Super Bowl Sunday looms. The high holy day of American sports. Normal events scheduled for that Sunday are canceled as great masses gather around big screens from coast to coast, regardless of who is playing, to view four hours of gridiron battle, preceded by as many hours of pregame silliness. Even the commercials are worth watching — and for normal Super Bowls, which as often as not are blowouts, are, by the second half, the only things worth watching. Yearly the call goes out to declare the following Monday a national holiday to allow losing fans to recover their élan, winners to climb down from their thrones, and everyone else to sleep in. Skeptics question it, critics decry it, some on the left would like it to go away, but the Super Bowl remains of enormous significance in American cultural life. It joins persons of great import and epic world events — popes, patriarchs, kings, queens, emperors, czars, czarinas, kaisers, world wars, and, yes, Puppy Bowls — in warranting a trailing roman numeral.
But LVI, scheduled for February 13, might be in trouble. News seeped out this past week that a contingency plan exists to move the big game from Los Angeles’s SoFi Stadium should the virus return in force to the Southland (as Northern California calls it) and prompt the bellwether state in COVID paranoia to flex its proscriptive muscles and return to mandatory masking and other business- and spirit-killing measures. The NFL pooh-poohed the news, issuing boilerplate that this was all SOP — it would be stupid, it said, for it not to have alternate plans for such a big event.
That hasn’t quelled the excitement coming from certain sectors, however. Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas — Dallas’s AT&T Stadium being the likely landing spot for a relocation — issued a come-on-over tweet, promising 100 percent openness in his state. No Karens would be stalking the aisles in his state’s stadiums shrieking at fans whose masks slip beneath their noses. Sports/political pundit Clay Travis said the league should do it — and do it right away.
To move the game from bluest of blue California to reddest of red (or second-reddest of red) Texas would be a departure from form as these things go. Discounting the 2021 Rose Bowl, which moved from Pasadena to Dallas for solely COVID reasons — so that actual people, and not cardboard cutouts, could watch it —most such relocations go in the other direction. In 1993, the NFL moved the Super Bowl out of Phoenix because Arizona didn’t have a Martin Luther King Day. In 2017, the NCAA moved a number of championship events, including first- and second-round March Madness games, out of North Carolina because of the state’s so-called bathroom bill; in the same year, for the same reason, the NBA relocated its all-star game from Charlotte to New Orleans. And of course, just this past summer Major League Baseball saw racism in Georgia’s attempt to discourage cheating in their elections by reforming their voting laws and moved the All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver.
Although moving Super Bowl LVI would be tied to developments on the COVID front, it could be seen as at least tacit admission that Texas is doing the virus right. We’ve had two years of this thing; states have individually developed their own approaches to the pandemic; some states have been way more successful than others in opening up while keeping infection numbers down. Although it would never be verbalized, moving the Super Bowl to Texas would silently acknowledge the state’s successful handling of the pandemic.
Playing the game in AT&T Stadium, in Dallas (technically, Arlington), is nowhere near a come-down in facilities. If a professional sports league can have multiple “crown jewels,” the NFL has them. AT&T Stadium was presented as the ninth wonder of the world when unveiled in 2009. “Jerry World,” it was called, in honor of its builder and inspiration, Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys. And it was hailed as bigger, better, fancier than anything then in existence, pure Texas down to its luxury boxes and massive hanging scoreboard (largest in the world at the time of construction). In an homage to the glorious past of the home-team Cowboys, Jerry built the stadium with a retractable roof that, when retracted, aped the rectangular hole in the roof of the team’s former digs, Texas Stadium, presumably so God could continue to watch America’s Team on Sundays. The stadium, it is said, uses more electrical juice than all of Liberia.
While nearly half a dozen new stadiums have come online since Jerry World went up in 2009, all pale in splendor and pizzazz to the one Stan Kroenke built in the LA suburb of Inglewood. And definitely in cost. The price tag for construction of the covered edifice was $5.5 billion (AT&T came in at a “mere” $1.79 billion, in adjusted dollars). The scoreboard wins the JumboTron wars hands down; it beats Jerry’s and is oval-shaped with images projected both on the inside and on the outside. And the grounds around the stadium are opulent but, as you might expect, artificial. There are a lake, hills, terraced trails, and an arroyo, but they’re all — as Elaine Benes would say — fake, fake, fake, fake.
As to the essentials, SoFi has the highest beer per ounce and hot dog prices in the NFL — $11 for a 12-ounce cup and $8 for a dog; AT&T will set you back “only” $9.50 for a brewski and $6 for a wiener. The $15 slice of pepperoni pizza at SoFi has achieved internet fame. Also, one YouTuber complained that SoFi offered no vegan dishes, which is kind of like not being able to buy a brat at Lambeau Field. As for parking at SoFi, get ready to throw $80 or $100 out the car window.
Aaron Rodgers (if the Green Bay Packers get to the Super Bowl) would probably prefer AT&T, just to be sure he’ll still get into the stadium, given his unvaccinated status, but, barring a meteoric rise in COVID statistics in Southern California, it’s hard to see the NFL failing to bestow on the newest, most expensive and opulent digs in the league the honor of hosting this year’s marquee contest.
We can only hope there’s no lightning storm nearby on game day.