Celebrating our 16th anniversary, here is this year's Gay Guide to the Super Bowl. And what could be more gay than Lady Gaga as the halftime performer?
WHAT: Super Bowl LI will be played Sunday Feb. 5 between the New England Patriots (16-2) of the American Football Conference and the Atlanta Falcons (13-5) of the National Football Conference. The Patriots are favored to win the game by the Vegas oddsmakers by about three points.
The Patriots have played in six Super Bowls since the 2001 season and are 4-2. The margin of victory by the winning team in those games is 3, 3, 3, 3, 4 and 4 points, which augurs for a close game Sunday. The Falcons have not appeared in the Super Bowl since the 1998 season, their only appearance.
WHERE: The game will be played at Reliant Stadium in Houston. The stadium has a retractable roof, though no decision has yet been made on whether it will be open for the game. The forecast now calls for a 30% chance of rain on Sunday.
There is one report that Lady Gaga wants to perform her halftime show on the roof, which is very Gagaesque. I imagine the insurance adjusters are having a coronary over the thought.
KICKOFF/TV: The game will kickoff at 6:30 p.m. Eastern time after a pregame show that is about as long as the last presidential campaign. It will be shown on Fox, with Joe Buck as the play-by-play announcer and Troy Aikman as the analyst.
“Troy Aikman gay” on a Google search yields 178,000 hits. Aikman has continually denied he is gay, but his longstanding feud with media blowhard Skip Bayless keeps the story in the news.
FASHION NOTE: The Falcons are the home team and will wear their red jerseys with black helmets. Red is not a common Super Bowl uniform color, being worn only twice in the last 21 years (Tampa Bay in the 2002 season and Arizona in 2008).
The Patriots will wear their white uniforms. Teams wearing white have won 11 of the last 12 Super Bowls (the 2010 Green Bay Packers be the exception).
QUARTERBACKS: Tom Brady is the Patriots quarterback. He is married to supermodel Gisele Bündchen, who reportedly makes more money than he does. He is also a friend of Donald Trump, and had a “Make America Great” hat in his locker.
Brady was asked numerous questions about Trump at Super Bowl media day this week and dodged them all. “What’s going on in the world?” Brady said. “I haven’t paid much attention. I’m just a positive person.”
Regardless of what you think of his politics, Brady is an excellent quarterback and with a win Sunday will have more Super Bowl wins (five) than any QB in history.
His counterpart, Matt Ryan, is in his first Super Bowl and we have no idea as to his politics. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 draft, Ryan has always been a quiet, below-the-radar QB. If he was an ice cream, he’d be low-fat, no sugar added plain vanilla.
This was his breakout season, though, and he has a good chance to be named league MVP this season. He has been unconsciousness in the playoffs, throwing for 730 yards, seven touchdowns and zero interceptions with a 70% completion percentage.
THE COACHES: Bill Belichick, the Patriots coach, is the best coach of his era and always has his teams ready. He has six Super Bowl rings, four as a head coach and two as an assistant. He is also a supporter of Donald Trump and sent him a letter that Trump read the night before the election.
I admit to knowing little about Falcons Coach Dan Quinn, who is in his second year with Atlanta after winning a Super Bowl as a defensive assistant with Seattle. He looks like the kind of guy who would get a lot of attention on Scruff or Growlr.
THE FANS: Americans are rooting for the Falcons:
We find that among football fans nationwide, 53% are rooting for the Falcons to win on Sunday, compared to only 27% who are pulling for the Patriots. Republicans (58/23), Democrats (54/27), and independents (47/31) all give their support to the Falcons in pretty similar numbers. The Falcons have a very positive overall image as a team- 55% of fans see them favorably to 19% with an unfavorable view. Meanwhile attitudes toward the Patriots are considerably more divided, with 43% seeing them positively and 42% negatively.
A lot of this anti-Patriots feeling has to be do with them winning a lot, the perception that they cheat and Belichick’s Darth Vaderesque demeanor. This year, though, politics are playing a role, and it’s not as clear-cut as it might appear.
Brady, Belichick and Patriots owner Robert Kraft all support Trump, yet Massachusetts and all of New England backed Hillary Clinton. Atlanta plays in the Congressional district of U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a Civil Rights icon and opponent of Trump. Owner Arthur Blank has been critical of some Trump moves and says he votes Democratic more often than not. Yet Georgia and surrounding states voted for Trump.
Being a sports fan is irrational to begin with, so people who base their rooting interest on politics can be more irrational than usual this year.
GAY ANGLE: Lady Gaga is the halftime performer. Enough said. Check out this Super Bowl promo for the DC Gay Flag Football League in Washington, D.C. Who’s playing? Who cares? Lady Gaga is what matters.
I was at a huge all-gay Super Bowl party in 2012 when Madonna performed at halftime. During the first half, most people were chatting and ignoring the game. Halftime comes and all eyes are glued to the TVs and it was like being in church. Halftime ends and two-thirds of the crowd leaves. I suspect we’ll see the same Sunday at many all-gay parties.
