It may not be the most important or most anticipated, but Super Bowl Sunday is perhaps the most uniquely American holiday of them all. Unhealthy snacks? Shameless advertising? A temporary distraction from the craziness of the past year? Sign. Me. Up.
Of course, such an event isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Given everything else that’s going on, even people who generally like sports are probably feeling a bit apathetic about this year’s championship game. It’s an understandable attitude.
If you’re not a football fan, this post may already be inducing some of the following thoughts:
They’re playing football right now? During a global pandemic? [Somehow, yes.]
God, I hope that Tom Brady guy isn’t in it again. [Yup, he is.]
Are the Seahawks in it? Were they good this season? [No; not really.]
Is football the one with the round ball or the egg-shaped ball? [It depends…]
Well, hopefully they still have the Puppy Bowl this year! [They do.]
And, no matter how invested you are in the National Football League, you’re surely thinking:
This blog entry has nothing to do with chimpanzees.
[Well, not yet… but it will. Bear with me.]
As much as I struggle to defend the commercialism and machismo of the NFL on an intellectual level, I actually love the Super Bowl. I don’t really buy into the tribalism of sports fandom, but I appreciate the talent, teamwork and strategy required to compete at the most elite level of such a complex sport.
One thing I love about American football, in particular, is the way players communicate with each other in order to successfully execute even the simplest of plays. When this process is repeated dozens of times, coordinating a sixty-minute football game begins to resemble conducting an entire symphony (all while an opposing orchestra simultaneously improvises a rival symphony in the same auditorium). Teams depend on complex playbooks, advanced technology, and continuous nonverbal communication to keep information flowing among personnel. Superstar athletes often draw the spotlight away from their peers, but the path to success is paved with consistency, cooperation and efficiency. Perhaps Billy Bob Thornton’s Coach Gaines said it best in Friday Night Lights when he preached “You need to find each other!” In short, whoever creates meaningful connections between themselves and their teammates has the best chance of winning the game and succeeding in life.
In some ways, chimpanzee groups remind me of sports teams.
Chiefly (heh heh), neither system could function if everyone constantly challenged each other for the top rank. Much like professional football players, chimpanzees tend to adopt roles in their community that align with their personalities, biological predispositions and learned skills.
In this way, chimp society is more appropriately imagined as a network than as a pecking order. Each individual is connected to all the others by series of interactions (and we human scientists invent a linear hierarchy by assigning directionality and arbitrary value to those events that seem most significant to us), so life’s not always about climbing up the social ladder.
In practice, being “high-ranking” actually comes with a suite of responsibilities, privileges and drawbacks, some of which “low-ranking” individuals may not have to deal with. One position is not uniformly better than the other; they’re just different niches with their own costs and benefits. Sure, it helps to have some established clout in a head-to-head competition, but those mano a mano stand-offs are more rare than you’d expect. To put it bluntly, I’d rather be a lowly citizen in a stable country than the ruler of a dumpster fire.
In football, it’s easier to follow a more natural path than it is to take a bunch of risks that won’t pay off. A 262-lb human isn’t going to run fast or jump ridiculously high (unless they’re Montez Sweat), so it’s better for them- and for the team- if they learn to block and tackle. While a football game might be win-or-lose, being a part of the team is a non-zero sum game. If they all put their egos aside and habitually do their jobs, they might just win a Super Bowl together.
Likewise, Annie probably won’t win too many fights against Negra, but she can get more food by hanging back and scooping up whatever vegetables The Queen leaves behind. Neggie can then relax knowing nobody is going to challenge her for a night bag. By unknowingly sorting themselves like teammates, the chimpanzee group maintains stability and individuals can get on with more important things (like playing chase and slapping troll dolls around) without the constant threat of conflict and dysfunction.
Given these parallel systems, you may be starting to wonder exactly how each chimp’s unique personality would factor into a football contest like the one being played today. Luckily, I decided to write a Buzzfeed-style post that explains exactly that in painstaking detail. Actually, it may be the longest blog post I’ve ever written, and that’s saying something. Hopefully you’re into sports metaphors and trivia (or can at least stomach them for about twenty minutes).
Seriously, though… you should top off your beverage, pop some popcorn and get comfy. There’s a lot to unpack here.
