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The terrible, no good, horrible, very bad Super Bowl | COMMENTARY

In this Oct. 5, 2020, file photo, Kansas City Chiefs fans do "the chop" at the start of the team's NFL football game against the New England Patriots in Kansas City, Mo. The Chiefs barred headdresses and war paint amid the nationwide push for racial justice, but its effort to make its popular “war chant” more palatable is getting a fresh round of scrutiny from Native American groups as the team prepares to make its second straight Super Bowl appearance. (AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann, File)
In this Oct. 5, 2020, file photo, Kansas City Chiefs fans do "the chop" at the start of the team's NFL football game against the New England Patriots in Kansas City, Mo. The Chiefs barred headdresses and war paint amid the nationwide push for racial justice, but its effort to make its popular “war chant” more palatable is getting a fresh round of scrutiny from Native American groups as the team prepares to make its second straight Super Bowl appearance. (AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann, File) (Reed Hoffmann/AP)

America, today we’re asking for something this nation’s sports fans are not always noted for: restraint. Sunday at approximately XXX minutes past VI o’clock is kickoff for the National Football League’s 55th championship game, Super Bowl LV (arguably the most costly and pretentious event this side of an LV handbag). Topping off what could generously be described as an asterisk season — the COVID-19 pandemic having turned interchangeable the terms “injured reserve” and “going viral” — the nation’s lonely eyes turn to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, for the final coup de grâce.

But the really high-stakes action won’t be in the socially-distanced “Ray-Jay” stadium, which is hosting thousands of vaccinated health care workers, incidentally, but in gathering places across the country where average, vaccine-free fans will party and potentially turn this year’s game into Superspreader Bowl I.

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That’s right, none other than Dr. Anthony Fauci has put the word out that this is not the year to gather in bars or restaurants or with neighbors or friends or even with relatives who don’t live under the same roof. This is the year to “lay low and cool it.” Just as major holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas caused significant spikes in COVID-19 transmission, hospitalizations and deaths, it would be foolish to attend a mixed household gathering, where intoxication, shouting and cheering might break out. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has offered similar guidance including the warning that the “safest way to watch the Super Bowl this year is at home with people you live with.” How often does a sporting event come with medical advice for fans?

Luckily for public health officials, this Super Bowl has something going for it that should help diminish public enthusiasm. To cheer for a team in 2021 (sorry, in MMXXI) requires the spectator to: 1.) either root for last year’s Super Bowl winner to win again, thus rewarding a team called the “Chiefs” that uses the “tomahawk chop” — two traditions that have so offended Native American groups they’ve paid for protest billboards in Kansas City, or 2.) to cheer for Tom Brady, the former New England Patriots quarterback appearing in his 10th Super Bowl, who is associated with not one but two cheating scandals, who is married to a supermodel, who stands for no particular cause beyond his own brand, and who is very, very good at playing his position despite being 43 years old (or 301 in dog years). And did we mention he has a lifetime winning record against the Baltimore Ravens? Not cool, man, not cool.

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And so, Super Bowl 55 gives us an extraordinary opportunity to not care very much. Perhaps sensing this moment of “meh,” some major brands like Coca-Cola and Budweiser have decided not to run a commercial during the game. And even those that have (the TV audience is still expected to be huge, after all), admit they’ve struggled with the proper tone of their pitches: Is funny appropriate? Is being too serious? Too inspirational? All of which contributes to this sense that whatever happens Sunday, it’s going to be historic but not necessarily as much fun as in the past. During the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic (and with World War I raging on), Major League Baseball pushed on with a World Series that was later described as “joyless.”

Still, there’s something to be said for shared entertainment as the vaccine distribution program in Maryland and many other states continues to more closely resemble the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers of 1976 (long argued as the worst team in NFL history), than the MMXXI model with Mr. Brady (grrr) behind center. The nagging concern now is that the 2020 NFL football season won’t be the only asterisk-laden one: The prospects for the fall aren’t looking so great either. And so we can surely forgive adults who, against Dr. Fauci’s guidance, might be inclined to consume one or two alcoholic beverages during the big game. We’ve earned at least that.

The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.

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