This Super Bowl Is Not Everyone’s Bowl Of Chips
Some cities are not all in on the Super Bowl this year. And those places include the city where the game is being held and the city that one of the two teams calls home.
But which city is offering up the most indifference to Sunday’s matchup between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams? There are four chief candidates.
St. Louis was the home of the Rams for 21 years, but more recently not the home of the Rams for the past three years. Fans there are still angry their team left after the 2015 season. Few are excited about the Super Bowl, and fewer still expect to root for the Rams.
“Since the Rams left, I’ve watched little to no football. If it’s on a television, I look elsewhere,” the former Rams fan Dan Buffa wrote in an essay on KSDK titled, “Why I Won’t Be Watching the Super Bowl.”
Fans are especially bitter about the way the Rams’ owner, Stan Kroenke, a Missouri native, left town with the team: with a flurry of dismissive comments about the city’s economic prospects. In an objection to a plan to finance a new stadium in St. Louis, he wrote: “Any N.F.L. club that signs on to this proposal in St. Louis will be well on the road to financial ruin, and the league will be harmed.”
And to many onetime Rams fans, it seemed as if the team didn’t turn on the real effort to win until the move. Sure, the St. Louis Rams went to two Super Bowls, winning in the 1999 season. But after 12 straight seasons at .500 and below in St. Louis, the team waited till it got to Los Angeles to fire Coach Jeff Fisher and bring in the young genius Sean McVay, who brought immediate success.
St. Louis fans don’t feel much good will toward the Patriots, either, since that was the team that beat St. Louis in its last trip to the Super Bowl, in 2002. That Rams team, known as the Greatest Show on Turf, was a 14-point favorite. And many former Rams players, including Marshall Faulk, have contended that New England cheated by filming the Rams’ walk-through the day before the game.
“Is there anywhere in the rule book that both teams can lose?” a fan named James Heredia asked CBS.
Falling a game short of the Super Bowl is painful. When a major reason is a blown call, it stings even more. The agony of losing the N.F.C. conference championship game to the Rams has led many Saints fans to turn their back on the big game.
Don’t believe us. Believe the governor.
“I’ll be honest — I don’t know anyone who has interest in watching the game in our entire state,” Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana told USA Today. He added the opinion that “it was the worst call in the history of the N.F.L.”
It was only two weeks ago, but to refresh your memory: Late in a tied game, with the Saints driving, Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman slammed into New Orleans receiver Tommylee Lewis. It looked like pass interference or a helmet-to-helmet hit, or both. But there was no call, the pass was ruled incomplete, and the Saints had to settle for a field goal. The Rams had time to match that field goal, then won in overtime.
On Wednesday, Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the N.F.L., acknowledged the officiating crew messed up on the play.
The loss, combined with the recent trade request of the Pelicans star Anthony Davis, led Jeff Duncan of The Times-Picayune to write: “With the notable exception of the fall of 2005 when Hurricane Katrina devastated the city, I can’t think of a worse period in our city’s sports history.”
Eater New Orleans offered a list of “12 Places to Avoid Super Bowl LIII,” bars and restaurants that promise not to show the game on any of their televisions. In some cases, they will instead show a replay of the Saints’ championship from nine years ago.
Nola.com has 25 reasons not to watch the Super Bowl, but “could come up with 325.”
There’s enough disdain in New Orleans that fans are using words like “boycott” and saying they hope they can help hold the Super Bowl ratings down to a record low. But even mass participation is unlikely to make a decisive impact: The New Orleans area has a population of a little over a million, and the Super Bowl regularly draws more than 50 million.
O.K., it’s overstating it a little to say Los Angeles isn’t excited about going to the Super Bowl. After all, thousands of fans waited in long lines this week for a pregame rally.
But while other cities virtually stop when their team makes the big game, Los Angeles has reacted with a comparative shrug.
After only three seasons back in town, the Rams haven’t sunk into the city’s bones the way, say, the Packers and the Steelers have in their football-mad hometowns.
And, hey, LeBron James just came back to the Lakers after missing five weeks with an injury.
The Los Angeles area, home to roughly 13 million people, has 11 major professional sports teams and prominent college programs. Many residents came from somewhere else, and brought their allegiances, perhaps even to the Patriots, with them.
Some fans chose other teams during the two decades the N.F.L. was absent from Los Angeles. As Philip Nowlen told The New York Times’s California Today newsletter, “The years without a team led me to fan commitments to the 49ers and the Pats. Maybe after time passes … maybe.”
While the Rams drew a robust 72,000 fans a game this season, playing in the cavernous Coliseum meant they were at 77 percent of capacity, 31st of the 32 teams in the N.F.L.
Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald got some attention this week by proclaiming that L.A. is “a football town now.” But his avowal is less interesting than the fact that he was asked about it at all. No one asked Tom Brady if Boston planned to follow this year’s Super Bowl.
It hasn’t even been two years since the Atlanta Falcons blew a 28-3 lead over the Patriots and transformed a third-quarter Super Bowl score into a lasting slur.
So perhaps Atlanta can be forgiven if it is greeting anything about any Super Bowl — especially a Patriots-involved Super Bowl — with only so much good cheer.
Yes, downtown and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport are glimmering under a global spotlight, and the city, rightly proud of its hospitality tradition, is eager to show it can be the flawless host of a Super Bowl it worked so hard to earn. Mercedes-Benz Stadium, just two seasons old and already a crown jewel of Southern sports, will be on display for all to see.
“Everything I’ve been getting so far is superpositive,” said Jessie Tuggle, the beloved linebacker who played his entire professional career for the Falcons and retired after the 2000 season. “I think people like being around people, and there are so many people around. They just love the N.F.L. experience.”
And yet. Cue a new round of gripes over traffic. Trigger even more critiques of the Falcons’ middling performances of late, and wonder how so many Super Bowl events seem so out of reach for so many football fans. Stir the complaints over the halftime show, and how and why Maroon 5 landed the biggest gig in a city with one of the country’s richest music scenes.
It is even a moment when Atlanta’s prized export, Coca-Cola, is a target for trolling by Pepsi, a major N.F.L. sponsor that has made no secret of its pleasure over a big week in one particular city. (“Look who’s in town for Super Bowl LIII,” read one Pepsi advertisement outside a Coke-sponsored shrine to Coke.)
But even with all of that — the Pepsi flowing, the traffic slowing, the Falcons sputtering, Maroon 5 just being Maroon 5 — hey, at least the Saints aren’t playing. Alan Blinder