Superbowl Storylines: The Bluffer’s Guide to Sunday night’s action

SAM_0493Need some Cliff Notes for the upcoming climax to the NFL season? Here is a summary of the major plot lines so you can avoid displaying your ignorance at the dinner table.

The forty-seventh edition of the Superbowl will be hosted in New Orleans on Sunday and features the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers. Amazingly – for the first time in the history of all American sports playoff games – the two teams are coached by brothers. Only one year apart in age, John and Jim Harbaugh will be playing for their parents’ love. No really I suppose their parents Jack and Jackie (Seriously? Jim, John, Jack and Jackie?) are proud as punch etc…

The star of Superbowl 47 is Raven’s defensive linebacker Ray Lewis. Known as much for his over-the-top pre-game dance routines as he is for his inspirational leadership qualities, 37 year old Lewis epitomises many of the contradictions of the modern NFL star. An outstanding talent, his past has raised more than a few eyebrows. Since 2000 Lewis’ career has been in the shadow of a murder case in which he plead guilty to obstruction of justice and testified against his friends. He was in the news once again this week for allegedly using deer antler spray (a banned product which includes insulin-like growth hormone) to help his recovery from torn triceps earlier in the season. Love him or hate him, the Superbowl will be Lewis’ last game before retiremnet and he’ll hope to end his career at the very top.

If Ray Lewis is the star of Superbowl 47 then Colin Kaepernick leads the supporting cast. The 49ers’ quarterback was been a sensational success since he was controversially made the first team starter after regular quarterback Alex Smith missed a mid-season game due to a concussion. By permanently giving Kaepernick the number one role at quarterback in place of Smith (who had been enjoying a stellar year), Coach Harbaugh divided San Francisco fans down the middle: the Smith faithful vs the Kaepernick usurpers. However Kaepernick has overcome the hullaballoo and led the 49ers to the Superbowl by using his quick feet to outpace defensive backs and his arm to out distance secondary defences. Unless his inexperience catches up with him, Kaepernick should bring a sixth Lombardi Trophy back to San Fran.

There’ll be plenty of off field action too: Beyonce is scheduled to perform the half-time show (ooh will she sing live or will she lip-sync as she did for Obama etc), Alicia Keys will sing the US National Anthem (ooh will she sing live or etc), and if this is anything to go by the much hyped all-American-consumerist Superbowl ads will be even lamer than usual.

It promises to be a hell of a show!


Full Transcript: Lance Armstrong on Oprah

Here is the complete transcript of both parts of Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah (with some live tweets thrown in here or there to satisfy any lingering OCD).

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Lance Armstrong Interview Part One: Initial Reaction

Amazing television. It’s 3.30am as I type this and I’ve restarted the tape and want to watch it all over again. The first 5 minutes were absolutely riveting. His one word Yes or No answers which contradict everything he’s said for 15 years was simply amazing television.

But all the time there was the feeling that he’s not revealing the whole truth. His assertion that he took no performance enhancing drugs during his comeback in 2009-2011 is simply not believable. I suppose it’s simply an inconvenient coincidence his admission to drug taking from the early 90s until 2005 fall outside the statue of limitations, whereas admitting more recent drug taking would leave him open further federal probes and investigations.

Oprah did an OK job, she obviously had to get up to speed fairly quickly – but she seemed to overlook a lot of the detail (e.g. about Ferrari, his thoughts on Landis and the UCI) in favour of getting broad stroke generalities.

If anything Armstrong came across better from a PR point of view when he was being cautious rather than when he let his guard down and spoke openly. His answers to questions on Betsy Andreu and Emma O’Reilly will haunt him long after this interview. His lack of empathy and understanding really point towards what many on live blogging on Twitter characterised as “psychopathic”. For example, it was reported that Lance called Betsy “a fat, crazy bitch”. Lance’s reaction was that he never called her fat. As for Emma O’Reilly whom he called a whore while under oath…? Well he couldn’t remember if he sued her or not. As was pointed out on David Epstein’s twitter (which you should check out by the way) Armstrong employed the passive tense every now and again, example: Emma O’Reilly was one of those people who “got run over”. Not “I ran her over and called her an alcoholic prostitute”. He also said O’Reilly was one of the people he had to apologise to. The truth is not your friend Lance.

