If the Super Bowl hype is too loud, you're too old. Or too sensible. Or too diverse of interest and taste. Or just too protective of the fragile gift of sanity.
Super Bowl hype is like the heavy metal we listened to as teenagers: Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Jethro Tull. (I am a former Grammy voter.) It is meant to be experienced at the threshold of pain. Turn the volume down and you lose all the lack of nuance. Crank it until the flight-or-flight reflex kicks in, and you experience the kind of primal ecstasy Viking berserkers felt before sacking a monastery.
It is far beyond a cliché to observe that Super Bowl hype has gone over the top. We should concentrate instead on ways to push it even further. The Super Bowl reached its place in American culture not just because we love football, but because we are desperate for something to do between New Year's Eve and spring besides shovel snow and worry about the coded messages in our Valentine's Day gifts. The Super Bowl is our February holiday, and we need to celebrate it like a true American one: noisily, unapologetically and a little stupidly.
Here are some next-level ideas for making Super Bowl hype more excruciating/cathartic. As the week of tedious Peyton Manning/Richard Sherman/Bruno Mars singing saga unspools, imagine how much better the Super Bowl would be if we assembled Super Bowl baskets under the Super Bowl tree, arranged Super Bowl centerpieces for the Super Bowl feast and perhaps lit the Super Bowl candles on the Super Bowl wreath or Super Bowl menorah while exchanging Super Bowl kisses and Super Bowl gifts before the children go Super Bowl treating and hunting for the little plastic helmets hidden in the snow by the Super Bunny. Don't fight it. Let the tide of madness pull you along.
The Parade Day Parade
Football and parades have been a perfect match since 19th century Ivy Leaguers rode carriages through town on game days. The two excuses to assemble outdoors, drink too much, watch colorful spectacle and complain about how inconvenient the whole thing is still align on Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, but the NFL has never really been inclined to take it to the streets.
That must change. Create a Super Bowl Sunday Marching Spectacular. The Super Bowl participants ride floats at the end of the parade, just before the horses. Each of the other 30 teams send region-themed floats with special delegations. Drew Brees waves from the Saints float, Ndamukong Suh drives the Lions float … er, Calvin Johnson drives the Lions float. Famous retirees also get into the act: Tony Boselli could actually drag the Jaguars float the entire way. If the thought of Jerry Jones waving from the top of a 30-foot high flower-and-crinoline interpretation of Jerry Jones waving does not pique your festive interest, you have obviously never seen this:
Add some marching bands and Roger Goodell in a Popemobile, and you have a civic treasure. This year's parade can start in Times Square, head down 7th Avenue to 39th Street, cross the George Washington Bridge, pick up Route 3 in New Jersey and circle the Meadowlands complex a couple of times: a pedestrian paradise every step of the way and the perfect route to travel at 3 miles per hour at rush hour. Citizens would gain a whole new perspective on the glory and significance of the National Football League.
Thanks for the Deep Fryer
Traditional holidays have traditional meals: turkey for Thanksgiving, corned beef for New Year's, burgers-and-dogs for Independence Day, 25 Almond Joys washed down with Bailey's Irish Cream for Halloween. The meal galvanizes the tradition.
Yes, the Super Bowl is our official "bar snacks at home" holiday, but we need to exert some control over this runaway phenomenon. Newspaper and website food editors have been publishing Super Bowl recipes for years, but the ivory-tower gourmands almost always use the opportunity to sophisticate (instead of mozzarella sticks, poach some taleggio in a béchamel), properly nourish (have you considered replacing the cheese in your nachos with miso paste, the nachos in your nachos with kale chips and the plate beneath them with an oven-baked cylinder of topsoil you can nibble on afterward?), overcomplicate (begin your garlic bread recipe by planting wheat) or otherwise educate us philistine football fans. After all, we are just a bunch of fat guys who would eat Cheez Whiz from the jar with a spoon if not for the culinary guidance of the County Couponer.
Even worse: there is always an urge to regionalize the menu based on the teams playing in the Super Bowl. There is nothing like your sister-in-law in Piscataway's interpretation of Crawfish etouffee to put you on a perma-diet, to say nothing of all the awful baked beans and clam chowder (now there's some fun-time snack food) that has polluted Super Bowl party menus over the last 13 years. This year's regional delicacies are highlighted by Rocky Mountain oysters and geoduck: fried bull testicles and a crustacean that looks like penis-on-a-half shell. I will stick with the kale chips.