On the field, there still are no openly gay NFL players and the issue has been dormant since Michael Sam was drafted in 2014 and later cut. The Patriots, led by owner Robert Kraft, have been very gay-supportive. The Falcons, meanwhile, got in hot water prior to the 2016 draft when they asked some prospective draftees if they “liked men.”
On the plus side, our reporter Jeremy Brener went to the NFL Pro Bowl and found 14 players who would welcome an openly gay teammate. I liked this quote from Chargers defensive back Casey Hayward: “I’d be open arms to whoever. Can’t control what you feel, with who you want to be with, things like that. I’d be open to it, open arms to whoever.”
In the political sphere, Houston voters in 2015 overturned an LGBT rights ordinance passed by the city council. The opponents of LGBT rights used disgusting scare tactics about men being allowed to pose as women to assault them in restrooms.
ENTERTAINMENT: Lady Gaga will do the halftime and I wonder if there will be any sort of a political statement from her. Country music singer Luke Bryan will sing the National Anthem. “America the Beautiful” will be sung by Renee Elise Goldsberry, Jasmine Cephas Jones and Phillipa Soo, original cast members of the Broadway hit “Hamilton: An American Musical.”
You can bet on how long it will take Bryan to sing the National Anthem, above or below 2 minutes, 15 seconds. You can also bet on the coin toss — in the 50 previous Super Bowls, heads came up 24 times, heads 26.
You can also bet on what color hair Lady Gaga will have. Blond is the safe choice at 1-5, meaning you win $1 for every $5 bet. “Any other color” gets you $3 for every $1 bet.
THE COMMERCIALS: I can’t get worked over the commercials since they are previewed ahead of time now, so there is little suspense. At $5 million for a 30-second ad, companies still line up since the TV audience will be around 110 million viewers or more, higher than anything else all year.
The most talked about ad is likely to be the one-minute Budweiser ad “Born the Hard Way” that has a special resonance given its immigrant focus, even though the ad was filmed well before President Trump’s recent executive action on refugees:
FOR THE EYES:
Here are some players to watch, in more ways than one, besides the two QBs.
Jim Buzinski on why the Patriots will win:
This is a classic matchup featuring the highest-scoring team in the regular season (Atlanta) against the team that gave up the fewest points (New England). This matchup has occurred eight times in Super Bowl history and the stingiest defense has won seven, so that bodes well for the Patriots.
The Patriots defense is solid but not spectacular. For example, they recorded 34 sacks of the opposing QB, which put them 16th out of 32 teams (tied, ironically, with the Falcons). They ranked a solid 14th in pass defense and excelled against the run, ranking third, allowing only 83 yards a game. In contrast, the Falcons were 26th against the pass and 16th against the run. Some of this is explained by the schedule — the Falcons played a much tough group of QBs all season than did the Patriots. But the Patriots defense was consistently good when it counted.
Belichick excels at taking away the other team’s best weapons and in this case it means slowing down Ryan and Julio Jones and containing the running back tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. I think Falcons receiver Mohamed Sanu will be an X factor — if he can shine, Atlanta will be able to move the ball.
On offense, Brady loves to spread the ball to receivers Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Martellus Bennett and seemingly a cast of thousands. LeGarrette Blount is the pounder at running back, with the wild card being Dion Lewis, a threat to score catching, running or returning.
The Falcons defense has been sieve-like at times this season, though it has tightened up late in the season. The key for Atlanta will be whether it can get a consistent pass rush on Brady and play tight man-to-man defense; it’s what the Broncos last year and the Texans this year in the playoffs did to great effect. Vic Beasley has 15.5 sacks during the season and a couple Sunday will be key to a Falcons win.
Both teams have solid kickers, so not much of an edge there.
Pick: The Patriots are more complete than the Falcons, with more Super Bowl experience and fewer holes on defense. I see a close game, but in the end the Patriots prevail. Patriots 30-Falcons 24.
Jeremy Brener on why the Falcons will win
For the second straight season, the league's top scoring offense has reached the Super Bowl. Last year's Panthers ended up losing the big game to the defensive-minded Broncos, and this year's Falcons face the Patriots, the team allowing the fewest points this season. If the Falcons want to avoid the same fate as the Panthers, they are going to have to make this game a shootout and force Tom Brady and the Patriots to play their style of football.
The Falcon offense has done its job all season, and I think they will deliver on Sunday, even with the tall task of dissecting the stingy Patriot defense. Brady will need to be able to match the scoring of Ryan and the Falcons, but don't count this Falcons defense out. With most of their starters in Year 1 or Year 2 of their careers, Atlanta’s defenders may be young, but they shutout Aaron Rodgers and the Packers for the first half of the NFC Championship Game and forced two turnovers against Russell Wilson and the Seahawks in their first playoff game. It should be a high scoring game, but I like the Falcons to win their first Super Bowl trophy in Houston. Falcons 36-Patriots 31