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Super Bowl leaves dark stain on US image

On the eve of World War I, the British foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey, looked out of his office window in London and famously remarked to a friend: "The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our time."

We know now how he felt. We were watching the Super Bowl in the annual American moment of frenzied sports worship and suddenly an eerie half-darkness descended on the stadium. More humiliating yet, the TV producers did not have enough spare beer commercials to fill in for the action.

A great gloom descended on the stadium and the land. America stood befuddled at home around the onion dip, or sat on the couch befuddled. All anybody knew was that something deeply, psychically disturbing had taken place.

Americans longed for answers. Meanwhile, the commentators longed for a statement from the National Football League, something to confirm officially that the lights had gone out, because they only had it unofficially and therefore were left doubly in the dark.

Future generations, learning of this generation-defining moment, will seek answers too. They will ask: What were you doing, Daddy (or Mommy), when the great Super Bowl power outage occurred?

As the author of this column (Slogan: "Mirth for No Laughing Matters"), it is my sworn pundit duty to look at events and tease out their hidden meanings.

This is my sad conclusion: The precise moment when the 34 minutes of partial super eclipse occurred will be recognized one day as the exact tick of the clock when America became a Third World country.

The subject of American decline has become more disturbing lately, with each news cycle bringing up some new act of profound stupidity -- another gun tragedy here, a denial of the obvious there, a politics of bitterness and dysfunction everywhere, a creaking infrastructure ignored, a celebrity's minor mishap made into a Greek tragedy. But none of these has brought the attention-raising debacle of 34 minutes of darkness just as the world spotlight was focused upon the gilded scene.

If a Super Bowl cannot be put on in a Superdome without the lighting engineer having a shot at becoming the Most Valuable Player, then American pretensions to being a superpower are over. Au revoir.

Pity we the people. Pity the poor huddled masses yearning to breathe free but still on foreign shores, and tuning in to the Super Bowl on their steam-operated TVs only to find ... darkness. "Hey, Papa," the little ones shout, "the Americanos have forgotten to pay their utility bill -- our hope is doomed."

As of this writing, nobody knows what went wrong, which is even worse. How humiliating for formerly can-do America, where technology prospered, where the Internet sizzled into life, where invention after invention -- the radar detector and the TV remote -- changed the path of the human species. Hey, anybody got any spare light bulbs? That's our new motto.

It wasn't just the dimmed lights. The famous TV commercials were infamously disappointing. Previously the best minds from the Ivy League would steer clear of professions like medicine and the law in order to write comic tributes to beer, but on this night their efforts were flat. Oh for the cutely flatulent animals of yesteryear!

Somebody did resurrect the broadcaster Paul Harvey to do a commercial about farmers, whom he said God makes. It was so moving that some of us were tempted to go out and buy some farmers, only to discover that corporations have lately driven up their price.

It wasn't just the darned commercials. It came to my attention that certain Steelers fans, usually the creme de la creme ale, were rooting for the Baltimore Ravens, something flagrantly against the order of nature.

They had their paltry reasons -- such as the San Francisco 49ers would have equaled Pittsburgh's record of six Super Bowl victories if they had won. No wonder the lights failed. The Almighty, pausing from making farmers for a second, made an electrical malfunction and then let there be light when the Steeler fans did not get the message. They are cursed now; they will find that their Terrible Towels have been starched by their spouses.

The lamps are going out all over America. We can only hope that some bright spark can relight them.

Henry is a syndicated columnist out of Pennsylvania.