Couch: Stripped-Down Super Bowl Is A Testament To Football And The USA

We are arriving at a moment here, an American moment, as Super Bowl Week starts today in an unusual and stripped-down way. 

No Media Day. This is a day which started as an opportunity for reporters to spend an hour with players but that has since morphed into something of an event. At first, MTV VJs asked off-the-wall, entertaining questions and then comedians started to come, and then late night talk shows and some guy in a Superman outfit or a chicken suit or whatever. Eventually, the whole thing wasn’t called Media Day anymore at all, but instead Super Bowl Opening Night, Powered by Bolt 24.

The commercials. It’s hard to know what to expect during the game now and whether we’ll be introduced to modern Wassuuup guys or Budweiser frogs, as some of the biggest corporate players — including Budweiser — have decided to rethink their ad buys out of COVID necessity. 

The crowd. Just 22,000 will be allowed in Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. A third of them will be health workers. It’s the smallest crowd ever, even counting the first Super Bowl, which back in 1967 was called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game.

Before things were Super. And maybe in these ways, they aren’t super this week either. Instead, on Sunday we get Tampa Bay vs. Kansas City, Tom Brady vs. Patrick Mahomes.

Football.

This week, this year, is a testimony to football in America. The Super Bowl is Americana, having grown over 55 years into something that matters deeply to the USA. In a lot of ways, it has mirrored the country, growing from nuts and bolts into something big and fun and powerful. Everything surrounding the Super Bowl is about hard work, toughness, getting knocked down and getting back up. It’s about wild parties and celebration and all the pluses and minuses of massive, gaudy, consumption. It might as well be its own military parade or Fourth of July celebration.

And despite all the COVID and Capitol craziness, the NFL has seen its way through with amazing success, landing at a particularly appealing football game. Brady, the greatest of all time, against Mahomes, the greatest of this time.

Unlike the NBA — which exposed itself with low ratings despite its most marketable aspects, LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, winning the championship — the NFL has pushed through.

I actually can’t wait to see the game. Mahomes is going to need this win. Yes, he has already won a Super Bowl. But you can’t drop the baton in such a clear baton-passing moment. If Brady wins this one at age 43 over a kid in his prime, then that kid will never live it down. The best Mahomes will be able to do after that is compete for second greatest of all time.

But the hype is on football now.

The Super Bowl has grown into our biggest American sports moment. That’s nothing new this year, of course. But while this game doesn’t quite have the same feeling as the World Series after Sept. 11 — everyone certainly isn’t together on the same page as we were back then — it does have that We’re Still Standing feel to it.

And I’m not really sure if it carries the deep, emotional meaning that baseball does, but this game at this time reminds me of the James Earl Jones speech in Field of Dreams.

“America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game. It’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good. And it could be again. Oh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.’’

Well, people won’t literally come to the Super Bowl this year, or even Super Bowl Week. But at least they will watch. 

I was at a Super Bowl in New Orleans once, and a few days before the game there was a massive Mardi Gras-like scene complete with celebrities and topless women on balconies dropping plastic colored beads, which seemed to be as valuable as gold to everyone — including me — in the mosh on Bourbon Street below. Just my luck: If I remember, I caught mine from Drew Carey.

So that’s not what we get this week. The Chiefs aren’t even going to arrive until a few days before the game.

We’ve been conditioned to believe that all that other stuff is necessary. It is all definitely fun and a party. But in the end, it’s just a meaningless bacchanal of consumption, really. At the heart of it is still football.

At least that’s what I think anyway. I guess we’ll just have to wait and find out if the Super Bowl can still survive, if it stands alone as a great game or it has softened up into something that requires all those other things.

I think it’ll do just fine. And I’ll take Kansas City and Mahomes, 30-27, with fireworks.

Written by Greg Couch

Greg earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award as the best sports columnist in the Chicagoland area for his work with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a college football writer in 1997 before becoming a general columnist in 2003. He also won a Lisagor in 2016 for his commentary in RollingStone.com and The Guardian.

Couch penned articles and columns for CNN.com/Bleacher Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for FoxSports.com and Fox Sports 1 TV. In his journalistic roles, Couch has covered the grandest stages of tennis from Wimbledon to the Olympics, among numerous national and international sporting spectacles. He also won first place awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association for his event coverage and column writing on the sport in 2010.

6 Comments

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  1. you nailed it. except the score and the winner 😎

    good work.

    2020 made a lot of us suffer and football bailed us out. its a unique American game. its military style strategy is matched by its intensity and drama.

    it has all elements of the human experience.
    go Bucs!!

  2. There are only three groups that really look forward to Super Bowl Week.
    1.The fans of the two teams playing in it.
    2. The city the SB is played in.
    3. All the media and hangers on that go to that city.
    The millions of the rest of us just want the damn game to begin.
    If this SB was Mahomes first SB to be played in and with him going against Brady, I would then say he would feel more pressure. As far as SB’s go, he’s been there done that plus the media annoyance this year is much less due to the pandemic.

  3. I’m just not into the NFL anymore. Or the NBA. I’m that old white guy who grew up in an all black neighborhood, went to an almost all black high school, and was raised to treat people not on the color of their skin but on the content of their character. I’ve been posting for years about the violence in Chicago. The deaths of so many blacks at the hands of other blacks. No black celebrities, no black athletes speaking up ever on the national media about this. As far as I’m concerned they are hypocrites. They had their chances and have still had their chances to say “we have to stop killing our selves “. But no. Gotta blame systemic racism. It’s all BS.

  4. Lots of good points Greg. But another side effect is that many long-time fans have left the game altogether, and many of the younger gang never boarded the train. The NFL is still king, but the kingdom is shrinking.

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