You might have thought you were ready for Super Bowl LIII this past Sunday, but let’s be honest with ourselves: Wasn’t it great getting room to breathe?
We all needed it after maybe the most stunningly exciting Conference Championship Sunday in the history of the sport. The only possible comparable happened on Jan. 22, 2012. I know this because it was my only visit to Candlestick Park — I watched the New York Giants and Eli Manning advance over the San Francisco 49ers in overtime 20–17, just after Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal that would have forced overtime against the Patriots. He missed wide left and the Patriots hung on for a 23–20 win. Amazing day, but I’m quite sure last Sunday exceeded it both in terms of exceptional tension and crazy controversies.
That said, out of all the sporting events that don’t need to maximize the hype or buildup, I can admit it’s probably the Super Bowl. Even the World Cup final last summer between Croatia and eventual-champion France had just three dark days between the semi-finals and the final. Tennis majors get fewer than 48 hours to “hype” their showcase finals. I guess the only significant “length” you really get hyping a yearly event is the UEFA Champions League Final, but it’s way, way too long, and with often a month between the semis and the Final, it’s almost detrimental to the cause of promotion.
I don’t see the Super Bowl as needing the two-week break to hype it up. It’s more to make sure the players are healthy as can be, allow the coaches to put in the best game plan they can, and yes, to let us, the fans, come up for air after three playoff weekends featuring 10 games and more TV commercials for beer, cars and sitcoms than we care to handle.
It shocks some that the NFL quietly gave up the rotation of sometimes having no week off between the Conference Championships and the Super Bowl. But it’s only happened seven times, and not since the Tampa Bay-Oakland Super Bowl at the end of the 2002 season.
The league was also forced into it during the first Brady/Belichick Super Bowl in New Orleans the year before, when they lost a week of playing time to 9/11. Moving the Super Bowl date? Even in the wake of such a massive tragedy? It was basically a non-starter. Travel is booked. Hotels are booked. Along with the Olympics (both Winter and Summer), it’s as immovable a global sporting event as it gets.
I prefer the two-week gap, and, yes, in the early days of an NFL-versus-AFL game, perhaps the game actually needed the extra time to build hype. Also, let’s face it — the NFL is still the only sports season where fans don’t want to see fewer games and a swifter “must end by” date on the calendar. Please find a hockey fan who loves a Stanley Cup Final game on June 10 or a baseball fan who’s totally cool (pun intended) with a Nov. 2 World Series game.
In fact, I think we’re more likely to see a longer overall season than a one-week gap before the Super Bowl. I know the Thursday-night-games issue will flare up when the NFL and the players union get around to negotiating a new Collective Bargaining Agreement before the 2021 NFL season. When they do, it wouldn’t shock me to see another bye week added, to go back to a 16-game/18-week regular season, so that no team is playing a Thursday evening game on three days’ rest, or the absurd scenario the Chicago Bears found themselves in playing a Sunday-night home game until near midnight Eastern time, and then finding themselves in Detroit 80 hours later kicking off on Thanksgiving against the Lions.
I get it — it’s a long wait and necessitates more than a few recycled media stories. But you have time now to move past all the controversy from last week’s games and be ready for what’s coming. Eight of the past 11 Super Bowls have been decided by one possession or less, and — this may not shock you — every one of this New England Patriots crew’s Super Bowl games has been a one-possession game, so why will the ninth edition be any different?