For all the complaining we’ve already done about Super Bowl Week – the traffic, the weather, the absurd logicstics, the expense, the waste, the fiscal pillage, the NFL’s uniquely Stalinist view of things that don’t belong to it – we have forgotten the one item that makes this without question the weirdest Super Bowl ever.
The next door neighbor who has been chained to his basement water heater so he can’t run a garage sale on his front lawn and ruin the ambience.
There have been Super Bowls hosted by poor teams before. In fact, two-thirds of them have been hosted by teams with losing records in the prior calendar year, which means the 49ers’ performance this year (and the subsequent slagging of all things York) really has no bearing on the weirdness.
No, we’re talking about the Raiders and their bold and intrepid owner, Not Al Davis. They actually have no official role at Super Bowl L (and yes, we will be using L all week because the NFL doesn’t get to abandon Roman numerals whenever it feels like it), but they are here anyway, the neighbor all the guests have been warned about, and what is more, they are chained in the basement to keep them from nailing “Liquidation Sale! Everything Must Go, Especially Us” signs on the front lawn to downer the party.
All the talk about San Francisco this and Santa Clara that ignores the fact that there is an East Bay, and as Manchester City is to Manchester United, the Raiders are this Super Bowl’s noisy neighbors. That is, until the noisy neighbors are abandoned with the same dismissive wave as the people of San Diego and St. Louis.
True, the Raiders have to wait for San Diego to do its last futile dance with the Chargers, and in the meantime, Not Al has been flirting with minimal shame with Las Vegas and San Antonio as potential future sites. But they aren’t gone yet, so they remain the obstreperous backdrop to a Super Bowl that has already been greeted with staggering indifference, as these things go.
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In most cities, a Super Bowl is greeted as a touring Mardi Gras, with money flying everywhere and where everyone eats their fill. We know better, of course, because there is the NFL’s table and then a series of kiddie tables, some of which never get served at all. San Francisco, on the other hand, has been decidedly lukewarm on this jerry-rigged arrangement – inconvenience and cost and lavish parties that almost nobody is invited to in one city, the game in another.
Plus, the NFL has been stocked and pilloried pretty consistently over the past few years, between its obstructionist behavior on the CTE front, its half-hearted and hamhanded work in the areas of criminal behavior and discipline, and its abandonment of the subtler forms of persuasion-based marketing for a message that is essentially, “Give us the money, resistance is futile.”
We got an additional glimpse of that when at the recent owners’ meetings, in which two cities were abandoned for crime of not being Los Angeles, and a third is about to be inside of 18 months if Mark Davis gets his way for once.
Not that abandoning people for wealthier people is new, but this meeting had the additional benefit of showing the owners at their treacherous best to each other. A carefully constituted relocation committee supported the Raiders and their bigger brothers the Chargers in their attempts to move in tandem to Carson, only to be denied in a general vote which was held by secret ballot so that all the personal pledges to Spanos could cheerfully be ignored behind the cheesecloth curtain of anonymity.
And the remnants of that brazen bit of promises-be-damned skullduggery (and yes, we cleaned up that last word so as not to offend the kiddies) remain in the muted presence of the Raiders – out of sight, but not out of mind.
You won’t see them represented in any of the official (read: temporary) architecture of the week. The logo will be there in connection with the other 31 because, dismissed though they are, they still are dues-paying members, but that’s about it.
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But a quick trip over the wrong bridge will tell a different truth, and we say the wrong bridge because the one you will see on TV this week is the Golden Gate, which actually leads not to the location of the game but to 800 miles of non-NFL territory, and is to Santa Clara as Amsterdam is to Ouagadougou.
Oakland exists, at least until it is prepared for abandonment. The Super Bowl headquarters is held in another city that no longer has an NFL team because a rich family needed a palace more suitable to its station. And once the Los Angeles stadium is built and becomes the league’s second hub, the idea of another Bay Area Super Bowl will be dismissed as an anachronism as well. The new Super Bowl rotation will be Kroenke World, Jerry World and Nawlins World, with a rotating second tier of other cities more logistically and politically friendly than this.
But if despite overwhelming odds the Super Bowl does come back here in 2037, the Raiders won’t be living next door, making all that racket and parking the car on the front lawn and leaving the dogs outside to bark at the noise in the middle of the night. Something else even less explicable and tolerable may have reared its ugly head. After all, the future is not promised, even to those who have choke-slammed the present into submission.