Quick question: What annual American tradition starts early and quickly wears out its welcome but relentlessly chugs on no matter what? If you've ever been exposed to the sports media in late January, then you already know the answer: the Super Bowl Hype Machine.
With victories by the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears last Sunday moving their respective franchises into the biggest NFL game of the season on Feb. 4, football fans can, once again, expect a severe case of information overload right up to the game's kick-off.
The Internet and cable television serve as primary fuel to the fire that is Super Bowl media hype. The recent expansion of these entities has transformed sports coverage into a completely different animal. The phrase "24/7" now seems like an understatement when discussing the spectrum of coverage. With around the clock sources such as the sports channel ESPNEWS and a bevy of sports Web sites offering constantly updated material, industry competition often revolves not around the quality of a story, but rather on its timeliness.
Sports writers are forced, therefore, to repeatedly search for new angles on the same storylines, rehash old material and submit it as something "different," and beat every other possible item into the ground until they (and, as a result, the rest of us) are blue in the face. And nowhere is this unfortunate trend more visible than the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl.
So what, specifically, does that mean? Well, let's just say it's a sure bet that the following Super sub-plots will be drilled into every sports fan's weary mind for the next 11 days: (1) Colts' coach Tony Dungy and Bears' coach Lovie Smith are the first black coaches to lead a team to the Super Bowl, (2) Dungy and Smith happen to be great friends, (3) Colts QB Peyton Manning has finally overcome his playoff demons to reach the championship round, (4) The game itself will come down to a battle of Chicago's stout defense versus Indianapolis' dynamic offense, (5) Every other conceivable conglomeration and spin-off of the aforementioned headlines.
Excited yet? The NFL hopes so. With the two week recess between conference championship games and the Super Bowl having recently blossomed into an accepted tradition, the league aims to generate as much hype as possible for its showcase event. The extended layoff gives its advertising branch more time to attract viewers, allows for an extra week of anticipation-building water cooler discussion among fans, and, perhaps most importantly for the NFL, makes the game seem bigger than it really is.
However, it also invites the type of media saturation that sacrifices journalistic integrity and ingenuity in the name of promotion and competition. And that, to be certain, is not something to get excited about.