By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News & Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Today is an unofficial national holiday.
It is the day when millions of us will gather around our TV sets to take part in a shared cultural and entertainment experience marked by food, drink and merriment.
Oh, and somewhere among all that, they will play a football game.
It is the Super Bowl, which, in its XLVII years of existence, has morphed from a mere football game into a veritable cultural phenomenon.
The annual Super Bowl broadcast, for instance, marks the only televised event during which people fast-forward through the programming to get to the commercials.
Among the companies presenting today’s iconic ads are Audi, Coca-Cola, Toyota, Budweiser, Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz, but some of the ads generating the most buzz will come from GoDaddy .com, Samsung, Taco Bell, Lincoln and Oreo.
Good, bad or downright brilliant, this year’s super spots will cost $4 million for 30 seconds. Just think about that when you trundle off for a wee snack, or a wee wee, while the commercials are on.
Speaking of food, plenty of it will be consumed during this year’s Super Bowl, about $55 million worth. That includes nearly 15,000 tons of chips, 4,000 tons of popcorn and 12 million pounds of avocado. As for beverages, an estimated $237.2 million is spent annually on soft drinks during Super Bowl week, and $11.8 million on beer.
And enough chicken wings will be noshed during the super festivities to create an entire generation of fowl forced to walk if they decide to cross the road. Americans are expected to enjoy 1.23 billion chicken wings over the weekend, nearly four for every man, woman and child in the country.
There will be plenty of big stars on hand at today’s Super Bowl. Beyonce will perform at halftime, and she swears she won’t be lip-syncing as she did at the recent presidential inauguration.
Matchbox Twenty and OneRepublic will perform in the pregame show, while Alicia Keys will sing the national anthem.
The Super Bowl is not only known for commercials, goodies and stars, but betting, as well. In fact, an estimated $8.5 billion will be illegally wagered on Sunday’s game, with some $94 million being bet legally.
And there are so many things to bet on. You can bet, for instance, on whether San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s first pass will be complete or incomplete, on whether golfer Bubba Watson will take more strokes to complete the Waste Management Phoenix Open than Kaepernick will amass in rushing yards, or on whether Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant will score more points than the 49ers.
Which brings us back to football, a game in crisis these days, and not just because of the whole Ray Lewis deer antler spray controversy that cropped up this week.
President Obama recently said if he had a son, he would “have to think long and hard” before letting him play football, because of the risk of concussion and serious injury. In contrast, an outfit called i9 Sports conducted a survey of 300 fathers who played football at the high school level or higher, and whose sons were 8-14 years old. Their results say 90 percent of those fathers are in favor of their sons playing tackle football, despite the fact they themselves suffered a concussion while playing.
This follows remarks by former all-pro safety Rodney Harrison that he is “scared to death” about his future after he sustained at least 20 concussions during his 15-year playing career.
During his annual “State of the Game” address Friday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reiterated his commitment to cracking down on blows to the head and other dangerous hits that can cause injury.
There is only so much you can do to make football safe, however. It is inherently a dangerous game, played by well-padded, muscular people running together at full speed with bad intent. But hard hits are among the things that make the game so appealing. Just listen to the crowd cheer after a pancake block or a teeth-rattling tackle.
The rules of the game are already slanted in favor of offenses. Tweak it much more, and it will become a glorified version of two-hand touch. How many corporations will be willing to spend $4 million for a 30-second commercial for that?
But nobody wants to see a player lying motionless on the turf, or to read about an ex-player like Harrison, who says he deals with headaches and feelings of loneliness, isolation and anxiety.
All that said, today’s game features two teams with solid defenses, stout running games, intriguing quarterbacks and dueling Harbaughs (San Francisco head coach Jim and Baltimore head man John, who was named the sexiest Harbaugh by 82 percent of women responding to a poll by romantic social network Zoosk.com).
So who wins? Who cares? The Almighty does, at least according to one in four people responding to a recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute. Twenty seven percent, in fact, say God actually plays a role in determining who wins sporting events.
I rather doubt that. I don’t think God cares about football. I think He only watches for the commercials.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.