It probably won’t be the biggest public relations fiasco for the National Football League.
But Super Bowl LIII (53 to folks who don’t read in Roman) might be one of the least watched in recent memory. I wouldn’t expect many here in the St. Louis market to tune in.
I’m calling it the Anti-Bowl because it’s about the antithesis of what the Super Bowl is supposed to be about. The Anti-Bowl features the least-liked teams fraught with controversy about how they reached the championship game.
And this one won’t have anything to do with who is standing or kneeling for the national anthem. No, this game features the nation’s least favorite team against the world’s least favorite owner when the New England Patriots face the Los Angeles Rams Sunday, Feb. 3.
The site will be Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the descendant of the old Georgia Dome, site of the then St. Louis Rams’ greatest moment when they won Super Bowl XXXIV (34) over the Tennessee Titans.
It’s also a rematch of Super Bowl XXXVI (36) which saw the rise of the Patriots in a stunner over the heavily favored Rams. The Rams outgained New England by a large margin, but couldn’t put the ball into the end zone.
At the time, we knew New England was a charmed team. Tom Brady was the relief quarterback for Drew Bledsoe and the team gained the luck from the officials in the “Tuck Rule Game” when the Oakland Raiders should have ended the Patriots’ run in the divisional round.
What we didn’t know was that the Patriots allegedly taped the Rams’ walkthrough and knew exactly what to expect, the start of shady practices, Spygate, Deflategate, etc.
Very little has changed. A changed call possibly switched the AFC representative from the Kansas City Chiefs to the Patriots. Officiating stunk in the NFC title game as well as the New Orleans Saints potentially were cheated out of a trip to Atlanta. Both games went to overtime and shoddy officiating, according to folks more expert in the field than me, played a major role in deciding the outcome of Sunday’s games.
I don’t think anyone from St. Louis has anything bad to say about the team. There are some St. Louis Rams still making an impact with the team. Todd Gurley is one of the league’s top running backs. You won’t meet a nicer person than punter Johnny Hekker. Greg Zurlein not only was a top kicker in St. Louis, but he also went to Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph.
Now, the owner... That’s another matter entirely.
The Rams made St. Louis their home for 21 seasons between 1995 and 2015 and departed back for the West Coast.
The owner, Stan Kroenke, named after two beloved St. Louis Cardinals, Enos Slaughter and Stan Musial, could have been the savior of the city. It wouldn’t have taken much to keep the team in St. Louis, work with the cash-strapped region to develop a new football stadium and, in short, do the right thing by his home state.
The man oozes money and he’s been successful in his ventures even before becoming super rich. Kroenke, and his NFL cronies, wanted a team in Los Angeles, not St. Louis. Kroenke obliged by removing the team and his NFL friends did what they could to belittle St. Louis to make it happen.
Immediately, the Rams exploded in value and Kroenke started building the NFL’s megastadium. The NFL showed Kroenke the money and he bit.
Believe it or not, there might be a place in the world where Kroenke is hated even more than in St. Louis, hence the world’s most-hated owner.
The red-clad folk in North London who follow Arsenal are none too happy about the Yank-in-charge, who is ultra-rich yet won’t invest in the football (soccer) team. Arsenal has had its hands tied in the transfer market as it looks to solidify a place in the English Premier League to potentially reach next season’s UEFA Champions League.
Those fans are even harder than St. Louis Rams fans and they let you know about it.
If that’s a point toward the Patriots, their owner is no saint either. Robert Kraft might be the next most-hated owner in the league, just because his Patriots have ruled the league like Emperor Palpatine’s Galactic Empire in the Star Wars franchise.
As an aside, before Kraft came around, the team almost was the St. Louis Patriots.
James Busch Orthwein did a favor by buying the Patriots from Victor Kiam in 1992 when Kiam was swimming in debt. He helped to turn around the team. When the St. Louis NFL expansion team project failed, it was said that the Patriots might be moved to St. Louis. Kraft bought the team from Orthwein in 1994.
A Tale of Two Games
I was at Super Bowl XXXVI as a member of the media. It was the first major sporting event following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the first ultra-security sporting event.
I had never covered a Super Bowl before, but the process to go through to get the actual credential was extensive. The Rams media relations department, under Rick Smith, made us little guys as important as the other media outlets. I can remember in the early days of the dome, late in the season when the team wasn’t doing so well in the 1990s, that we could have played catch in the press box. Not many folks were showing up to cover the games, but The Missourian always was there.
The Super Bowl was a who’s who of Americana at that time. All you had to do was turn around and there were celebrities. Within two hours of reaching New Orleans, I had a conversation with Deion Sanders and my brother-in-law Walt Chaboude and I had strolled the streets with members of U2.
My media seat in the upper levels of the Super Dome was a couple of seats away from Mike Wilbon. It was an amazing experience, yet frustrating in watching the Rams play the game. After Adam Vinatieri’s game-winning kick, it seemed there were at least two seconds left on the clock, enough time for the Rams to try to set up a winning kickoff return. However, the confetti cannons had already been shot off and nobody was waiting for another play.
The postgame included a number of interviews in the bowels of the Super Bowl, listening to and talking with players from both sides. For a while, I was the only one chatting with Vinatieri as everyone was over in the pit with MVP Brady.
The Rams seemed shell-shocked. Nobody expected the Greatest Show on Turf to lose to the underdogs and their second-string quarterback.
Over the years, the Rams and Patriots played multiple times. The Greatest Show on Turf was well done by the time the two teams stepped into the limelight in one of the world’s iconic stadiums in Greater London.
The 2012 International Series returned to Wembley Stadium and I got the chance to see it as part of a family vacation.
I was one of only a few St. Louis media people who made the trip and it definitely was worth it.
The NFL Experience at Trafalgar Square was the start of a clash of cultures. The NFL and the monument to Britain’s naval prowess definitely didn’t go together. It was amazing to see all of the folks from around Great Britain who were NFL fans, even casually. I ran into one gentleman from Scotland who was dressed like he was a St. Louis super fan and attended every game at the dome.
At the game, fans were wearing jerseys of all of the league’s teams. The English who came viewed it as something like a cultural athletic exchange.
The game itself was very anticlimactic. The Patriots dominated and it poured. There wasn’t much positive for Rams fans who made the trip other than they were in London.
After the game, the New England staff was in a hurry to try and get to the airport to beat Hurricane Sandy, which was potentially expected to hit the Boston area at that time.
Take away the actual game and it was a fun and rewarding trip. But the actual game was a referendum of New England’s superiority over the Rams.
Will this change now that the Rams are in Los Angeles and not St. Louis?
I guess we’ll have to tune in to see. But I suspect a great number of fans in St. Louis, and other places around the country, will just check the headlines after it’s over. That’s the only proper way to follow the Anti-Bowl.