The most enjoyable Super Bowl matchup in years
It was with a sigh of relief that I watched Mike Vrabel's Tennessee Titans grind out another unexpected victory. It was with an emotion much more pronounced than relief that I watched Tom Brady throw a pick-six on what could easily have been his final passing attempt in a Patriots uniform at Gillette Stadium. If I'm being totally honest, I almost fell out of my chair laughing.
Let me be clear. My animus against Tom Brady, the Man of Kale, is matched only by my admiration for Bill Belichick, the greatest coach in the modern history of the sport, the Herbert von Karajan of the NFL. That doesn't mean I want to watch either of them win another Super Bowl, even if the old maestro's adagissimo beatdown of the Rams' high-powered offense last February was more enjoyable to me than it seems to have been for roughly 90 percent of America's football-viewing public.
All of which is to say that I have no idea what I or the country did to deserve this, but this year's Super Bowl is almost certainly going to be not just better but possibly an all-time classic. I cannot remember so much anticipation and joy surrounding one of these things since Super Bowl XXXII in 1998, when John Elway faced off against Brett Favre.
I mean this is in a very straightforward sense: Last weekend I was at a freaking mall and on a whim decided to go into Lids (yes, they're still in business). Here were kids of all ages, from six to, I don't know, 70 or so, looking up wistfully at (admittedly overpriced) jerseys and hats and having conversations about a single event the entire country seems to be looking forward to. The kids speaking in hushed tones about George Kittle might as well have been wearing turquoise fanny packs and getting ready to trade their Haunters for a level 52 Kadabra or to ask their moms what "Whitewater" is.
By now we all remember when we first became aware of the legend — there really is no other word — of Patrick Mahomes. For many of us who had only vague memories of the Texas Tech system quarterback who had played in the highest scoring game in college football history, it was week four in 2018, the Monday night game against Denver. Three minutes left in the fourth, third down and five, scrambling 11 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Von Miller, the perennial Pro Bowler closing in for the kill — what? The left-handed completion to Tyreek Hill for the first down was one of those plays you will never forget for as long as you watch football. Seeing Mahomes go on to lose to Brady and the Pats in overtime in the playoffs, in a game full of absurd penalties that always somehow managed to go New England's way, was disheartening. This year, following a brief injury scare and despite some early defensive struggles, everything finally came together for the Chiefs and their impossibly lovable head coach, Andy Reid.
Meanwhile, I, like many others, assumed at the beginning of the season that the 49ers were in for another losing season. I could rant for a while about why I and millions of other Americans were not exactly primed to root for San Francisco. Blame it on the guy in the White House if you want, but after a few weeks it started to be about what was happening on the field again. Kyle Shanahan invented a run-first offense that was not only wildly successful but exhilarating to watch, backed by the best defense in football and a tough blue-collar ethos that many of us thought the team would lose forever following Jim Harbaugh's departure for Michigan in 2015.
Okay, but who should win? Who will win? While a 49ers victory would vindicate all of my principles about how football teams should be coached, watching Mahomes, not only the most talented but almost certainly the most humble and good-natured athlete of his generation, hoist the Lombardi trophy would fill me with almost childish delight. Honestly, I would be happy to see either of these teams win, and nearly as devastated to watch either of them lose.
This year's Super Bowl probably won't be another low-scoring defensive slugfest. It will be something more interesting than that: a game that every football fan in the world actually wants to watch, between two teams it would take a heart of stone to dislike.