By David Mullen
Wake up everyone. Sunday, Feb. 7 is Super Bowl LV with the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs facing the hometown Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the least hyped NFL championship game since Lyndon Baines Johnson was president and “Bonanza” was the No. 1 rated show on television.
A worldwide pandemic rears its ugly head again. Even blatant capitalism can’t overcome this virus.
These are different times. Hundreds of thousands of people will not be on a pilgrimage to the Tampa/St. Pete area for pro football’s biggest game. Many NFL events were cancelled this week. No famous media row. No ardent Tampa fans congregating at the visitor’s hotel. Few of the Kansas City faithful telling Floridians how bad their barbeque tastes. The Chiefs aren’t even flying into Tampa until the day before the game. The souvenir game program is digitized and can be purchased and downloaded online.
In 1967, the NFL-AFL Championship game (not called the Super Bowl yet) attracted 61,946 fans to the Los Angeles Coliseum, meaning more than 35,000 seats were empty. There were more people on average attending gladiator contests at the Roman Colosseum in LXXX AD. The average ticket price in L.A. was $12, not what one would call an “arm and a leg.” Of course, in Rome, admission could cost one their head.
Raymond James Stadium in Tampa will have approximately 22,000 socially-distanced fans, one-third of which will be health-care workers who have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and free tickets from the NFL. The rest of the seats will be occupied by the once clever — and now annoying — corrugated cardboard cutouts.
Face value of the seats are $2,700 to $5,000, with aftermarket sales typically magnifying ticket prices up to ten-fold. A local ticket reseller told me on February 1 that sales were so soft that he sold his 10 tickets and was happy to get what he got. And the Buccaneers are the first team in Super Bowl history to be playing at home.
Pepsi will sponsor the halftime show, featuring The Weekend, but not buy in-game advertising. Global consumer brands like Coca-Cola, Hyundai and Budweiser are following suit, not willing to give CBS the reported $5.5 million for a 30-second commercial. The space will be filled by the likes of Vroom.com, Rockstar Energy Drink and Uber Eats. Bud’s parent company Anheuser Busch is still advertising, deciding not to peddle “The King of Beers” for the sake of introducing Bud Light Seltzer Lemonade.
Different times, indeed.
The Chiefs are led by the pride of Tyler, 25-year-old Patrick Mahomes, looking for the rare two consecutive Super Bowl wins achieved only by Green Bay’s Bart Starr, Miami’s Bob Griese, Pittsburgh’s Terry Bradshaw, San Francisco’s Joe Montana, Dallas’ Troy Aikman, Denver’s John Elway and New England Patriots Tom Brady. All are in the Hall of Fame except for Brady, who faces Mahomes as a representative of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Brady is the Methuselah of NFL quarterbacks. At 43 years old, Brady is playing in his record tenth Super Bowl. Everything Brady does these days is a record.
But while Mahomes and Brady share the limelight and get much of the notoriety, a case can be made that the two most important men in the game will be wearing COVID-19 protective masks, not football face masks.
In Week 12, the Chiefs beat the Bucs 27-24 in Tampa. Super Bowl LV is the 14th time in history that two teams that played in the regular season will play in the Super Bowl. The AFC champion Chiefs are three-point favorites, despite the fact that no AFC team has ever beaten an NFC team twice in one season.
What can be learned from the game on November 29, 2020 is that despite the reputation of the two quarterbacks, a pressure defense can make a difference. That job is in the hands of Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and Tampa defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
Bowels’ defense got better as the season progressed, with one exception. Mahomes completed 37 passes for 462 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions in the regular season game against Tampa. Wideout Tyreek Hill had more than 200 yards receiving … in the first quarter. Brady threw for 345 yards, but was intercepted twice. Advantage Spagnuolo.
The Kansas City offensive line is beat up, a squad patched together with second team players or players not playing at 100 percent. That should give Tampa an edge, but Mahomes is the highest rated quarterback in the NFL when pressured. Yes, there is a statistic for that.
Spagnuolo crafted the New York Giants defense in Super Bowl XLII in 2007, which shocked the heavily favored and undefeated New England Patriots and Brady 17-14. The bottom line is that Spagnuolo knows how to beat Brady in a Super Bowl.
The Chiefs won 16 games and only lost two this season. One loss was a shootout against the Las Vegas Raiders. The second was a meaningless last game of the season against the Los Angeles Chargers.
I just don’t think that the Bowles-led defense can stop the weapons that Mahomes and the Chiefs offense possess. If Brady gets pressured, he has proven that he can and will throw interceptions.
Take the Chiefs giving the three points in a game that won’t be that close.
Brady, now recognized as the greatest quarterback of all-time, is accustomed to going to and winning Super Bowls. But these times, in so many ways, are different.