Football Gave Us a Carrie Underwood-Based Solution to Existential Dread

The “Sunday Night Football” music video is beautiful to behold, each incarnation a novel response to the question: If unshackled from the bonds of terrestrial physics, what might Carrie Underwood experience? Answers include: strutting in a dress of rhinestone chain mail through a liminal space filled with floating videos of football fans; calmly standing on a platform that shoots her skyward through hoops of light at a thousand miles a minute; the stage at the Resorts World Theatre in Las Vegas, the site of her residency, “Reflection: The Las Vegas Residency,” magically opening up onto a football stadium where approximately seven million fans, packed with atomic density, are losing their everloving minds to a song about “Sunday Night Football.”

The “Sunday Night Football” song is most likely the theme song familiar to more Americans than any other, because more Americans watch “Sunday Night Football” than anything else on weekly television. In fact, of the 30 most-watched U.S. television broadcasts of all time, 29 are football games. There might be a need to gin up excitement for “Sunday Night Football” if, somehow, every week, “Sunday Night Football” were scheduled to air directly opposite the original 1983 broadcast of the series finale of “M*A*S*H” — the only nonfootball program to appear in the all-time Top 30 most watched. Under normal conditions, however, highlighting the fact that a football game is about to be televised for the American TV audience is an act equivalent to reciting the daily specials to a starving man.

It is this unnecessity — the fact that it exists merely for its own sake — that makes the segment so moving. I don’t mean to imply that the opening sequence could compare favorably to, say, a sunset, which is likewise “beautiful” and “capable of reproducing itself in infinite variations”; I mean to say that outright. The tremble-inducing allure of the “Sunday Night Football” song surpasses nature’s awesome generative capacity. It is a spectacle that could only be conjured from a colossal amount of money.

Tripp Dixon, the NBC Sports “VP of Creative” tasked with supervising this visual triumph, likens the sequence to an “airlock” designed to safely transition viewers from the grim reality of everyday existence to the high-octane fantasia of “Sunday Night Football.” In exchange for submission to the spectacular, “Sunday Night Football” promises a respite from all concerns.

The sly genius of American football is that its accouterments — Super Bowl ads with feature-film budgets, stupefyingly cutting-edge bumper graphics — replicate, even or especially for those with no interest in football, the draw of football itself: a celebration of human aptitude and a diversion of attention away from anything more important. Through judicious application of Carrie Underwood and C.G.I. technology, the “Sunday Night Football” song offers a brief yet total respite from the horror of Sunday night.

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