Lessons From a Very, Very Bad Super Bowl

Welcome to hell. Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

Sometimes the Super Bowl is good, and sometimes the Super Bowl is bad, but the Super Bowl is always everything. In a nation that has been ruled by television for 50 years, the eight most-watched programs have all been Super Bowls, and 16 of the top 18. It’s the game where presidents make sure to speak beforehand, where a halftime nipple (not Adam Levine’s) can scandalize an entire populace, where unpleasant news stories are stealthily dropped minutes before kickoff. The nation stops for the Super Bowl.

Which was why it was so fascinating, during the dreary, relentlessly dull Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta last night, how many far more interesting things seemed to be happening elsewhere. Embattled Virginia governor Ralph Northam gathered his staff together for an “urgent” meeting that may have actually been more pleasant to be in than watching the Rams and the Patriots exchange punts for three hours. New Orleans, still angry about the botched call two weeks ago that cost them a spot in this game, staged a thousands-strong boycott/protest/party. LeBron James seemed to be engaged in the great American tradition of drunk tweeting. Every gathering felt more fun than being at or watching the game. It was the first time I’d ever experienced FOMO at the Super Bowl.

Much of the fun of live television in the year 2019 revolves around going on social media and commiserating with strangers and fans about the goings-on, whether it’s the Oscars or a semi-live Rent or the Super Bowl. But this was the sort of game where everyone was twiddling their thumbs, waiting for something to happen. You went on social media during this Super Bowl to see what else was on.

Turns out: There was plenty. Heck, the best Super Bowl ads involved the Brands making fun of the game you were taking a break from watching.

That it ended with Tom Brady and the Patriots finally scoring the game’s first touchdown 53 minutes in, and that touchdown was enough on its own for the victory, was appropriate and fitting. It was a game that was unpleasant to watch and left you with the foul aftertaste of knowing that Brady, despite playing poorly and looking rickety and absolutely being ripe for the taking on any other night, and coach Bill Belichick would be celebrating their sixth Super Bowl championship. The rings all count, no matter how much muck you had to crawl through to get them. And then we’ll all get this again in a few months:

(It is worth noting that Tom Brady didn’t go to the White House two years ago. He likely won’t go again this time, unless he discovers a sudden hankering for Filet-O-Fishes. Filets-O-Fish?)

You could try to find happy stories, if you really wanted to, from extremely likable Patriots running back Sony Michel scoring the game’s only touchdown to despicable Rams owner Stan Kroenke being unhappy right now and deserving every bit of it, to the fact that the Rams are in the second season of a failing Los Angeles experiment and therefore their loss didn’t make all that many people unhappy. (The only celebrity Rams fan the video board found was Danny Trejo. Who did look sad. And no one wants to see Danny Trejo sad.)

But who are we trying to kid? The game was terrible, the commercials were terrible, the halftime show was very terrible, and Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have one more notch on their hideous, surely-possessed-by-some-sort-of-demon bedpost. The night ended with the 95-percent-Patriots-partisan crowd chanting “BRADY! BRADY! BRADY!” as the clock ran out, a hellscape if I’ve ever witnessed one. At least most places outside of Foxboro you can count on everybody rooting against Brady. But not when his opponent has no fans.

But if you’re desperate for something positive out of tonight, I give you only these three takeaways:

1. If you are the type of person who feels morally uncomfortable watching the NFL but haven’t been able to resist being sucked in by the incredible run of fantastic Super Bowls we’ve had in the past few years, the game offered solace and ethical relaxation: There will be no such moral quandaries tonight.

2. You probably got more sleep last night than you usually get on Sundays.

3. The Oscars will be worse.

Lessons From a Very, Very Bad Super Bowl