With another NFL conference championship weekend in the books, it is time once again to gear up for the nation’s favorite religious holiday: the Super Bowl. And, being the terrible person that I am, this year’s matchup looks especially enticing.
Maybe it’s a by-product of the unfortunate fact that the vast majority of the sports teams to whom I have entrusted my emotions have vacillated between flat-out pathetic and heartbreakingly good — sometimes talented enough to win a championship but inevitably falling short in the most gruesome way possible.
Often left with no one to root for when the stakes reached their highest, I turned my attention to fashioning my own set of sports anti-heroes: teams and individuals that I could reliably despise. I heartily recommend it — wishing ill will against a human being you don’t know is more fun than watching the game itself.
The only prerequisite I have for hatred is on-field success. It’s no fun to put down somebody who isn’t routinely playing in the most important games. Naming members of my personal list would easily blow me past my 700-word limit, but the top includes some of the greatest hits in sports villainy: Alex Rodriguez, Steve Spurrier, Kobe Bryant, Tim Tebow and anyone ever associated with UConn women’s basketball, to name just a few.
For the most part, it’s very hard to rank these subjects of scorn in order, but there’s no doubt who sits at the very top: Cam Newton and Peyton Manning. That’s why this Super Bowl should be both especially satisfying and excruciatingly difficult to watch.
On the surface, it may seem very difficult to root against Peyton Manning actively. He’s donated countless amounts of money and time towards a top-notch children’s hospital in Indianapolis and remains very considerate of fans. I even love his monopolizing presence on TV in the form of all of those stupid commercials — his affable, clean-cut persona adds this intangible layer of hilarity. On top of that, Manning just so happens to be the most statistically prolific quarterback in the history of the game with more career touchdown passes (amongst a litany of other records) than anyone.
So why hate Peyton Manning if he seems like a perfect human being? Because maybe he is perfect, and that’s just disturbing. Watching Manning and his cerebral approach to the game ripping teams apart is a depressing sight because you know that you will never be that good at anything. I resent Peyton Manning precisely because my team does not have a Peyton Manning. When he falters in the playoffs, you get that brief glimmer of hope that maybe he is, in fact, mortal like you and me. And that’s comforting.
Newton, in much the same manner, has been described as very generous with fans despite his demigod status. But I can never really forgive him for what he’d done to the teams that I do happen to care about. While at Auburn, he ran roughshod over Georgia in 2010 with a workhorse-like 30 carries and beat out Andrew Luck for the Heisman. After scoring a touchdown against the Falcons, my favorite NFL team, in the Georgia Dome this season, Newton, an Atlanta native, proceeded to scream “This is my city!” — an act especially infuriating when you pause to consider that he may actually be right. His dancing is annoying because it’s just another reminder that no one on Earth can keep him out of the end zone. He didn’t want to burden his newborn son with the name of “Cam Newton, Jr.” so he went with “Chosen” instead. With every move, he just seems to be asking for my scorn.
Yet, as Super Bowl Sunday approaches, I find myself conflicted. Manning has lost that aura of immortality that once defined him. Now, in what could very well be his last chance at adding another ring, he has been carried by exactly the kind of elite defense that eluded him for much of his career. Peyton has lost the very thing that made him antagonizing: his perfection.
Newton, similarly, has become hard to root against. Watching him pick apart Seattle and Arizona as if they were college teams was — dare I say it — fun to watch. He is so absurdly entertaining that it’s hard not to pull for him to do something utterly out of this world.
They say old habits die hard, and I don’t anticipate having the ability to overcome years of instinctively rooting for an interception or a sack every time Peyton or Cam touches the ball. But I can say that they have my utmost respect. Maybe this will be the first Super Bowl in a while where I can sit back and admire the game without having to root for someone to falter.
Or, maybe, Super Bowl 50 can live up to its name and both teams can go home with a loss. I would be fine with that.
Vihan Lakshman is really just upset that his name isn’t Chosen and that his father isn’t Cam Newton. To console him, contact him at vihan ‘at’ stanford.edu.