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Super Bowl translated

February 02, 1999

So when did a blimp become an airship?

That was obviously going to be the most compelling question of Sunday evening because after one quarter of the Super Bowl, it was pretty apparent the game was going to be a laugh and it was pretty apparent the much-anticipated Super Bowl commercials were not going to be a laugh and Cher showed up wearing clothes and poor Stevie Wonder looked like the Simpsons' character Bleeding Gums Murphy and, to be honest, there wasn't really a whole lot more to talk about.

Because the Vikings weren't playing, I'd thought that at least I could sit back and relax and enjoy the game. But such was not the case, because, as it happened, I was the only member of the Super Bowl party who spoke Madden.

So it was up to me to translate.

When John Madden would say, "The thing that's up there in John Elway's brain that tells the thing down there in John Elway's arm to move forward has one of the fastest in the business" all heads would turn to me and I would say, "He has quick reflexes," and everyone would say, "Oh, OK," and nod their heads in understanding.

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It's not an easy job, especially when Madden says, "The Atlanta linemen are good at staying in their gaps." Now normally, you would think that once a person has taken up residence in a gap, it would cease to be a gap. A variation of this is when we're told that, in a zone defense, it is the Denver free safety's job to "remain in the void."

In this instance, a void would have to get up pretty early in the morning to fool the Denver safety and the same could be said of gaps and Atlanta linemen.

So it is difficult for me to translate when I myself am not entirely certain what the base phrase is intended to mean. It's more complicated because until just recently, the emphasis among color analysts has been on how fast the linemen are able to close the gaps. This makes sense, or it did until the announcers shortened the phrase by saying that "the Jets defense has good closing speed," and then "the Viking linebackers close better than anyone in the league."

You don't know whether they're making tackles or buying a house.

But just when I thought I had the gaps problem ironed out, along came the Maddenese, "he's not only reckless, he's fast reckless."

You wonder then, what is slow and reckless? Is it possible to be methodically reckless? "Oh look, the boy is very slowly knocking the grease-filled frying pan off of the stove."

I interpreted this one carefully, saying that players who are reckless hurl themselves about the field with abandon and often end up hurting themselves as well as opposing defenders. Fast reckless ballhandlers cause similar injuries, but at least they score on the play.

But to be honest, John Madden is one of the more lucid analysts in the business. And unfortunately, none of us in the room, myself included, spoke Summerall.

The difference between Madden and Summerall is the difference between translating pig Latin and translating an encrypted mirror image of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

When Pat Summerall says, "The strength of their defense is that their defense is not their strength" - well, I'm just ready to drop back and punt.

And who can translate the advertisements? Even the Pepsi ads aren't funny anymore, although they do mention "Pepsi" and you are relatively aware they are marketing a soft drink.

This year, the question wasn't "did you catch the joke?" It was, "Did you catch the product?" Lots of the ads seemed to say no more than: "Hi, we've got a really cool name and a really dazzling Web site, so please keep us in mind when we figure out what it is we want to sell."

It took Falcon's quarterback Chris Chandler to finally put things in perspective and offer an analysis we could all understand when he explained to the Fox reporter: "We didn't win."

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