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Just a game / February 08, 2017
Well, once again I find myself on the wrong end of the stick in matters of prognostication and public opinion. This time it’s the Super Bowl. Let’s just get the obvious out of the way first: I called it beforehand for the Falcons. Looking like a genius there for a time, no? Alas, another Tom had different ideas. Oh well: they always say don’t bet against Brady and Belichick, and they are certainly right.

I’m hardly the only sucker to put my money on Atlanta to win the Super Bowl. Except that’s not right: I didn’t bet a dime on either team. I don’t watch much football (baseball and basketball being more my thing) and my interest ahead of the game probably was piqued more by Lady Gaga than the specter of impending mayhem on the field. (I will sign up for the consensus view that Gaga absolutely crushed the halftime show.) Here’s the part, though, where I really feel like an oddball: I thought the game itself was kind of meh. First all Falcons, then all Patriots. It wasn’t about until midway through the fourth quarter that it dawned on me that a real contest was developing on the TV screen. Up to that point I had spent most of the second half diddling on my phone. And that’s the thing: Back-and-forth suspense is the hallmark of great games. This Super Bowl ran entirely in one direction, then it went in the other. It takes more than a single massive shift in momentum to qualify as a barnburner in my book.

So yeah, there’s your minority view: Fine game, some great players (Julio Jones, never stop never stoppin’) and good fun, but count me off the reservation as far as declaring this one to be one of the greatest Super Bowls ever played, if not THE greatest. Of course, there’s no point arguing with the coronation of Tom Brady as greatest NFL quarterback of all time. I may be a contrarian, but I try not to be an idiot. That’s Roger Goodell’s job, anyway.

So what’s left to say about the game? Oh, right: the commercials. Now those were definitely kinda interesting. Most of the people I’ve talked to on the subject — surely this must be four or five of you — appeared to enjoy the ads not very much at all. Here again I raise my voice in dissent. How can one not appreciate so many heartwarming tales of the melting pot (Mr. Anheuser, meet Mr. Busch)? To say nothing of various paeans to the virtues of diversity, little girls rocking soapbox derby races, an outright potshot at Donald Trump’s hair (granted, a cheap joke, but still), Melissa MacCarthy as an eco-warrior straddling sea ice and riding herd with rhinos, and my favorite, a Mexican mother and daughter wandering around in the desert in a commercial for a building supply store chain. What was that even about? (In case you haven’t been paying attention to the internet, the answer is that 84 Lumber, the ad sponsor, originally commissioned a spot that concluded with the family confronting a giant wall at the border, disappointed and crushed, only to find an open door to walk through. The tagline: “The will to succeed is always welcome here.” The Fox network rejected the full ad as too political, so 90 seconds of the spot ended up on TV and the rest was posted online at the 84 Lumber website. Someone at least ought to get a trade industry award for excellence in weirdness.

So, looking back: What does it all mean!?! Something HUGELY important? If folks say so, I guess. Madison Avenue has been controlling our lives for at least as long as the aliens have been keeping Elvis under wraps, so scoff at the notion of deeper meaning in marketing and advertising at one’s own peril. For smart takes on all kinds of topics, especially the political variety, I head on over to Talking Points Memo, a news and commentary site by inestimable political journalist Josh Marshall and staff. Picking up a dismissive tone among corporate bigfoots toward the anti-immigrant, major domo vibe of the Trump White House, Marshall writes that this year’s Super Bowl ads “suggest advertisers and corporate boardrooms see associations with Trump or his politics as dangerous.” Marshall also cited a Tweet by New Republic writer Jeet Heer — “Based on Superbowl ads, I’d say corporate America (or at least its advertising wing) thinks Trumpism is a passing phenomenon” — before adding, “This seems right to me.”

You know what seems right to me? Corporate America treats everything as “a passing phenomenon,” which is how we got in this mess in the first place — with the common people of this great land planting their feet in the ground, saying “no more” to the discard-and-disregard ethos of the establishment, even if these populist protestors picked the absolute worst ground upon which to plant their armies, and the absolute worst leader to rally around. Still, I think even this gets the upshot wrong. If you’re going to bring up the subject of passing phenomenon, the first thing to focus on is people’s attention spans. Considering that the political implications of Super Bowl commercials are about as constant as the smoke rising from Lady Gaga’s halftime stage, the obvious conclusion here is that the politically-inclined need to give it a rest for four hours and crack a cold one or three. Sometimes a game is just a game. And that’s coming from a huge politics nerd like me.

So, to recap the action from Super Bowl LI: It was entertaining enough, more so if you were rooting for New England than Atlanta, because duh; the halftime show was smokin’; there were a few head-scratching ads and nothing that really stood out; and it’s only five days (!) until the start of spring training. You can thank me for this exclusive post-game analysis the next time we meet.

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