GELFAND: Super Bowl Participants May Not Be Deserving, But the League is OK With That

Photo Credit: Chuck Cook (USA Today Sports)

THURSDAY, JAN. 31 — It’s 29 below outside, and the icy stab of what appears to be the apocalypse finds its way through every pore in my obsolete house.

I am supposed to be pondering trivial issues such as the impending Super Bowl, but promoting the corrupt enterprise known as the National Football League seems like nothing so much as a betrayal of all that is logical and ethical. Perhaps it’s just the melancholy of isolation, but it’s impossible to justify the act of feeding the voracious beast.

It’s going to be a total of about 130 hours between human contact — not quite enough to go insane, but enough to reveal the eccentricity that sits just below the fragile veneer of civility. I’m now engaging in lengthy soliloquy with my cat. When she is sleeping, which is most of the time, I cut right to the chase and talk to myself. Even worse, myself answers. And why not? Both the cat and I are excellent listeners. (The newly optimistic me now finds the glass of hemlock to be half full, just another sign of impending insanity.)

There are so many things that a depressive should avoid at this moment, but the black bile subsumes them. Not surprisingly, then, I’m reading “To Build A Fire,” the Jack London short story that I first encountered in the sixth grade. Like all great literature, its themes show no sign of irrelevance. More than a century has passed since London wrote this tale of a stupid bastard who believed he was immune to the vagaries of nature. Spoiler alert: as he treks through the Yukon, he is inevitably humbled by the lethal arctic conditions and eventually dies trying to start a fire.

As we have seen, such stupidity lives on, evidenced by headlines found on the news pages of the local clarion to which you do not subscribe. I’m not going to trivialize this phenomenon with tortured comparisons to a Sunday business event in Atlanta — an event that lays claim to profundity and thus succeeds only in calling attention to its own fraud.

The true meaning of the Super Bowl is found not in the 12 or so minutes of actual “action” on the field, but in the some 50 minutes of commercials. True meaning comes not in the lust for victory but in the delicate balance somewhere between the appetite for chips and cheeseburgers and the noble pursuit of a lower A1C.

To suggest otherwise is to ignore the important social norms that must be observed if we are to perceive an existential meaning which does not exist.

In fact, it is the denial of such meaning, and not the illusion of it, that ultimately suggests humanity.

Fans, however, live in a deep state of willful delusion. The latest example is, of course, the sense of injustice still boiling up from the illiterate deltas of Louisiana. New Orleans Saints partisans have apparently just discovered that losing the NFC Championship Game — a loss chiefly attributable to astonishing levels of officiating incompetence — is not exactly a top priority of its owners. While the fans filed lawsuits and demanded divine intervention from Commissioner Roger Goodell, the $40 million per annum top dog basically yawned and said something like “Shit happens.”

Meanwhile, team owner and billionaire Gayle Benson was so aghast that she put out a statement saying she was “disappointed,” and then, if the press release was correct, said she sure is looking forward to next year.

Beyond that, the team owners paused from counting the day’s receipts to say…nothing. Sure, TV viewership is down, but the price of franchises shows no sign of abating and the senescent benefactors of mostly inherited fortunes don’t seem to mind that neither Super Bowl participant legitimately belongs in Atlanta.

Nor have we heard much from Flyover Land. The Chiefs, you may recall, might have won the AFC Championship had it not been for a roughing-the-passer call. For all the talk about dainty quarterbacks being pampered by officials, it seems that some QBs are coddled more than others. Tom Brady was barely even jostled en route to the Patriots’ overtime victory. Perhaps the most reprehensible example of touching-the-quarterback came late in the game after it seemed that the Chiefs were on their way to Atlanta. It was then that the Patriots were handed a first down on a third-and-seven play in which Chiefs lineman Chris Jones may have actually touched Brady somewhere around the midsection.

Some might argue that the penalty in question was simple incompetence rather than corruption. But was it? I don’t think so. The NFL has had decades to improve on the pathetic fecklessness of its officials, but it has chosen not to because, on the bottom line, it simply does not matter.

But it gets worse. You might think that the presence of the wrong two teams in the league’s signature game is shameful enough. Without doubt, gamblers on the wrong side of the championship game have already come to that conclusion. And yet that’s not the half of it.

