Big, dopey commercials—talking animals = funny! High fives and early martinis at Bud Light's creative agency!—and a bigger, dopier pre-game show. The inevitable rollouts of a Cold War-era halftime musical act (as risqué and dangerous as an arthritic old golden retriever sleeping by a fireplace, but I'm not here to slag the Rolling Stones or Madonna) and a too-big-to-fail, until-it-does network series premier. Beer, snacks and DUI checkpoints. Our unofficial national Corporate Appreciation Day. You call it cultural baggage. I call Super Bowl Sunday the purest known expression of unchecked American consumer id, with the possible exceptions of the Food Network and Internet pornography. Besides, the day can actually kill you. Isn't that exciting?
But yes: let's talk about the NFL's conference championship games. With predictions, even. Like you, I expect New England's two tight-end passing attack—note: Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski are nice players, and worth a bit of hype, but aren't nearly as important as the guy throwing them the ball—to score a lot of points against a Baltimore defense that remains good but is no longer scary, much like aging linebacker and team leader Ray Lewis. As for the Ravens' offense? They ought to be able to keep up, given the utter putridness of the Patriots' defense. Thing is, I don't trust Joe Flacco, a quarterback who seems just good enough to let you down when it matters most, like a less nimble, less flashy AFC version of Tony Romo.
As such, I'll take the Pats and the points. As for the NFC, I like New York. Eli Manning is enjoying the most impressive stretch of his career, Victor Cruz might be one of the five best receivers in the sport, and the Giants' running attack is good enough to move the chains and kill clock. Plus, their front-four pass rush gives them defensive flexibility, which should prove useful against a 49ers offense that is far more balanced than Green Bay's aerial circus. I do think the 49ers will keep the game close—they're playing at home; tight end Vernon Davis is probably the top player on the field; under Jim Harbaugh, the team never seems to panic—but in the end, New York's superior talent should prevail. Remember: San Francisco took advantage of five New Orleans turnovers last week and still won in nail-biting fashion; that's the equivalent of shooting 70 percent from the floor in a basketball game and triumphing on a buzzer-beater.
Imagine that: I actually agree with Hampton. Jake, is this a sign of the looming Mayan apocalypse, or just good reason for you to go the other way with your predictions?