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BOB RYAN

A notion he can never entertain

I do not believe that one briefly exposed 37-year-old female breast, right or left, will bring down the Republic.

But I do believe that the NFL and CBS gave us good reason Sunday evening to examine just how far we have strayed, during the past two or three decades, from the idea of what constitutes a sporting event.

Long before Justin Timberlake reached over to that infamous right breast belonging to Janet Jackson, long before Kid Rock showed up on the stage with an American flag shirt, and long before Nelly did his best Larry Johnson imitation by reaching down and grabbing his crotch, I looked around the $400 million splendor of Reliant Stadium and said to myself, "All I want is a place to watch the game."

I don't need a gaudy video screen, or screens. I don't need a sound system that can be heard on Jupiter or Mars. I just want a scoreboard to give me yard line, down, distance, how many timeouts are remaining, and the score. If it's basketball or hockey, a clock and the score. Then give me a reasonably comfortable seat, a clean restroom, a reasonably priced concession stand -- arena and stadium concessions are completely overrated in this country -- and I'm a happy man. Halftime entertainment? Who cares? I might prefer discussing the first half with my companion.

This apparently outs me as being completely out of touch. Don't I know that I'm supposed to be "entertained?"

I am certifiably Old School. I think Sport, capital S, is one thing and Entertainment, Capital E, is another. Of course, Sport should be "entertaining;" that's not what I'm talking about. To me, Sport is inherently "entertaining," how much so depending on the individual game. If I didn't think Sport was fun, or "entertaining," why would I bother to watch?

But Sport, where the object is to produce an outcome, is not to be confused with "Entertainment," an area of human endeavor that has a far different objective. They are separate, but equal, experiences. Walking out of a double-overtime game decided by a buzzer-beater is an exhilarating experience (unless your team has lost) that leaves you in a different physical and emotional state than you were when the game began. Walking out of a four-hour Springsteen concert likewise leaves you in an altered state, but it's a far different state. As great as it may have been, it lacked that essential buzz of anxiety and curiosity you have in a sporting event when you don't know how it will come out. No concert can give you that. A whodunit movie might, to some degree, but in the end it's just a story and the people involved are actors. I guarantee you that Jake Delhomme is a real, live person, and he is in a hurting emotional state today. What we saw in Reliant Stadium Sunday night was spontaneous and very real.

It was Sport. And it could not have been more entertaining.

In the not-too-distant past, Sport was all we needed. A stadium or arena had x number of seats, some closer to the action than others. The rich may have had better seats, but at least they were subject to the same raindrops as everyone else. Then came the Astrodome. Judge Roy Hofheinz gave us the luxury box, and the sports world has never been the same. From that moment, the idea that simply going to the game for the sport of it all was insufficient. No, let's sit in a suite. Let's eat catered food. Let's drink. Let's make a business deal. Let's show off. By the way, who's playing down there?

Meanwhile, there has been some sort of universal decree that no major team sport game is good enough to sustain customer interest by itself. The umbrella must be large enough to include everybody, even people not particularly interested in the game. That's why we have the noise bombardment and the stunts and the assorted nonsense that augments the action in our games. We even have annoying music during the actual play. And God forbid we have a moment of peace and quiet during a cessation of play. I mean, who'd want to talk about the game?

There is nothing wrong with music at a game. Who could forget John Kiley? But we've come a long way from Kiley playing the "Mexican Hat Dance" during a Celtics timeout to the aural assault we get today. The experience has been distorted. Kids don't even know why they're at the game. I would say that 90 percent of those under 18 who attend any game at the Fleet do so in the hopes of seeing himself or herself up on the Jumbotron. The game is irrelevant.

And these are supposed to be the fans of tomorrow?

Marry Sport to television and you have more problems. Television is narcissistic to the core, and its oxygen is ratings. TV moguls do not care about Sport. They view Sport as nothing more than programming and their sole aim -- and don't ever think otherwise -- is to maximize ratings. They have no regard for the people who actually pay to see the games. They care far more about potential viewers 3,000 miles away. They concoct illogical and inconvenient start times, and they have no shame.

Meanwhile, who really needs a halftime show at a Super Bowl? Nobody. If you think you need a show, put the Texas Southern and Grambling bands out there and let them do a "Drumline" thing. But the NFL and networks are way beyond that. To them, the halftime can be sold and exploited to a wider audience. It is every bit as important to them as the game. Get some perceived star or two out there and let them lip-synch their way through a few numbers. Wow.

I was neither shocked nor offended by any of it. I was amused, because the NFL got exactly what it deserved. And now Boston and Charlotte, N.C., are the only places in America where people are talking about what may have been the greatest Super Bowl of them all. The rest of this country is talking about a three-second glimpse of a breast, complete with nipple ring. That's Entertainment. Right, America?

I was there for Sport, and I sure got what I came for. When I want Entertainment, I'll buy a ticket to a movie, play, concert, or museum. I prefer a New Testament approach. I shall continue to render to Sport the things that are Sport, and to Entertainment the things that are Entertainment.

Help me out here. Am I alone?

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

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