Without further ado, I present to you:
The Official Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest Super Bowl Squad™
Head Coach (HC) – Jamie
Jamie has all the makings of a legendary NFL Head Coach. She’s an imposing force, running the Chimp House like a tight ship and confronting those who fall out of line. Like some of the best minds in professional football (with whom she also shares some fashion sense), Jamie appreciates routine and structure. As the most dominant female chimp, she isn’t afraid to exert control over her surroundings using any materials at her disposal. I can imagine James holding a tablet on the sidelines, using analytics to choose a play and conveying her choice with some quick head nods and conspicuous foot stomps.
Surely, Jamie’s players would be disciplined, loyal to her system, and equipped with the best footwear in the league. She’s not always a tyrant, though, and her thorough coaching keeps us caregivers well-conditioned and entertained. With her mentality and demeanor, she’d probably thrive at the sanctuary’s helm and collect championship trophies as if they were Grab Bags.
Quarterback (QB) – Jody
As the sanctuary’s “den mother,” Jody has the leadership and “intangibles” to be a Hall-of-Fame quarterback. This position isn’t just about throwing and handing the ball to the other players; as the coaching staff’s lieutenant, the quarterback makes sure that the plans made on the sidelines are executed on the field. If there’s any doubt about her potential as a game-manager, the way Jody strategically dominates outdoor forages should put an end to it. Her keen awareness, caring nature and industrious efficiency would keep the offense moving towards the end-zone and put points on the scoreboard.
Quarterbacks, who are usually chosen to be captains, also mitigate issues among the players both on and off the field. This keeps the team operating cohesively and efficiently. For example, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes (who is starring in tonight’s game opposite Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady) publicly reassured a frustrated teammate last week, keeping the peace and motivating that player to perform better in subsequent plays. We frequently see “Farmer Jo” do the same for her peers by offering unambiguous gestures of emotional support in times of trouble. With skills like hers, Jody would cultivate some magical comradery and lead her team to victory.
Running Back (RB) – Foxie
Running backs have one primary objective: to carry the football “downfield” through the defense and toward the end-zone. This job requires an extraordinary combination of speed, agility and toughness, but the most critical responsibility is to hold onto the football at all costs. For these reasons, Foxie is the clear favorite to be this team’s superstar running back. Although tiny, her talents are electric. For one thing, Foxie’s unpredictable behavior would confuse, frazzle, and exhaust opposing defenses, and her acrobatic skills (1, 2, 3) would give her that “big-play ability” that Seattleites may be familiar with (even a decade later).
Crucially, Foxie has already demonstrated a talent for securely toting around her coveted dolls. Foxie’s carrying skills go way beyond those of her NFL counterparts; while they only hold the ball in their hands, she can balance the dolls on her shoulders, clutch them between her toes, clench them in her jaws, tuck them into her pelvic pocket, and even catch them behind her back. She’s actually quite cavalier about their safety at times, but it doesn’t really matter. Her rare ability to carry two dolls at once would yield double the touchdowns and likely skyrocket her to the top of the fantasy rankings. For these reasons and more, Foxie would indubitably be the sanctuary’s primetime halfback.
Wide Receiver (WR) – Annie
Annie would, like many NFL wide receivers, be a focal point of drama. Receivers are often the ones celebrating on television after reeling in pivotal touchdown passes, but this showmanship often comes with unnecessary juvenile behavior that attracts negative media attention. As a reactive and vocal chimpanzee, Annie has the potential to be one of these celebrity wideouts.
Annie-Bird’s not a natural leader and generally concedes to more dominant chimps in direct conflicts of interest. Despite this baseline insecurity, she has grown bolder and more confident over the years and still finds crafty ways to get what she values most. For example, Annie will express when she’s not happy and draw everyone’s attention to the source of her discomfort, then fade away from the turmoil she just incited with someone else’s forgotten carrot in hand. Like a wide receiver, so-called because they literally position themselves “out wide” near the sidelines, she’s happier at the fringes of the group. Still, Annie has the potential to make difficult plays look easy (like when she casually siphons smoothie from other chimps’ cups). Of course, Annie’s flamboyant apparel would also keep her in the tabloids and help her land lucrative corporate sponsorships.
Tight End (TE) – Willy B
Traditionally, tight ends are multitalented but not flashy; they block on most plays but can also be receivers, using their physicality to snag balls out of midair while surrounded by defenders. Although few NFL tight ends have achieved superstar status and household name recognition, tonight’s Super Bowl LV features two of the most famous TEs in history: Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce. These two playboys love the spotlight; Gronk may be the goofiest personality in the league and Kelce starred in a Bachelor-like reality game show called “Catching Kelce.” (Spoiler: They didn’t stay together after the series finale.) I’d like to add another member to this elite cohort of powerhouse tight ends, and his name is Willy B.
