ARLINGTON, Texas -- The thing keeps getting bigger, although it hardly seems possible. The Super Bowl is overwhelming as an experience: enormous, loud, annoying, American, garish, gross, seductive and mesmerizing.
It makes you wonder how it could be possible for the NFL’s owners and its players union to screw it up.
There was a time when all of these games seemed to be blowouts; Super Bore became a regular complaint. It seems like such a long time ago. Anybody who watched the Pittsburgh Steelers claw their way back last night against the Green Bay Packers, and then claw their way back again, could not mistake the desperate determination of both sides.
As you watched it, you knew, however the score finally came out, that this meant everything, to all of them. These years, the Super Bowls all seem like the day of their lives.
More than 100 million watched on television. More than 103,000 either were in the stadium or paid for the privilege of watching on big screens right outside. And if the final score -- Packers 31, Steelers 25 -- disappointed half of them, the spectacle captured them all. The NFL could not be riding higher.
Now, only two people can screw it up: Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith, the commissioner and the labor leader.
It seems impossible that they might.
Sitting in Cowboys Stadium, it was hard to imagine that the NFL would do anything to get in the way of its momentum. Think about it: it had been a terrible weather week in Dallas and people were carping about how badly the region handled its bout of ice and snow, and then the pre-game talk was about long waits for security checks for fans and also the embarrassment of the NFL having to offer refunds (at triple face value) to 400 people whose temporary seats were not approved by the local fire marshal.
It was deemed by some, because of that, a bad Super Bowl as far as the week-long extravaganza was concerned. But then came the game, which again offered the kind of theater that overwhelmed all of the grousing.
It came down to this: with 1:59 to go, Green Bay held a 31-25 lead and the Steelers had one more shot. They had trailed in the game by 14-0, 21-3 and 28-17, and this was going to be their last opportunity to climb the hill.
First and 10, 87 yards away, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and his two Super Bowl rings went to work. He had thrown two interceptions to that point and also two touchdown passes, banged up but still banging away.
A 15-yard completion to Heath Miller. A 5-yard completion to Hines Ward. An incompletion and then another. Fourth-and-5 from their 33-yard line, then. Fifty-six seconds remaining. The final pass went to Mike Wallace, contested, incomplete, ballgame.
The Packers won the fourth Super Bowl in their history. The Steelers were prevented from winning their seventh.
In the end, it was decided the way most games are decided -- by turnovers. The Steelers had three of them, and all three of them led to Packers touchdowns, and when you strip away all of the drama, that really was that.
Of course, you cannot strip away the drama, can you?
Again, only two people can: Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith. But last night, as the Packers celebrated, as they shot off the confetti canons, it really did not seem possible.