Looking back at some of his comments one of the ones that stands out now is that he referred to himself as “an arrogant prick”. The closest he came to tears was after he was showed a clip of himself on the winning podium of the Tour de France in 2005 as he attacked the “sceptics and the cynics” for not believing in him. His reaction was embarrassment but he felt that it was a “lame” way to leave the Tour and he felt he had to come back.

Armstrong said he did not feel bad or that he was cheating while he took drugs. For him it was the same as having air in the tyres and water in the bottles. The discussion literally came down to semantics when he described looking up the word cheat in the dictionary and confirmed to himself at the time that he wasn’t cheating. Oprah really should have pushed harder at moments like that. Lots of references to him “not being a fan of the UCI” but Oprah didn’t push forward on that either as she might have…

All in all, sitting up here at a silly hour in the morning, I know I’ll remember where I was when reputation of the most successful pro cyclist of his generation and a once bone fide American hero was completely shattered. To put it simply, he’s a scary scary man, who perhaps somewhat less deluded that he was but who still thinks of himself as special and unbeholden to anyone. His control of his emotions even at a time like this though is impressive and yet there were many moments where he rattled off pre-rehearsed statements (the whole “scary” “scarier” “scariest” routine comes to mind). To me it seems he’s only caught out badly at times he lets his guard down, e.g. the Betsy A (“she wouldn’t mind me saying this…”) and Emma O’R exchanges.

That’s me done, off to bed, part two tomorrow should be good too. Disappointed Oprah didn’t nail him down on certain issues, but all in all I can’t see how Armstrong will come out of this with any kind of sympathy or understanding with the public at large.

Five Things to Remember before Lance Armstrong’s Interview

1 The “just laying around” picture

After the release of USADA’s damning report in October of 2012 and the media maelstrom that followed, Armstrong maintained radio silence. One month later, having stepped down as chairman of his Livestrong charity, Armstrong tweeted this photo of him “back in Austin just laying around” his living room with his seven winning Tour de France jerseys framed on the wall. No sweat there.

2 The bullying

Many examples of this. Armstrong made scurrilous insinuations against team soigneur Emma O’Reilly as an excuse for her hurried and uncomfortable departure from the team; vilified Paul Kimmage using cancer sufferers as a shield to evade probing questions, and as leader of the Tour de France effectively excommunicated Christophe Bassons from professional cycling.

Dozens of people were directly affected by Armstrong’s alpha male machoness, and millions more must feel disgusted by his manipulative use of a remarkable cancer survivor story as a smokescreen to bully many into silence.

3 The 1998 Tour de France

Referred to as the Tour du Dopage, the 1998 edition of the Tour de France might as well never have begun after police raids of team cars found enough drugs, blood bags and syringes to fill a pharmacy. Riders were tossed out, whole teams banned, stages abandoned, and results made void. The subsequent 1999 Tour de France was billed as the Tour of Renewal, a chance for cycling to demonstrate it was clean and intent on regaining a decent public image. It also happened to be the first Tour for Armstrong after his recovery from cancer. Needless to say, the 1999 Tour did not herald the clean era of racing Tour organisers promised the media.

4 The dodgy business deals

As we go further into the rabbit hole of the Armstrong scandal, information is emerging about the lucrative benefits Armstrong enjoyed as a result of his charity Livestrong, with shadowy deals and alleged conflicts of interests being reported in recent newspaper articles. Following money trails is the life blood of investigative reporting, and now that the floodgates are opening on Armstrong expect more to follow. Hell hath no fury like a long time silenced journalist. See the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal for facts and figures.

5 To date Armstrong has admitted to nothing

Last year the New York Times produced a startling graph highlighting the proven drug cheats who finished in the top ten of the Tour de France from 1998 to 2012. It makes for fairly sickening viewing. Armstrong, as leader of the peloton through most of this time, had remarkable influence on an entire generation of riders and in many ways the maillot jaune must bear the weight responsibility. Until today he has admitted to nothing. Now, having been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, his Olympic medal, his sponsorship deals, and all but his most deluded fans, he has decided he is ready to “admit” to doping. For whose benefit was this decision made, Armstrong or cycling?

It’s human to pity those who suddenly lose everything. It’s human to forgive those who admit their transgressions. It’s not to conclude that Armstrong will remain a man not so much sorry he cheated but sorry he was caught.

Today is not a day for pity and forgiveness.