As the sanctuary’s newest bachelor, Willy has a uniquely charismatic and self-assured demeanor. He’s got the bravado and skills to rival those of the NFL’s best pass-catchers, and he knows how to use his social rank to his advantage. Despite his potential to lead, Willy often shirks the spotlight in favor of simple pleasures like watching TV, snacking on food, and swaggering outside to watch the neighbors. His reputation may be bolstered by his relatively large frame and amplified by the adoration he receives from the neighboring chimps, but the former resident of the Wildlife Waystation also seems to gain confidence as he acclimatizes to his sanctuary home. The Willy B I know would now have the guts to run into the end-zone and leap high to catch a football as if it were an apple placed far above the ground.
Offensive Line (OL) – Mave
I have a fondness for offensive linemen (centers, guards and tackles) because I briefly played left guard for my mediocre high school team. I truly think that Mave is better suited to handle the duties of the position than I was, which is why she’d be the perfect keystone to build the sanctuary’s offensive line around. Linemen are exclusively blockers, meaning they protect and create space for their teammates. Far from being typical jocks, linemen need to be reliable and smart so that they can dominate the trenches on any given play. Unsurprisingly, they have the highest average scores on the NFL’s preferred cognitive abilities test. In this regard, Mave is the perfect offensive lineman: humble, adaptable, and protective.
This pick is obvious to anyone who watches Mave cohabitate with her companions. As a gregarious but low-ranking individual, Mave is unassuming and kind to the other chimps. That doesn’t stop her from being a forceful peacekeeper. You could say that Mave, like any good lineman, isn’t afraid to throw her weight around (whether she’s making new friends, expressing emotion, or rough-housing). In fact, Mave is such a prolific wrestler that, when the ball is fumbled and all the linemen simultaneously pile on top, she’d come up with the football every time. Plus, instead of scoring touchdowns, the ultimate achievement for an offensive lineman is unofficially known as a “pancake block.” I love the idea of Mave leading the league in pancakes.
Defensive Line (DL) – Betsy, Honey, Meredith and Nutmeg
Football defenses are usually arranged into three distinct layers, the foremost of which is the defensive line. These defenders confront the offense up front, pressuring the opposing quarterback and swarming whoever is holding the football. Linemen may be known for size and brute strength, but the best are also clever and deceptively agile. The most famous defensive line in NFL history was that of the 1975 Minnesota Vikings (a.k.a. the Purple People Eaters), but I can’t think of a more formidable defensive unit than CSNW’s four largest residents: the cattle.
Betsy, Honey, Meredith and Nutmeg (or, as I call them, The Moo Crew) have all the qualities of fearsome defensive linemen. For one thing, they literally defend the sanctuary against wildfires by mowing the grass and trimming the weeds. These Jerseys seem slow and gentle, but they can run surprisingly fast and be shockingly fierce. Nutmeg is the bulkiest of the four, but Honey is the brazen leader and doesn’t tolerate any nonsense. The herd moves in a cohesive formation and their impenetrable wall of bovine muscle can be difficult to get past when their barn needs to be mucked. Whenever they detect a bale of hay being delivered, they lock onto it like four homing missiles and devour it like a wolf pack that just made a kill. That kind of focus and ferocity should have NFL scouts calling the sanctuary’s office and inviting these bovines to their next training camp.
Defensive Linebacker (LB) – Missy
Linebackers are some of the most versatile players because they have to get around linemen, tackle running backs and cover receivers. They also tend to be defensive leaders, calling out adjustments as the offense lines up in formation across from them. Once the play begins, they’re the first responders whose quick reactions often break up the opponent’s plan, and they’re often the ones to make the most tackles. If you have any questions about what qualities allow someone to excel in this role, just listen to unanimous praise for retired linebacker Luke Kuechly. The best of those players, like Kuechly, are known for being involved in lots of plays; this is why Missy would be the sanctuary’s defensive captain and starting middle linebacker.
Missy never shies away from a conflict; instead, she rushes in and supports her friends, saving the chit-chat for later. She’s always in high-gear, zipping around Young’s Hill from fence to fence just like a linebacker covering the whole field from sideline to sideline. Even her stout, compact frame is perfect for her role as the group’s enforcer. I once saw her stifle an altercation in the Playroom by charging in and tackling the first chimp she saw, distracting everyone long enough for them to calm down. She sometimes reminds me of one of the best Super Bowl commercials of all time: a 2003 Reebok ad featuring the NFL’s Terry Tate in the fictional role of “Office Linebacker.” Missy, like Tate, ensures that nobody gets away with any shenanigans (and that there are tomatoes on every serving tray).
