The biggest event of the year approaches, and to the uninitiated, it can all feel like senseless chaos: the weeks of unending hype; the childish taunts; the endless cheers from happy supporters; the sad, silent stares from the other side; the know-it-all analysts; the snap judgments; and especially the way all of your friends will drop everything, find a watch party and spend an entire evening wrapped up in a thoroughly American televised extravaganza.
But the State of the Union isn’t the only big event coming up. There’s also the Super Bowl! And if you’ve spent the past five months obsessed with shutdown deadlines instead of shutdown corners; with steel walls instead of steel curtains; with Tomi instead of Tommy and Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) instead of Peter King (NBC); with alleged election interference instead of alleged pass interference, this non-football fan’s guide is for you.
By rule, the New England Patriots will represent the AFC. This is the ninth time in the past 18 years that the Patriots will play in the Super Bowl, an impossible accomplishment that has done the impossible: made self-satisfied Patriots fans more reviled than self-satisfied Red Sox fans.
The Patriots, who are favored by a field goal, are 5-3 in those previous Super Bowls, by the way, starting with a 2002 win over the St. Louis Rams. Which is fitting, because this year’s opponent is — you guessed it — the Rams. Well, the Los Angeles Rams.
Wait, why are the Rams in Los Angeles now?
Eh, the usual reasons. This is actually the second time St. Louis has lost an NFL team, and it’s prompted angry fans there to root for the hated Patriots, under the theory that celebrating my enemy’s enemy probably isn’t great, but it’s better than the alternative.
As it happens, the Rams won 50 games in their final 10 seasons in St. Louis. They’ve won 24 in their past two seasons in L.A.
Why did they get so good? And who’s that young fella in the khakis?
These things are related. Two years ago, the Rams made Sean McVay, then just 30, the youngest head coach in NFL history. (No, don’t think about what you were doing when you were 30.) McVay turned 33 last week; he will be the youngest head coach in Super Bowl history. (No, don’t think about what you were doing when you were 33.) Washingtonians may remember him as the former offensive coordinator of the Redskins who already has more 11-win seasons with the Rams than the Redskins have recorded over the past three decades.
He has a near-photographic memory. His record as an NFL head coach is 24-8. His girlfriend is a model. And his hair is perfect.
So that’s the NFL coaching model?
Well, sort of. Every NFL team with a coaching vacancy this offseason seemed hellbent on finding the next McVay, interviewing every decently coifed young offensive assistant with a pair of pressed khakis. And yet McVay’s opponent this week is a 66-year-old defensive-minded football lifer who looks sort of like a baked potato in sackcloth. That would be Bill Belichick, twice McVay’s age, who has more playoff wins (30) than McVay has gray hairs. Belichick, in fact, has more playoff wins than the entire Rams franchise, which has existed since 1937.
Also, he is definitely happy to be here. He’s just scowling because he hates you.
How’s Tom Brady doing?
The New England quarterback is 41, taunting his doubters on Instagram, promoting fad diets, speculating that he might play until he’s 45, and favored to break his own record by winning a fifth Super Bowl MVP award. He’s also good at relating to teammates who are half his age.
His QB counterpart, 24-year-old Jared Goff, is the youngest quarterback to start a Super Bowl since Brady in 2002.
What other players do I need to know?
The Rams have two great running backs: Todd Gurley, a one-time MVP candidate, and C.J. Anderson, who was cut by two teams this season, caught on with the Rams in December and appears to be kind of fat. Yes, it’s weird. Their kicker, Greg Zuerlein, blasted a 57-yard field goal in overtime to clinch L.A.’s Super Bowl spot, and is nicknamed “Greg the Leg.” (Lord knows what profession he’d have chosen if his parents named him Rick.) Maybe you don’t care about linemen, but Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald was once referred to by Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson as “the best defensive player I’ve ever played against.”
The Patriots have a big tight end named Rob Gronkowski. He did a commercial telling kids not to eat Tide Pods, and thinks the number 69 is hilarious. This could be the last game of his career, before he becomes an actor or pro wrestler. (Seriously.)
Why is everyone talking about Tony Romo?
If you were ranking the most interesting personalities at this game, Romo would finish in the top five. Which is strange, because he’s usually bad in the playoffs, plus he’s retired. But the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback has been a sensation since becoming a CBS broadcaster last season, both because he’s hopelessly in love with his job and because he’s able to predict what NFL offenses will do on a given play with, like, a 96 percent success rate. (Actually, the Wall Street Journal concluded it was 68 percent.)
His CBS partner is Jim Nantz, who lives at Pebble Beach and has his own line of Vineyard Vines apparel.
Who’s singing the national anthem?
Atlanta native Gladys Knight. As always, you can bet on how long the anthem will last, with the over/under time typically listed at about a minute and 50 seconds. While you’re wagering on the anthem, don’t forget to lick the Cool Ranch Doritos dust off your fingers and then fall respectfully silent, at least until it’s time to tally the betting winners.