The traditional Super Bowl menu should consist of traditional bar snack favorites, and the centerpiece should be potato skins. Remember potato skins? They were the Lombardi Packers of bar snacks, the game changer that taught a nation of suburbanites that it was fun to wrap an afternoon of mall crawling with a whole-family trip to D.U.I. McStaggerkeggers. We have all grown too cool for skins (though they are making a comeback) and that's the point: we grew too cool for home-roasted turkeys, too, but we spend one day per year remembering how we used to eat.
Take potato skins, wings, artichoke dip and hard-boiled eggs, then add whatever regional goodies make sense in your hometown -- brats, conch fritters, hush puppies, spiedies, mussels, Tastykakes, Rocky Mountain oysters -- and wash it all down with an ordinary, beer-flavored beer with no Trippel or Trappist in its name. (Think of Budweiser as cranberry sauce from a can.) You may want to cram a fruit or vegetable in there somewhere, but otherwise the menu is perfect. The Super Bowl becomes more than a game: a celebration of the American tradition of watching television, complaining about what is on and covering as many things as possible with cheese.
Stay Tuned for Rudolph's Shiny Lombardi Trophy
Nothing confers legitimacy on an event like a television special. A holiday does not cultivate traditions and alter life schedules simply because a religious or political leader says it should, but interrupt the regular programming schedule and it's time to drag the decorations down from the attic.
The Super Bowl already drives programming in many ways. There are special editions of our hundreds of quasi-infotaining cable programs. (The Picker Sisters are on the prowl for 1930s Bears memorabilia! The Cupcake Wars warriors are baking Richard Sherman-shaped treats!) The NFL Honors caters to the subsection of humans who love award shows, ancillary football programming and staying home to watch television on Saturday night. (That would be me. And I have never seen it, because I work the red carpet each year, then get whisked off the premises.) And of course there are the bloated, swaying, cosmic-scaled pregame shows.
But none of this is holiday family programming, the kind that makes parents feel guilty if they don't sit down and explain to their children the True Meaning of the Super Bowl. The late Charles Schultz was a football fan, and It's The Super Bowl, Charlie Brown would feature Snoopy's efforts to get a 74-inch high-definition television into his doghouse without crushing the Picasso or the fragile engine of the Sopwith Camel. Meanwhile, Lucy berates Schroeder for classical piano interpretations of the national anthem which are "not patriotic or commercial enough," while Linus frets endlessly about a society too easily distracted by spectacle until he accidently eats his blanket. After Lucy rips the football away from Charlie Brown for the 50th time, Roger Goodell arrives to warn of the dangers of horseplay on the football field (those wiggly lines and stars around Charlie Brown's head are a CONCUSSION, people), but all the children hear is that trumpet wah-wah sound. The whole special will be awkward, stilted and anxiety-inducing in the fine Peanuts television tradition.
The Rankin/Bass stop-motion studios are long closed, but modern animators can step into the fray. The Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer folks gave us a Santa with backward attitudes who was far more obsessed with productivity than the physical or emotional health of his workers: these guys anticipated Roger Goodell by 40 years! There is even a perfect Goodell puppet in mothballs somewhere:
The NFL does not have to turn to deceased, revered cartoonists or stop-motion traditions to whip up a cartoon special. The league already produces NFL Rush Zone: Guardians Unleashed, a sugar-delirious scramble of Sonic the Hedgehog, Ben-10, 1970s after-school special and Play 60 commercial which usually airs on the Nick Ritalin network. The show combines mismatched animation, freaky NFL-themed Pokemon-type critters, life wisdom of the "don't climb the high-voltage towers" variety, and cameos by the most random mix of NFL celebrities ever grabbed at the last minute by a desperate casting director. (Sione Pouha once helped save MetLife Stadium, in an actual storyline.) The bad guys frequently try to jeopardize stadiums with lasers and explosives during big games; if the NFL sees a sharp decline in season ticket sales by formerly traumatized youngsters in 15 years, it have only this program to blame.
Anyway, if Rankin/Bass taught us anything, it's that Guardians: How Joe Haden, Bruce Arians and a Tiny Anthropomorphic Lightning Bolt Saved New Jersey from Destruction at the Super Bowl would age like fine wine into a holiday classic, with our grandchildren sitting beside us and quietly patronizing us as we bask in nostalgia.
When all else fails, we can just organize more cute animal bowls. They are a great source of contrarian one-upmanship. "The Super Bowl? I would rather watch Puppy Bowl!" "Forget Puppy Bowl, I would rather watch Kitten Bowl!" "Kitten Bowl is so 2014, I prefer Panda Bowl!" "I watch Fluffy Bunny Bowl, but only for the commercials." In a few years, there will be adults swearing they would rather watch the placental development of guinea pigs than the Super Bowl. And Tom Brady will be one of them!
