Across the world's busiest bridge, opposite the nation's busiest city, dressed in America's busiest outfit—checked shirt, plaid tie and orange blazer—Wes Welker arrived in New Jersey for Super Bowl XLVIII resplendent in senior-citizen chic.
Which made sense, as North Jersey was Boca-on-the-Hudson all week, right down to the cruise ship on which the Broncos held their daily press briefings. No wonder Peyton Manning looked so old on Sunday night. The Super Bowl turns 49 next year and will move from New Jersey to Arizona, a pantomime of a snowbird's retirement. It is time—pushing 50—for the Super Bowl to downsize.
Let's get small, because the game is no longer served by the hype that precedes it. History's biggest Super Bowl ought to be followed, at the earliest possible occasion, by history's smallest—in Canton, Ohio, or Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, or that town that briefly changed its name to Joe, Montana.
You can't get smaller than halftime singer Bruno Mars—"Got an apple box for me?" he asked while approaching the podium at his press conference—but the NFL can shrink the spectacle, however anathema that may be to a business that thinks it can keep growing in perpetuity.
This Super Bowl was a stretch Mini, a molehill taffy-pulled into a mountain. All week the buses bearing the world's sportswriters were whisked by police escort from a Manhattan hotel to the team hotels in Jersey City, the cherries-and-berries of the NYPD lights reflecting off the walls of the sealed-off Holland Tunnel, beyond which lay a heartbreaking tableau: a green-suited Hess gas station attendant solemnly saluting the press buses, certain that behind their smoked windows sat Russell Wilson, or at least President Obama, and not the correspondent from cheeseheadTV.com.
It hardly seems possible now, but Marcus Allen recalled last week that he drove a rental car paid for by the Raiders to Super Bowl XVIII in 1984, and he was initially turned away by Tampa Stadium parking attendants, who eventually allowed him to pass (and to win the game's MVP award). There was something recognizably human about the scale of that Super Bowl. "I do miss those days," Manning sighed heavily last week, referring to the more modest demands of American celebrity in his father Archie's era. "There were no camera phones back then." Peyton sounded like a man whose soul really had been stolen by photography.
When Broncos defensive tackle Terrance (Pot Roast) Knighton said his twin ambitions were to win the Super Bowl and to "take Pot Roast to the next level," the obvious question was: What level is left for the Super Bowl? Has it not reached the roof garden on top of the penthouse on top of the Five Seasons Hotel?
Pot Roast didn't think so: "I think [the hype] is appropriate in New York City, when you're down to the last two teams in America's No. 1 sport, it's almost like a world holiday." And with that deft phrase—world holiday—Mr. Roast reminded us that the Super Bowl is one of those Escher staircases that is always ascending into eternity, not unlike the concession prices at MetLife Stadium: $13 for a hot dog, $14 for an Italian sausage, $15 for a Bubba Burger, $16 for a cup of Leinenkugel's.
Surely, the Super Bowl will one day find itself with no more sharks to jump. The toboggan ride that turned Times Square into Manhattan's strangest neighborhood last week—Little Bavaria—could not disguise that the game itself had no there there.
Of course, I may be wrong (and I will certainly be ignored). "I don't think the media understand anything or they wouldn't be mediatin'," is how Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett put it. And he has a point.
But as the confetti cannons played their 21-gun salute to ring out Super Bowl XLVIII—pronounced "XLV-Aye-Yai-Yai"—the thought of downsizing seemed a pipe dream, lest our never-ending climb upward give us vertigo, or something worse. Seahawks receiver Golden Tate, with a GoPro video camera affixed to the bill of his cap, recorded the journalists who were recording him last week, and in doing so he reminded us of Nietzsche's warning: "When you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you."
WHAT "NEXT LEVEL" IS LEFT FOR THE SUPER BOWL? HAS IT NOT REACHED THE ROOF GARDEN ON TOP OF THE PENTHOUSE ON TOP OF THE FIVE SEASONS HOTEL?
Should the NFL hold a Super Bowl in Canton?
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DAMIAN STROHMEYER/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED