Superbowl Sunday: Hail Little Caesars

The absurd Roman circus of the Superbowl is upon us again. The roman numerals are no accident. Of course, there have been some changes since the originals. On the one hand, gladiators didn’t make ten or twenty million dollars a year. On the other hand, plebeians could actually afford a ticket to the Circus Maximus. And they got bread too.

Earlier this week, the average ticket for today’s game was going for $6,400, about five months pay for a minimum wage worker and two months for a fellow earning the average per capita income. Obviously they won’t be in the stands, but watching at home on TVs made by Korean workers who stole their unionized jobs.

The stadium will be filled with patricians, the private jet crowd, and their political lap dogs like Chris Christie whose function in life is keeping taxes on plutocrats low and eliminating government benefits aimed at the plebs, like food stamps, so that the lower orders will eventually get neither circuses nor bread..

It’s all a long way from the early days of the sport in places like Canton, Pittsburgh, Detroit and my home town of Cleveland where the players and fans alike worked in the steel mill or mine all week before showing up at the games. It’s why the teams had names like Steelers and Packers

Now the teams are billion dollar enterprises owned by skybox types. Today’s battle between the Patriots and the Seahawks pits the vassals of Robert Kraft against those of Paul Allen. Kraft’s money came from a packaging products company (originally owned by his father-in-law), a paper company, a CBS affiliate, a TV production company and the ownership of Gillette Stadium.
Kraft bought the team in 1994 for a paltry $172 million and today it is reckoned to be worth $2.6 billion, more than half Kraft’s $4 billion fortune. Allen, of course, is the Microsoft co-founder whose $17 billion makes Kraft look like a blue collar guy, like a football fan. My father, for instance.

Way back when, in 1968, I could afford to give him the Christmas present of a pair of playoff game seats between our Browns and the Colts of Johnny U. We lost, of course, 34-0, in a blizzard so intense that the only player you could distinguish was Bubba Smith because he was the biggest guy on the field. My father was too polite to suggest it would have been preferable to have stayed home and actually seen the debacle on TV. Eventually we lost the entire team when the evil owner, Art Modell, in search of a city willing to buy him a more profitable stadium stole the Browns away and turned them into Baltimore Ravens. The theft was announced about the time my father died and I still believe Modell killed him.

Guess who I was rooting for when the Patriots played the Ravens a few weeks ago? And I will remain in the New England camp today. But it isn’t quite as easy as if they were playing easy to dislike teams like the Giants or Cowboys. I like both Seattle and New England, but I’ve always regarded Brady as the rightful heir of his hero and mine, Joe Montana. And Belichick’s wile has permitted him to find a way to win even when the team was not at its best.

That said, Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll have begun to look like almost as potent a combo. Marshawn Lynch is a force of nature and if Richard Sherman is healthy there’s room for doubt about the outcome. The Patriots may have engineered a fairy tale comeback against the Ravens on a par with last week’s heroics by Seattle against Green Bay. And both teams have shown the ability to post big numbers against supposedly competent rivals — Seattle’s drubbing of Manning’s Broncos last year 43-8, and the Patriot’s deflating win two weeks ago against Andrew Luck, 45-7.

Still, this may well be a very close game. That would be fun. Superbowls are often lopsided anticlimaxes, less entertaining than the playoffs leading up to them. And Brady’s previous five appearances have all been nail biters. He lost twice to the inferior Giants – 21-17 and 17-14 and he won a trio of games a decade ago 20-17, 32-29 and 24-21.

So break out the guacamole dip as the players salute the Caesars in the skyboxes with “Ave, Imperator, morituri te salutant.” Whichever way the contest ends, we will be treated to wretched excess — stupid commercials costing $4.5 million per 30 seconds, a disappointing halftime show and a chance to jettison our New Year’s resolutions by consuming several pounds of junk food and gallons of alcoholic beverages in just under four hours. Let the game begin.

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