Media Day Mardi Gras
Media Day is already on television. The NFL Network airs it on Tuesday morning and early afternoon before the Super Bowl. That's not good enough. C'mon, NFL: you burn three prime-time hours broadcasting a Pro Bowl fantasy draft, but you bury the spectacle of Peyton Manning, Richard Sherman and 18 other players handcuffed to podiums while hundreds of writers, attention-seekers and Telemundo personalities who make Sophia Vergara look like the librarian at a bible college crawl over one another to get to them like cannibal rats on a moldy ham hock during midday? You are smarter than that.
Media Day should be in Prime Time. It should be held on a good drinking night, like Thursday, and it should be the Super Bowl's designated "excuse-to-drink" event, like Mardi Gras, Cinco de Mayo, or election night. You may think that the Super Bowl is its own excuse to drink, but seriously, when is the last time you attended a Super Bowl party that turned into an anything-goes bacchanal? Probably in college. Super Bowl parties are family get-togethers with work the next day; you mix four beers over five hours with 4,000 bacon-cheese calories, then waddle into the office on Monday with little to worry about besides bean dip burps.
Reschedule Media Day for Thursday night, and young revelers can invent fancy football-themed cocktails out of repulsive flavored vodkas: the Buttery Sherman, Wes on the Beach, the Beast Mode (if there is not Skittles-flavored vodka, it is not for want of imagination). Drinking games about dumb questions or repetitive answers write themselves. After two-and-a-half hours of overindulgence, the drinker's faraway stare will almost match Peyton's when he is asked the 93,000th question of the past month about either Omaha or his legacy.
As a bonus this year, the media bus will get a police escort from midtown Manhattan to the Prudential Center in Newark. Yes, Media Day is in Newark. Yes, yours truly now merits a police escort. MAKE WAY, SERFS. THE JOURNALISTIC ARISTOCRACY MUST INTERVIEW DEMARYIUS THOMAS. YOUR PUNY BANKING, STREET-CLEANING AND EMERGENCY-ROOM NURSING TASKS MUST WAIT UNTIL OUR VITAL CARAVAN HAS MADE DUE PASSAGE ALONG YONDER THOROUGHFARES. Betcha a smart commuter can make it from midtown to the Pru Center in one-third the time of a cavalcade of cops and bus drivers. Betcha I won't even bother to try.
The downside of a Thursday Night Media Day is that it would leave little time for the print media to generate compelling stories based on interviews from the event. Hehehe, print media. Hehehe, compelling stories.
Dress for Super Bowl Success
One of the things that makes Triple Crown horseracing so much fun is the fashion. Women who dress like normal 21st century adults for 364 days of the year reach deep into their closets and emerge with the kinds of bonnets that caused two of Audrey Hepburn's vertebrae to fuse during the filming of My Fair Lady. As if to counterbalance these scalp-topping dioramas of the Battle of Chancellorsville, husbands/boyfriends (at least at the Belmont) dig through the garage rags for scuzzy old Jeff Hostetler jerseys, down the front of which they promptly spill a red cup full of Southern Comfort-and-lemonade.
Let's ditch the filthy throwbacks. Both men and women should dress up for the Super Bowl, whether at the game or at parties. Fred Astaire-era tails and top hats for the gents, Scarlett O'Hara-or-grander for the ladies. If that is too expensive/ridiculous for you, then we can shift gears into Halloween costumes. Partiers could dress as players, coaches, referees, cheerleaders, owners, sideline reporters, famous football wives, or even ancillary characters like football labor leaders. I have dibs on the DeMaurice Smith hat and Gisele Bundchen vampire fang concessions.
This may all sound elaborate, but you probably have Christmas sweaters, a Halloween mask, some Mardi Gras beads and a strictly-for-trials suit in your closet. How much more space would a Super Bowl bonnet or Tom Landry costume take up? The extra effort goes a long way toward making the event an EVENT.
Also, in keeping with tradition, sportswriters will continue to dress like slobs.
I do gags on the Sunday before the Super Bowl so I can gear up for a week of wall-to-wall football, and also gags. Check back all week for features from the Sports on Earth three-headed monster of Dan Pompei, Will Leitch and yours truly on location, plus plenty of coverage from the rest of the gang. You can also get caught up with Senior Bowl notes and other draft coverage by me and super scout Russ Lande, much of which can be found on the Tailgater blog.
Speaking of the blog … it took a special quarterback like Russell Wilson to lead the Seahawks to the Super Bowl. But the NFL has quite a few quarterbacks who are special like Russell Wilson. Could Ben Roethlisberger have reached the Super Bowl with the Seahawks? Robert Griffin? TONY ROMO? You gotta click to find out.