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A Serving of Cold Turkey for the Super Bowl

The sportsaholic’s prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference between a game I want to watch and one I don’t give a hoot about.

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They say NBC commentator Paul Maguire talked too much during Sunday’s Super Bowl XXX telecast from Tempe, Ariz. I wouldn’t know.

They say the commercials, Diana Ross and the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders were spectacular, that the Pittsburgh Steelers came to play, refused to give up and could hold their heads high even in losing. I didn’t see them.

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They say the telecast attracted a record 138.5 million viewers. I wasn’t one of them.

On Sunday, I quit cold turkey. Swore off the stuff. Spent the afternoon drying out.

No chills, no sweats, no cramps, no nausea, no hallucinations and definitely no regrets. I felt the serenity, displayed the courage, acted on the wisdom. I saw the light, had an epiphany, got the message, heeded the word, was reborn and cleansed. Hallelujah, I hear the music, and it’s beautiful. For me, the Days of Bud Lite and Roses have ended.

I owe it all to the Kansas City Chiefs.

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Because I’m from Kansas City and a loyal Chiefs fan, I was at once devastated and delighted when they were upset by the Indianapolis Colts early in the playoffs:

* Devastated because the Chiefs, with the best record in the NFL, were expected by me and many others to easily whip the Colts and perhaps make it all the way to Tempe, where it was anticipated that they, not the Steelers, would follow the script and obligingly lose to the omnipotent Cowboys. Although aware of the game’s pain and frustration potential, tied to the likelihood of my favorite team losing, I was looking forward to the agony of seeing the Chiefs vs. the Cowboys in the Super Bowl.

* Delighted because the Chiefs’ defeat relieved me of the responsibility of watching additional playoff games and then the Super Bowl. Thank you, Steve Bono, for bombing at quarterback against the Colts and breaking my heart. Thank you, Lin Elliott, for missing those easy field goals, costing the Chiefs a win and deflating my enthusiasm.

Having no emotional investment in the outcomes, I was not compelled to watch the playoff telecasts leading to Sunday’s championship game. I read not even one advance story about the big game. No pregame show, either. And no postgame show. I was liberated.

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Being addicted to televised sports is a heavy monkey on your back. No matter the sport, you’re helplessly, self-destructively drawn to the process of athletics merely because it’s under your nose. You find yourself watching games that you don’t care about, featuring players that you don’t care about, games at schools or in cities that you have no attachment to, squandering time that you could use more productively.

In past years, I watched the football playoffs sans Chiefs, then afterward felt guilt about wasting the hours. I also watched the Super Bowl, and felt guilt about that, too, aware of being sucked in by a game--even a rare competitive one like Sunday’s--that is never more than the sum of its commercial sponsors, a hollow, artificial, Madison Avenue-cooked pseudo-event that lacks the depth, substance and, despite its Roman numerals, tradition of the World Series.

*

Yet somehow it resonates louder and longer than any other sports championship. If I had watched the game, I would have been in front of my set applauding when Monday’s morning shows gave more time to it even than Hillary, when Jay Leno and David Letterman built their Monday night monologues around the Super Bowl, when Letterman’s junior smartass, Sparky Mortimer, once again checked in from Tempe that night, when Tom Snyder opened with a crack about the Super Bowl, when ESPN continued to dwell on it as if it were biblical. For many, it is.

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It’s astonishing how the Super Bowl becomes nearly everyone’s point of reference, a common denominator like the booze in your hand at a cocktail party. For once, though, I didn’t have to join the debate about the game and whether it lived up to the hype, because for me, 1996 was different.

Instead of watching the Super Bowl, I took a 10-mile power walk with my wife. She took my hand, infused me with her strength and vowed that together we would conquer my addiction, assured me that the best was yet to be.

“Smell the freshness in the air, and just look at the beauty of the sun on the mountains,” she urged as we walked while vigorously pumping our arms.

“I bet the Cowboys are already two touchdowns ahead,” I said.

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The abstinence was working, however, and I began feeling the glow. For once we owned the streets, were alone on them, hearing only our own footsteps in the silence when we weren’t chatting, seeing only an occasional auto whiz by, basking in the absence of others, most of whom probably were inside somewhere hearing Paul Maguire.

We returned before the game had ended, and sure, you never lose the monkey because the addiction is in your blood and you’re always recovering, never recovered. Sure, I was tempted to turn on the game, several times grasping my remote control and running a finger over the power button as my wife, who isn’t addicted, did other things. A little shot of Super Bowl just to hear the score, I rationalized. What would be the harm? I’d already proved, out there in the fresh air, that I wasn’t a hopeless sportsaholic like the true sickies. It didn’t control me, I controlled it.

But I didn’t succumb. I made it. I’m clean. Serenity, courage and wisdom prevailed.

Next year, maybe we’ll go to Disneyland . . . unless the Chiefs prevail.

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