Although I learned long ago that the point spread is so efficient that wagering on the game is basically about as scientific as flipping a coin, the reality is that the winner of the AFC Championship Game was literally the result of a coin flip. Namely, the flip that determined which team would get the ball first in overtime. Because whichever team was on the right side of the coin was going to win the game.

The Chiefs’ defense hadn’t shown signs of life all season long, while the Patriots allowed 24 points in the fourth quarter alone. So…after 20 weeks of football, how does the league decide who gets to play in the Super Bowl? Simple: heads or tails?

The rationale behind the NFL’s latest overtime system was that because football is an exhausting and dangerous game, avoiding lengthy overtimes — even if it means that one team might not get a chance to even snap the ball — is simply the right thing to do.

Which, of course, is a load of crap. Not even the Budweiser Clydesdales could produce a bigger pile of manure, at least not in a three-hour span. If Goodell and the team owners actually cared — the NFL really cared — they could eliminate overtimes completely during the regular season. On any given Sunday, a tie beats a concussion every time. Then, in the playoffs, overtime would simply be conducted as extra innings are in baseball. Meaning equal scoring opportunities for both sides.

Such a system would be fair for each team; but, more importantly, it would be fair for all gamblers. Which, in fact, is my only concern.

And that brings me to some final thoughts about the point spread. First, as I insist each year, you’ll never make a wager less susceptible to intelligent handicapping than a Super Bowl bet. The spread is the sharpest line in all of sports, honed as it is by perhaps $100 million in wagering. Then you throw in arbitrary factors such as officiating and the absurd rules, and you might as well bet the coin flip. Actually, it would be smarter to bet the coin flip. Bet the spread and you risk 11 to make 10. Bet the coin flip — one of about a thousand prop bets you can make on the Super Bowl — and you risk just ten dollars and twenty cents to make 10.

But, then, you won’t. To do so would be to acknowledge the futility of wagering in the first place, and who wants to do that? If you’ve been betting football all year and you’re stuck, you’re going to want to chase your money. More to the point, you want a wager that will last you all game. So let’s just face the facts: your beer and your wager are two things you never want to finish until the game ends. (Better yet, bet the MVP and you won’t be done wagering until after the game ends.)

On the other hand, if you’re up for the year, you want to make a large bet because — and this will suffice as the cliche test of the week — you’re playing with house money.

This, in fact, is the worst kind of cliche, because it’s not even true. No, if you’re one of the sagacious few who have been defeating the spread, you are, in fact, playing with your money.

By now, you may feel cheated. You started out this adventure in higher reading because a gambling column seemed like a lot of fun. Which it probably wasn’t. I started out talking about isolation and the specter of freezing to death, and now I’m basically mocking you for even thinking of gambling.

Let me make this up to you by recommending a prop bet. This I can justify. The sheer volume of prop bets, plus the limit on how much you can bet on any one of them, makes this a softer line. So I have combed a few hundred of them and come up with one play.

I’m taking Todd Gurley to go under 3 1/2 yards on his first carry. I say this despite the fact that Rams coach Sean McVay has announced that Gurley is completely healthy and will be a huge part of the Rams game plan. For all I know, McVay might not be lying. NFL coaches tell the truth maybe once a year, just to keep us guessing. But the percentages tell me that Gurley, who seemed bloated, hobbling and uninspired most of the year, will be the guy we’ve been tracking for the past couple of months.

In the Rams’ seven most recent games, Gurley has been held out twice. In reverse order, then, this is what he did with his first carry: minus-four yards; three yards; didn’t play; didn’t play; minus four; one; two. For a total of minus-two yards in the five games in which he played. More importantly, under 3 1/2 yards in all five games.

I’m not going to bet much, but, if I’m lucky, the Rams will get the ball first and Gurley will carry the rock on the first play. Then I can get some Chinese take-out and watch the Super Bowl ads online.

I promise, however, not to judge anyone who bets big money on the game. After the annual ridiculous build-up, it’s only natural that folks will do anything they can to make the game seem special.

After all, there can be no life without fire.


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