius told us that he cannot believe in two weeks’ time he has to report for duty again with the Stormers.
In 2004 Marius miraculously stayed injury free and played 37 games for the Springboks, Stormers and Western Province. The Super Bowl final was Brady’s 20th game of the season and Mahomes’s 19th. Having played almost twice as many games as Brady and Mahomes, is it any wonder then that at the age of 25 Marius’s career started to wane and he never again reached those heady heights of 2004?
I accept that South Africans will not easily be converted to American football. But you must admit the sport at least teaches us one thing – less is more.
The Americans clearly understand supply and demand, for the players and fans. The supply is controlled, both in terms of the number of games and the period over which it is played. The public’s demand, on the other hand, is kept insatiable. After all, how else do you fill 100,000-seater stadiums to capacity week after week? In American football there is nothing of the ridiculous over-supply we have in rugby and cricket at the moment. The same formula is repeated season after season. No messing with the goose that lays the golden eggs.
Who knows, maybe if Marius Joubert also played only 20 games in 2004, he could have become the Tom Brady of rugby…