And the halftime show?
After no shortage of controversy, organizers settled on Maroon 5, Travis Scott and Big Boi. Here’s Post pop music critic Chris Richards:
The Super Bowl halftime show has generated steaming oodles of controversy in the past — you might remember M.I.A. flipping the bird in 2012; you definitely remember Justin Timberlake prompting Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction in 2004 — but this year, things hit a rolling boil before the Rams had even clinched a playoff spot.
Back in September, Billboard confirmed that soft-rock nice boys Maroon 5 would be headlining this year’s big show. Eh, fine. Then, in October, Us Weekly reported that Rihanna had turned down the gig in solidarity with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, still out of the league after sparking player protests in 2016. Since then, Maroon 5 — as well as the band’s coheadliners, rappers Travis Scott and Big Boi — have been loudly criticized for failing to take the same stance.
Now, some are wondering whether this weird assemblage of musicians might sneak a truth-to-power moment into the show — perhaps during the breakdown of “Moves Like Jagger.” You’ll want to watch closely, and frankly, you always should. The Super Bowl halftime show is the most widely watched musical performance of the year in this country, and we should always expect absolute excellence. Prince understood that. Do these guys? For three acts with very little in common, they have some serious mountains to move.
How should I bet?
I seriously thought you’d never ask, because this is perhaps the best thing about the Super Bowl besides the guacamole. Now, I’m of the opinion that the Super Bowl is actually one of the worst gambling days on the football calendar, because there’s only one lonesome game to bet this weekend.
That said, better get your losing in now while you still have a chance. The Post has created a handy Prop Bet Quiz, sort of like an Oscar ballot, something that requires absolutely no knowledge of the sport. Just circle your choices wildly and await your riches.
For a fun alternative, you can try a Super Bowl Draft with a couple of friends. The possibilities are endless, but you’re essentially drafting players (or picking them blindly) for touchdowns. The first touchdown scored is worth X dollars, the second touchdown is worth 2X, the third 3X, and so on, until after the game’s final touchdown your friend Adam has your entire mortgage payment. This is fun, I swear.
What about Super Bowl squares?
Ugh, I mean, sure, if you don’t feel like just flipping coins for dollar bills, squares are fine. The Post’s Neil Greenberg will let you know if your squares are good or bad.
What should I eat?
My friend Scott Allen, who’s a nerd, makes regional-themed Super Bowl food every year. Here’s his plan:
I was rooting for barbecue ribs during the AFC championship game, which is to say I was rooting for the Kansas City Chiefs. Nothing against New England’s culinary staples, but when you’ve made lobster rolls and clam chowder for four out of the past seven Super Bowls, the city-specific menu idea can start to feel staler than an airport (Dunkin’) doughnut. Rather than abandon the tradition, my wife and I are making fried clams and whoopie pies this year. We’re also loading up on New England IPAs. If you have money to burn and lack discerning taste, you could also make something out of Brady’s $200 cookbook.
As for the Rams, a California team in the Super Bowl is the perfect excuse to make this solid adaptation of a Double-Double, Animal Style. Wash them down with large-format bottles from the Orange County-based Bruery, which are readily available in the D.C. area.
What if I’m, like, a normal person hosting a normal party?
My friend Matt Brooks, a food editor at The Post, is here to help:
I’ve hosted a Super Bowl party for 11 years running, and while the guest list is always changing, there is one constant: a giant pot of piping hot chili. Chili is the perfect party menu anchor. There are countless ways to make it, it makes your house smell amazing and you can easily tailor ingredients to suit your audience. If you’re competitive, encourage guests to bring their own and turn it into a chili cook-off. Just be sure to have enough bowls (mugs are a nice backup), spoons and garnishes for everyone.
And what to bring if I’m an invited guest?
More from Matt. Have you noticed how much of this is outsourced?
Beer is the easiest out. Bringing beer is also boring, and you’re not boring. See what others are making and try to fill a hole in the menu with something that doesn’t require a long reheat in the oven. Make a flavor-packed dip, glaze some wings or bake this crazy-good peanut butter chocolate chip skillet blondie. If it’s cheesy (think nachos) or you can eat it with your hands (think meatballs), it’s a good idea. If it’s both, it’s a better idea. This year, a friend from North Dakota has promised moose meatballs, which should sustain us in the event of a blizzard. And remember: If all else fails, there’s always beer.
What time does the Super Bowl start?
This was once the question of the week, at least for content creators appealing to a Google world. It since has been joined by other key queries, such as “What are Super Bowl keto recipes?” In any case, the answer to the first question is “around 6:30.” And the bigger question might be “What time does the Super Bowl end?” (Answer: “You’re going to be tired on Monday no matter what.”)
More Super Bowl coverage: