News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Opinion Columns

February 3, 2013

MARK BENNETT: Falling short of the big prize will produce lessons nonetheless

TERRE HAUTE — This is a day for Roman numerals.

Americans seldom use them. And when we do, humility is not our purpose.

The faces of grand, elegant clocks wear combinations of I, V and X. Like royalty, sons carrying on the full name of the family patriarch are numbered by generation — I, II, III, IV and so on. Blockbuster movie sequels draw box-office muscle from their Romans, as in “Rambo: First Blood Part II,” “Rocky IV” and “Godfather Part II.” Watch the closing credits of a “Dragnet” or “Emergency” rerun and you’ll see a pair of sweaty, grimy hands gripping a chisel and hammer and etching “Mark VII Limited” into a metal plate — the production company owned by 1960s TV tough-guy cop Jack Webb (a.k.a. Joe Friday).

Most indelibly etched into our consciousness, though, are the Roman numerals attached to the Super Bowl. They boldly declare the chronological growth of this massive, immense, “oh so big, so absolutely huge” (to quote Monty Python’s “Meaning of Life”) annual event.

The mere existence of Super Bowl parties exemplifies this day’s exponential expansion on the human calendar. When the Super Bowl debuted in 1967, it was not yet super — its birth name was the “AFL-NFL World Championship Game” — and didn’t earn its Roman numerals officially until Super Bowl III. In ’67, a 23-inch color television was considered “giant.” Most screens were 12, 14 or 17 inches, diagonally. A dozen friends huddled around a black-and-white Sylvania seems prehistoric now. The average TV today measures almost 40 inches. Some span 5 feet. Last fall, LG and Sony unveiled 84-inchers.

Indeed, Super Bowl parties and televisions have grown proportionally. Huge TVs. More guests. Large parties. Vast amounts of food. Funniest commercials. Epic halftime shows. (Marching bands and Up With People entertained at the early Super Bowls.) And, oh yes, the football game.

Tonight, the world chisels “Super Bowl XLVII” into its big, absolutely huge history books. Few creations, aside from the sheer passage of time, reach No. 47 in Roman numerals. Super Sunday has become a national holiday of sorts.

While Christmas marks the birth of Christ, Thanksgiving acknowledges family and blessings, and New Year’s Day toasts, well, a new year, Super Sunday celebrates all things large and supreme in America, including a championship football team.

As compelling and fun as it all is, the only subtle aspect of The Big Game (as those lacking NFL licensing approval call it) is its most valuable subplot …

Losing.

The Super Bowl owes its longevity and popularity to those who fell short. Those humbled on the way to the Lombardi Trophy presentation. Without Buffalo kicker Scott Norwood and “wide right,” a Gatorade-soaked Bill Parcells would not have ridden into Super Bowl XXV glory on the shoulders of his New York Giants.

Most NFL players end their season with a loss or out of title contention. Thirty-one teams fail to be called “the best.” Average Joes and Janes can relate to that better than to Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw and Tom Brady. Most of us have a Scott Norwood moment, when — with everyone in our world watching or counting on us — we disappoint others, and ourselves … from missed birthdays to wrecked cars and broken homes … when we’re less than “super.”

Some handle the ramifications of setback well. Some don’t.

Amid the partying, hoops and hollers, and spectacular plays, consider those who aren’t jumping up and down on the Superdome turf in New Orleans when the game ends. Their reactions — good or bad — might teach us more than those of the champs.

Consider Cam Cameron. He and I became friends and football teammates as Honey Creek Colts in junior high school, and as Terre Haute South Braves in high school. Cam won and succeeded a lot, and with class, back then. It continued for him in basketball, through three Final Four trips at South and as a reserve on Bob Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers, and as a football assistant coach at Michigan and then in the pro ranks. Now 51 years old, his winning percentage as an offensive coordinator (the guy who calls the plays) ranks among the best ever in the NFL.

He called the offensive shots for the Baltimore Ravens for the past five seasons, including most of the 2012-13 campaign. Thirteen games into this season, with the Ravens sporting a solid 9-4 record, Cam was fired. The drastic step, taken by Cameron’s longtime friend and Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, jolted the players and the offense Cameron helped build became resurgent. Baltimore rolled from there, through the playoffs and into today’s Super Bowl, where they’ll play the San Francisco 49ers.

Every NFL player and coach, including the intensely competitive Cameron, wants to reach the Super Bowl. He missed this gridiron Holy Grail by just weeks. His reaction, though, should inspire others as much as tonight’s Most Valuable Player.

Cameron spent time with his wife and kids, refused to hide in embarrassment, and spoke with wisdom. In a New York Times interview, he praised John Harbaugh’s decision to fire him just three games before the playoffs, calling it “a brilliant move.” The Ravens had lost two consecutive games and needed shaken out of their inconsistency. His dismissal delivered that awakening.

“Everyone on the team took a look in the mirror after that,” he told the Times.

In the meantime, Cameron pursued activities with his family the long hours of NFL coaching had prevented, the Times story explained. While in New York, taking in a couple of Broadway plays with his wife, Missy, they stopped in an Irish pub and watched, yes, the Ravens beat the Denver Broncos in the divisional playoffs. “You can’t do anything but root for those guys,” he told the newspaper.

Cameron, no doubt, will rejoin the chase for the Lombardi Trophy next season with another NFL club. For now, he’s turned a significant — yet momentary — setback into a positive. “I believe that me and my family — and I’ve told them this — we’re right where we’re supposed to be,” he said. “And that’s very freeing in a lot of ways.”

Just 51, Cam will still be coaching when the Super Bowl turns 50 in 2016. Some in the NFL have questioned whether the league should drop the Roman numerals in advance of that game — Super Bowl L. They fear its numerical value will be the target of wisecracks about “L” — which people connect with the “loser” symbol made with a thumb and forefinger held on the forehead.

The L should stay. Instead of “50” or “loser,” maybe it should stand for “lessons.”

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

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