According to a website called Oddsshark.com, Peyton Manning — Denver quarterback and haver of a well-discussed forehead — is the favorite to be named Super Bowl MVP Sunday. He is listed as having 8-to-5 odds. Odds like that, I’m convinced, are determined not by real math but by odds-makers trying to make their craft seem like some kind of precise science. Even more “Kafka-esque-esque” are Russell Wilson’s 13-to-4 odds. I’d love to see the napkins on which these were calculated.
Mr. Only-Winners-Get-Wings and a cornerback who vaguely reminds me of Calypso are each listed at 16-to-1, but let’s face it — the only way a non-quarterback wins this award is by single-handedly pushing back the polar vortex and saving a kitten or two along the way. If Seattle running back and ancient Mongolian warlord Marshawn Lynch happens to break 15 tackles on a game-winning 99-yard run with the game clock expiring, I suppose he’s got a shot, too.
I’ve seen a long shot win, though. In fact, I happen to be a former Super Bowl MVP myself. It was won at my pigskin peak, my eighth-grade flag football Super Bowl.
I was a dark horse, to be sure. During our three-game season, I was an unpurposed occupier of space on defense and an unconvincing decoy on offense. My shoulder pads extended about eight inches beyond my shoulders on each side. I’d run down the field and they’d flap like the wings of an airplane (before they knew how to make airplanes, I’m talking Wright Brothers oopsie airplanes). My helmet was too big, also, so imagine your oopsie airplane balancing a New Year’s ball between its wings. Give that monstrosity legs – no jokes here, I had a good set of legs – and you’ve got me, at the apex of my football career.
I don’t remember exactly at what point it happened. I do know our team was winning, and I do know the other team’s red-headed player had been taken off the field with a leg injury. He was sitting on a bench with one leg up, crying. Otherwise, I remember nothing: where I was on the field, the opposing team’s play call, even the position I was playing … all I know is, I was standing where linebackers usually stand, the other team’s quarterback threw me the ball.
And I managed to catch it.
HOLY CRAP! Throughout our season, I had caught one pass. A left cleat got caught in a right shoelace loop, and I fell forward for a two-yard gain (I’m pretty sure). This time, however, I had a clear field in front of me and I took off. I flap, flap, flapped down the field and my head bounced off the inside of my helmet like a lottery ball. I was a fast-moving caricature, but, if you thought I was an embarrassing sight, you should have seen the winded kids wheezing behind me all the way to the end zone.
So delirious with surprise was I, I didn’t even celebrate. I made sure this was the real end zone and not some Inception-style dream-within-a-dream end zone, and handed the ball to an official. I did so with a frozen face and slow motion, like the ball had just died in my arms.
I promptly returned to my gargoyle-like state and remained that way the rest of the game, but that return locked up victory. It also earned me a piece of paper with clip-art football players printed on it under the words SUPER BOWL MVP.
It was the last time I’d see meaningful action in the sport of football. I cashed all of my gridiron mojo on that one amble to glory, and spent the next three autumns as bench fodder on a football team with barely enough kids to field a 9-man team.
That’s why, when the Seahawks and Broncos line up across from each other in New York City a couple of weeks from now, I’ll be a friend’s lining up bottles of beer. I’ll fart on his couch a few times, and I’ll feed his dog excess treats behind his back. We’ll start the day at a local bar, sampling chili at their annual contest, likely nosh at another bar, heat a pizza up back at his place, and ultimately consume a game. We’ll argue about something stupid through halftime, and watch one team emerge as victors. I’ll watch one player get named Most Valuable Player, and I’ll sit back and smile.
Not a lot of people have been to the top of that mountain. It’s a nice view.