Pregame Ritual: Super Bowl edition
Welcome back to the Pregame Ritual. With only one game this week, we have to dig a little deeper to give you the proper level of half-hearted analysis you've come to expect from this column. Accordingly, here is a quarter-by-quarter guide to the big game.
New Orleans vs. Indianapolis (6:25 p.m. ET)
First-quarter summary: After 11 months and 29 days of pregame coverage, kickoff finally arrives. Peyton Manning strikes immediately, but Drew Brees quickly takes advantage of a Colts defensive back who becomes distracted while trying to figure out what the heck "Who Dat" even means and hits a deep ball to Robert Meachem to tie up the game.
Best Commercial: Any ad that is subtly about sex and not overtly about its consequences.
Proper Food/Drink Pace: 1.5 drinks, 7 wings, 1 plate of chips and dip, as many mini corn dogs as can fit in your mouth at a time.
Second-quarter summary: Like when Hollywood tries to shoehorn a love story into an action movie, both teams attempt to establish the run, bogging the game down. As a result, the talk at your party drifts dangerously close to non-football subjects like work and kids. Distracted, you tell everyone your company is growing up fast while your family is thinking of downsizing. Luckily, before follow-up questions are asked or the authorities can be contacted, Reggie Bush rips off an electric punt return, shifting the focus back to the game and more important priorities.
Best Commercial: Chevy Chase reprising his role as Clark Griswold in "National Lampoon's 'They Paid Me in Cash' Vacation."
Proper Food/Drink Pace: Make your move for the main course with six minutes to go in the half. That way you beat the halftime rush and don't miss the inevitable two-minute drill touchdown.
Third-quarter summary: Despite the excellent game on the field, celebrity attendees are becoming noticeably restless. The camera catches Kim Kardashian texting, Archie Manning napping and The Situation hitting on Sarah Jessica Parker while the redhead from "Sex in the City" plays the role of The Grenade.
Best Commercial: An event that's been a decade in the making: an ad from the US Census Bureau! Please, oh please, let them use talking babies or groin shots to get their message across. That would be tax money well spent.
Proper Food/Drink Pace: Let the game be your guide. If it's close, have a few extra drinks. If it's a blowout, reach for the sweets and plan to head home early.
Fourth-quarter summary: The Saints put up a valiant fight, but thousands of would-be revelers on Bourbon Street are forced to watch helplessly as the Colts run out the clock to preserve a 31-24 victory. When asked after the game what he plans to do, Peyton announces he's going to use his new signing bonus to buy Disneyland.
Best Commercial: The reappearance of the Budweiser Clydesdales, the '85 Bears of Super Bowl pitchmen. Ironically, the only way they might be topped is by the reunion of the '85 Bears doing the "Super Bowl Shuffle," which is apparently actually going to happen.
Proper Food/Drink Pace: If you're still counting calories or drinks at this point, you're just bringing yourself and everyone else down. Treat it like "Lost." Whatever happened, happened.
Fine, I'll ask
Five questions entering the Super Bowl:
• Doesn't this Colts tribute song sound like something the Fresh Prince would have recorded with Anthrax in 1989? Also, why can't I get it out of my head?
• Would fans flock to any other NFL city to watch a road game?
• Did Jim Caldwell even speak at media day? Shouldn't he have announced he plans on resting his reserves Sunday?
• Do Dwight Freeney's hopes of playing actually rely upon a piece of equipment that could have been picked up at Michael Jackson's estate sale?
• If the Saints win, will kids in New Orleans also show up an hour late for school, or will they still be out partying?
Best Bandwagon to Join
The answer seems obvious; it's got to be the Saints. A group of likable players from a down-on-its-luck city playing for the franchise's first-ever championship; it sounds like the plot to a Disney movie called "Who Dat" coming soon to a theater near you (be sure to go on opening weekend; the NFL is probably going to sue over the title by the time the second Friday rolls around). But just to make sure, let's go to the videotape.
Look at the number of viral videos of the wild celebrations on Bourbon Street that were posted right after the Saints beat the Vikings. I daresay no team's fans have ever celebrated a semifinal victory harder than that. The town has even announced the team will receive a parade even if they lose. If you don't have a reason to root for the Colts, you've got to hope those fans get to experience the real thing.
Most Likely Hero
Your Party Host: Forget the guys on the field. The person who let you come into their house, drop a sauce-laden chicken wing on their carpet, spill a beer on their dog and shout obscenities at the TV in front of their relatives as you lose 100 bucks on the game is the real hero.
Most Likely Goat
Peyton Manning: Before you call me crazy, realize I'm talking about the acronym: Greatest of All Time. OK, now you can call me crazy.
Jerry Rice becoming eligible for the Hall of Fame has resparked the debate, but whoever the current occupant may be, he's just keeping the crown warm for Peyton. If the Colts win on Sunday, Manning will get significantly closer to entering the conversation, and he likely has seven or eight excellent years left in him. If he breaks the record for career passing yards and touchdowns and finishes with five or more MVPs and three or more Super Bowl rings, it will be difficult to make an argument against him. And those numbers look conservative to me. So enjoy watching him in the Super Bowl. Someday you'll be able to tell your grandkids that you saw the greatest ever play in his prime. Unless David Sills blows him away.
Best Topic for Discussion at Halftime
How are your prop bets doing?
The Super Bowl and March Madness seem to be the only two events in which gambling is all but encouraged, and if you're going to just bet a little bit, you might as well have fun with it. Matthew Berry wrote about all the great non-football prop bets earlier in the week. Here are my three favorite football props.
Most receiving yards for Colts: Austin Collie at 4-1: Unsung players often shine in the Super Bowl, and the odds are just much better than they are for Wayne (5-4) and Garcon (8-5).
Total Mike Bell rushing attempts: Over 3.5. The Saints need to run the ball to keep Peyton off the field and Bell is their favorite hammer; plus he's a threat to get the ball at the goal line.
First team to challenge a call: The Saints: Sean Payton has been one of the league's most prolific challengers since becoming a head coach, while Jim Caldwell only challenged three plays all year and may actually be a wax figurine on loan from Madame Tussauds.
Top Trash Talker This Week
Jeremy Shockey: This is less an award than it is a cry for help. The lead-up to this game has been almost completely free of quality smack talk. I have zero faith in the Colts saying anything interesting, as the most controversy they've had since Manning joined the team came when he referred to his kicker as an idiot, right before catching his flight to Mayberry for his annual rock-skipping extravaganza with his brother Eli.
The Saints aren't exactly a bunch of Muhammad Alis either. The only person to say something remotely controversial was Gregg Williams, whose comments suggested that the Saints may try to take Manning out on Sunday. I'm not saying I believe it, but it's telling that the Saints gave Luther Campbell a sideline pass for the game and added a J. Gillooly to the active roster. We'll only know for sure that Williams wants to eliminate Manning if he comes out dressed in Cobra Kai gi and all of his defensive signals consist of a sweeping motion followed by a point to the leg.
There's still a little time left for someone to stir the pot. Help us, Jeremy Shockey, you're our only hope.
Pump-Up Video of the Week
For the big game, here is the most ambitious video yet. It claims to contain all the greatest moments in NFL history, but it unfortunately doesn't include any clips from this commercial, so that claim is null and void.
That's it for this year's version of the Pregame Ritual. Thanks for reading and enjoy the Super Bowl, as come Monday there will be more extended fingers on Rex Ryan's right hand than games left in the NFL season.
Toby Mergler is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C., who has previously written for MLB.com, Fanball and the Virginia Law Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.