Defensive Back (DB) – Burrito
Behind the linemen and linebackers, the defensive backs (i.e. safeties and cornerbacks) are the last players standing between the offense and the goal line. For this job, size is not as valuable as swiftness and timing. Elite defensive backs can cover the fastest receivers and chase down the most explosive running backs in the open field, occasionally even intercepting the quarterback’s passes. From the perspective of viewers at home, defensive backs often seem to come into the frame just in time to break up what would otherwise be offensive touchdowns. For these reasons, I am sure that the sanctuary’s star defensive back would be Burrito Chimpanzee.
When it comes to roaming around and then suddenly being right in your face, Bubba’s the guy for the job. He isn’t as large as Willy B, the other male chimp at the sanctuary, but Burrito has actually developed more agility, courage and endurance over the last year or so. Despite being 38 years old, his vigor for life is unparalleled. It is common for caregivers to be passing by the chimpanzee enclosures with some other task in mind and suddenly be confronted by an impatient Burrito demanding to play chase and tickle games. Honestly, NFL defensive coordinators should be studying his behavior in order to develop new coverage schemes because he constantly pops up wherever you look and forces you to modify your plans. If you have any doubt that a relatively small player can have a huge impact on a Super Bowl game, you can look to history– or just look at Burrito.
Special Teams (ST) – Honey B
Special teams is an inclusive term referring to the diverse “packages” of personnel who take the field on kickoffs, punts and field goal attempts. Although offensive and defensive stars rarely play on special teams, these situations can lead to odd and memorable plays: people making tackles without helmets, scoring touchdowns of 100+ yards, and even attempting daring trick plays. If you’re looking for someone to pump up the crowd by doing something crazy when everyone least expects it, perhaps Honey B is the special teams player for you.
Honey B can do any task with ease, including cleaning up, throwing objects, building forts, and even skateboarding. I wouldn’t be surprised if she could also learn to kick field goals, catch punts, and snap a football between her legs; she’s just that talented. Honey’s also a bit of an oddball, often seen apart from the other chimps rather than traveling as part of the gang. Kickers and punters have a similar reputation for independence in NFL locker rooms. Although these special teamers rarely become celebrities or team leaders, they can secure a place in everyone’s hearts by pulling off improbable stunts on national television. One case is that of Pat McAfee, a former NFL punter who became famous for executing strange feats with almost supernatural luck. McAfee’s most famous achievement may be his recovery of a ball that he kicked to himself, something that is almost impossible to successfully do. In my mind, the sanctuary’s equivalent moment was when Honey B won back a chow bag that Willy had just stolen from her, going against the social order and leaving us caregivers stunned. Kelsi summarized our reaction best in that day’s blog: “Don’t mess with Honey B.”
Everyone Watching From Home Just For the Half-Time Show (EWFHJ4THTS) – Negra
With all this being said, the truth about the NFL is that most participants are actually just viewers who half-heartedly consume the uninspired content that the league broadcasts around the world each weekend. For every player on the field, there are millions of fans watching from the comfort of their living rooms, wearing Snuggies, stacking Pringles, and scrolling through our social media feeds during commercial breaks. In this sense, Negra is by far the most relatable of all the chimpanzees.
Despite the hype and fanfare around the event, most of us are going to spend Super Bowl Sunday curled up in a fleece blanket, picking at snack foods and trying not to think about going to work tomorrow. Many people who ordinarily go out for this event are hopefully staying in this year, while others would rather just have a quiet night at home regardless. That’s how our Queen Negra chooses to spend every evening and it’s quite relatable. Sure, she might be the type to tune into the Half-Time Show so that she could text her friends about it afterward… but that would be the furthest extent of it. Negra doesn’t even get out of bed until she knows there are peanuts on the breakfast menu, and she won’t go outside for anything less than homegrown delicacies or prized pineapple tops, so I wouldn’t expect her to get nervous about a silly football game. Whenever you shut off the television and crawl into bed tonight, you can rest assured that Neggie went to bed way earlier than you did.
Whether you decide to watch tonight’s game or not, please be responsible and safe. For the sake of our at-risk loved ones and the health care professionals who are currently fighting this pandemic, don’t let Super Bowl parties become the next Super-Spreader events!
Just stay home!