Sports drama transcends Super Bowl spectacle


At some point, the Super Bowl stopped being all about football and evolved (or became) a corporate carnival with lavish parties, halftime shows and commercials whose budgets seemed to rival a blockbuster movie.

The apex of that transformation came when the NFL planted this year's event in Las Vegas, where the prevailing ethos may well be that a bite of anything is barely enough.

But Super Bowl LVIII, with its accompanying flash — and favorite football fan Taylor Swift sipping a beer in a private box — demonstrated Sunday night how sports differ from other types of entertainment.

If the Kansas City Chiefs' 25-22 overtime victory over the San Francisco 49ers had been as well-written as Usher's elaborate choreography, the teams might have been pelted with rotten tomatoes or booed off the stage at halftime. . It was mostly a night of stumbles and stumbles: two fumbles, an interception, a botched punt, a blocked extra point, a series of ill-timed penalties… and for the 49ers enough regrets to last a lifetime.

But all the mistakes and all those field goals (seven in all) would eventually be absorbed by the tension that developed in the fourth quarter and continued into overtime of what became the longest game in Super Bowl history. .

The unexpected drama continued until the last play, when Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City's fabulous quarterback, threw a touchdown pass to Mecole Hardman, who had left the Chiefs as a free agent after last season's flop with the Jets. and then was traded back to Kansas City in mid-October. It was his first touchdown reception of the season.

As the Chiefs invaded the field (and red and yellow confetti fell from the ceiling), the 49ers abandoned it, absorbing their second Super Bowl loss to Kansas City in five years.

The tidy ending put a clear bow on what not long ago would have been unfathomable: the NFL hosting its marquee event in the country's gaming capital. A big part of that identity is sports betting, something that is still prohibited for players and league employees even as the NFL has licensing deals worth nearly $1 billion over five years.

While Las Vegas has diversified and shifted toward entertainment, gambling is what sets the city apart from Broadway, Disneyland and Branson, Missouri.

Meanwhile, the NFL launched another made-for-TV spectacle.

Although Allegiant Stadium is covered, an overpass and fireworks from the roof were still part of the pregame festivities. The halftime show with Usher and his friends was orchestrated to the minute. And the exterior of Sphere, the futuristic new concert hall, projected an American flag.

Advertisements also managed to make their way into the conversation: Beyoncé used one to announce her upcoming album. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. insinuated himself into the political conversation. And Carl Weathers showed up a little over a week after he died.

(One detail might have been overlooked. When Kansas City players ran out of the tunnel before the game, they were greeted by a tomahawk chant as they ran through the end zone painted “Chiefs” and bordered by an NFL message: End racism. .)

This NFL season has been distinguished by the presence of Ms. Swift, who has been a regular at Chiefs games since shortly after she began dating Travis Kelce, the team's star tight end.

Suddenly, at least anecdotally, more girls and young women have been drawn to a sport that has led them to learn the language of so many men who have watched football in their lives. As if the most popular sport in the country needed a boost.

So there was Ms. Swift, joined in the Kelce family box, flanked by actress Blake Lively and singer Ice Spice, sipping a beer with the approving claps of Travis's bearded older brother, Jason. The elder Kelce, who plays for the Philadelphia Eagles, has followed his brother's team on what looked like a bare-chested pub crawl during the playoffs. On Sunday he kept his shirt, along with his yellow and red plaid overalls.

Travis Kelce was also excitable. Frustrated by the offense's early struggles, Kelce yelled in coach Andy Reid's face on the Kansas City bench. He might have done well to pay attention to Swift's song, “You Need To Calm Down.”

As the Chiefs began celebrating in a locker room filled with cigarette smoke, Kelce struggled to open a golden bottle of Ace of Spades champagne. Once the bottle's cork finally popped, he dumped the sprayed drink onto his cornered teammates, many of whom were already wearing large glasses over their eyes. Mahomes, in the locker near him, carried a replica of the World Wrestling Entertainment championship trophy on his shoulder.

Before reaching the locker room, Kelce received a hug from her mother and hugged Swift, who planted a kiss on her boyfriend.

The scene may have been enough to trigger another round of right-wing conspiracy theories about Ms. Swift, with her legion of devoted fans, as a Pentagon mole sent to influence this year's presidential election.

(Sean McManus, the former president of CBS Sports, poked fun at this joke last week when he said the NFL had alerted him that the game could go to two overtimes. “You pay $2.1 billion and you get double time. extra,” he said).

To anyone else, the hug between Kelce and Swift seemed like a tender, unrehearsed moment celebrating the culmination of a month-long journey.

The Chiefs' victory gives them three Super Bowl titles in the last five seasons and makes them the first team since the New England Patriots in 2004 to win back-to-back titles, perhaps the only thing Sunday night that stuck to the script.

emmanuel morgan and Kevin Draper contributed with reports.

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