That's a lot to be pleased about. But if Manning was No. 1 on the happy meter during last night's game, I might have been a fairly close second.
Why? Well, I was able to watch the game from the comfort of our home--or at least from the pay-by-the-week motel that currently serves as our "home" in the Missouri Ozarks. The last time Denver played in the Super Bowl--at the end of the 2013 season--I watched it from the "cozy confines" of the Shelby County Jail in Columbiana, Alabama.
What was a guy, who (best I can recall) does not even have a speeding ticket on his record, doing in jail? Well, I had committed the "crime" of writing a blog about legal and political corruption in Alabama--especially the kind that white, male elites have used to help turn a beautiful, high-potential state into a low-production backwater. Rob Riley, the attorney son of former GOP governor Bob Riley, has benefited mightily from Alabama's dysfunctional environment, so he filed a defamation lawsuit designed to shut me down.
I challenged the lawsuit on jurisdictional grounds, due to unlawful service, and was set to then pursue First Amendment issues, when deputy Chris Blevins entered our home on October 23, 2013--without showing a warrant or stating that he had one--and I was assaulted (knocked to a concrete basement floor three times), doused with pepper spray, handcuffed, and hauled to jail in the back of a squad car.
My apparent infraction? Contempt of court for failure to remove certain items about Rob Riley and lobbyist Liberty Duke from this blog--even though those items, by law, had never been found to be false or defamatory. In fact, they still--to this day--have never been found to be false or defamatory, under the law, by a jury. But I spent more than five months in jail anyway--finally earning my release on March 26, 2014.
|My mugshot after being roughed up by an Alabama cop|
First, I learned quickly that perhaps the biggest challenge of jail is figuring out how to pass the time. Jails, unlike prisons, are not designed to hold people for very long, so that means there are almost no semi-useful ways to spend your time--no library, no computers, no real recreational opportunities. Your options are pretty much TV (a show not of your choosing, with the volume at ear-splitting levels), eating, sleeping, TV, showering, walking in circles, playing cards, getting into a fight over the TV (or the phones), or TV.
I met probably a couple of dozen guys in jail who also had spent time in prison. Each one said he would much rather be in prison than in jail.
I was excited about Super Bowl 48 for two reasons: (1) All the inmates seemed to agree that was the show to watch, so there were no arguments about the merits of American Idol vs. Housewives of Atlanta; (2) Because of all the commercials and the "halftime spectacular," Super Bowls usually are interminable, taking four to five hours to finish--not counting the hours of pre-game hype.
"Gee, this will be a great way to kill time," I thought. "And since neither Alabama nor Auburn is involved, that reduces the chance for harsh words and possible brawls. Peyton Manning is getting old, so maybe I can sit back and enjoy watching him try to nail down a second Super Bowl before he rides off into the Denver sunset."
What happened? Seattle's defense suffocated Manning and the favored Broncos, jumping to a 22-0 halftime lead. The lead eventually grew to 36-0 before the Seahawks finished off a 43-8 rout, in one of the most lopsided Super Bowls ever.
So much for my dream of having an entertaining way to kill four or five hours in jail. The game was worth watching for little more than an hour. After that, I gave up on hoping Manning could penetrate the Seattle defense and laid down on my bunk, staring at the bunk above me.
Even in our current spartan accommodations--Carol and I have come to call it "The Shiftless Drifters Motel"--watching last night's game was an utter joy, compared to my jail experience of two years ago.
Denver's defense, led by Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, was impenetrable this time. In fact, the Broncos more or less did to Carolina's Cam Newton what Seattle did to Manning two years ago.
My appreciation for being able to watch the Super Bowl in a state of freedom was not the only reason I was hyped about last night's game. As usual, the state of Alabama was well represented in the game, with eight players who call our state home. The only states with more players--California (24), Texas (14), Georgia (13), Florida (12), and Ohio (10)--have significantly larger populations than Alabama. On a per-capita basis, Alabama had more players in Super Bowl 50 than any other state.
In fact, I even feel a certain kinship with one of the players from Alabama--a quarterback who was one of the most exciting college players I've ever seen live. You might assume I'm talking about Cam Newton, who won the Heisman Trophy while playing at Auburn. But I'm actually thinking of Joe Webb, who played quarterback (and wide receiver) at UAB, and now serves on special teams for Carolina. In fact, he returned one kickoff for 24 yards in last night's game.
The 6-4, 235-pound Webb is from Birmingham, flew under the major recruiting radar, and developed into a dynamic run-pass quarterback threat for UAB. I've seen some awfully good football players live--Bo Jackson, Herschel Walker, Ozzie Newsome, and many more--but Joe Webb will always be one of my favorites. Plus, I got to interview Webb several times, and he always seemed to be a thoughtful, likable guy. In the right offensive system, I still think he could be a standout in the NFL.
According to my fellow inmates, there was at least one guy in our 64-man unit who had done time for murder. He apparently had served his prison sentence for that and was in the Shelby County Jail for a lesser offense. Most of the guys I met in jail were in for probation violations (usually related to alcohol), drug offenses (marijuana, meth, heroin--in that order), DUI, domestic violence, and such.
The really bad dudes--alleged murderers, rapists, child molesters, etc.--were in the unit next to ours. Thankfully, there was a nice thick wall between us and them.
I'm quite sure I was the only person in the jail--at that time, or any other time--who had been arrested for blogging.
Do I have memories of my jail time--or have I tried to block it out, as if it never happened? Oh, I definitely have memories. For one, the vast majority of the inmates were pleasant and likable guys, at least to me, and some of them were uber funny. I really would like to see some of them again, but it seems that once you get out of jail, the thought of seeing those people again is troubling--even if you like them.
I'll never forget the inmate who committed suicide just a few feet from me. And during Super Bowl 48, I distinctly remember thinking, "I can't believe I'm watching the Super Bowl, with a convicted murderer right over there."
The murderer actually seemed like a pretty nice guy. But still, it sure was nice to watch last night's game with Carol. I might not have been as happy as Peyton Manning, but it was pretty darned close.