Up­com­ing Su­per Bowl show and Charg­ers were Sun­day’s losers, Cathal Kelly writes

The Globe and Mail (Alberta Edition) - - REPORT ON BUSINESS - CATHAL KELLY

The undis­puted win­ners of the NFL week­end were Tom Brady and the sta­tus quo. The losers were Philip Rivers, fans of mu­sic and, in the meta-sense, the league it­self.

The great dis­ap­point­ment was Sun­day’s New Eng­land-Los An­ge­les Charg­ers game. Fea­tur­ing two leg­endary piv­ots, this might have been a clas­sic bat­tle.

In­stead, it was a fight in the same way watch­ing some­one get thrown down a flight of stairs is a fight. There isa win­ner and a loser, but it’s hard to en­joy.

Brady and the New Eng­land run­ning game were sur­gi­cal. The Charg­ers de­fence was … what is the op­po­site of sur­gi­cal? Fu­ner­ary?

The Charg­ers weren’t just run over by New Eng­land. They gave their op­po­nents a run­ning start. Los An­ge­les was praised around the league this sea­son for its out­side-the-box de­fen­sive think­ing – putting as many as seven de­fen­sive backs on the field at once and con­tain­ing of­fences with speed.

That works right up un­til some­one a lot big­ger and nearly as fast re­peat­edly punches you in the mouth, which the Pa­tri­ots were pleased to do. At points, it looked as if all 22 play­ers on the field were run­ning in the same di­rec­tion. Then you no­ticed that six or seven of them were be­ing pushed as they did so.

The score was 35-7 at half­time. As the other play­ers shuf­fled to the locker rooms, Brady was hav­ing a con­nip­tion on the side­line be­cause one of his re­ceivers hadn’t got out of bounds on the fi­nal play, deny­ing New Eng­land a last-sec­ond, field-goal chance.

Three more points was al­ready be­gin­ning to seem sadis­tic, but Brady al­ways wants more.

The game ended 41-28, a score that does not be­gin to cap­ture the drea­ri­ness of the sec­ond half. Brady was only half-in­ter­ested. Rivers was for­lorn. Ev­ery­one else was try­ing not to get hurt.

So, it’s back to the fu­ture. It’s 2004 again. Or 2007. Or last year. The Brady-Bill Belichick axis re­mains as­cen­dant. New Eng­land may not win it all, but they will suck up all the oxy­gen in the Western hemi­sphere un­til it’s over.

As a neu­tral, you want to like this team. You re­ally do. They’re a jug­ger­naut. Which is why it’s so hard.

Asked about next week­end’s AFC cham­pi­onship game – Pa­tri­ots vs. Kansas City Chiefs – Brady could not help him­self.

“I know ev­ery­one thinks we suck and can’t win any games,” he smirked. “But we’ll see.”

Well, he got one out of two right, and proved “ev­ery­one’s” point in do­ing so.

Still, the NFL will be de­lighted. Brady re­mains their top sales­man and strong­est con­nec­tion to those not-so-long-ago glory days.

View­ers were gen­tly re­minded of how far the league has sunk in gen­eral es­ti­ma­tion dur­ing the in­ter­mis­sion when Ma­roon 5 was an­nounced as the Su­per Bowl half­time per­former. CBS’ James Brown did the an­nounc­ing and you could al­most hear him sigh as he was forced to pro­nounce this jumped-up, third-rate casino act “a global mu­sic sen­sa­tion.”

Prince has played the Su­per Bowl. So has Bruce Spring­steen, the Rolling Stones and Madonna.

A few of their pre­vi­ous choices (Lady Gaga, the Who long past their sell-by date) might even be called risky.

I cov­ered a Su­per Bowl in New Or­leans and my great mem­ory was be­ing in the room as Bey­oncé did an a cap­pella ver­sion of The Star-Span­gled Ban­ner dur­ing a news con­fer­ence. That was the pres­ence of great­ness.

Now they’ve fallen to Ma­roon 5, a band that brings to mind long rides in an el­e­va­tor or happy hour at TGI Fri­day’s.

This sad com­pro­mise was months in the mak­ing. Ac­cord­ing to mul­ti­ple re­ports, other, bet­ter, hot­ter acts (Cardi B, Ri­hanna, Nicki Mi­naj, et. al.) were asked. All re­fused.

Since Colin Kaeper­nick was black­listed, the NFL has grown so toxic in the en­ter­tain­ment com­mu­nity that no one felt they could take the gig while main­tain­ing their cool fac­tor.

The bar on that was al­ready pretty low – I re­fer you to any random Su­per Bowl per­for­mance, al­most all of which look like some­thing Stravin­sky would have come up with while high on ludes.

But now the huck­sters of pop mu­sic are too good for foot­ball. Oh, the hu­man­ity.

The NFL has be­come what no vi­brant cul­tural prod­uct can af­ford to be – some­thing deeply out-of-touch peo­ple en­joy. Like NCIS spin-offs or res­ur­rect­ing that un­bear­able Ge­ico ad with the camel, the NFL has be­come a cheer­leader of the in­of­fen­sive.

I’d say that Ma­roon 5 might never live this down, but they’re Ma­roon 5. Their ca­pac­ity for shame­less­ness has al­ready proved in­fi­nite.

The one de­cent act in the com­ing Su­per Bowl show – At­lanta rap­per Big Boi – had his own cred­i­bil­ity as an artist de­stroyed when CBS’ play-by-play guy, Jim Nantz, de­clared him­self a big fan.

“You like that stuff?” an­a­lyst Tony Romo said, a note of won­der in his voice.

“I do!” Nantz, a 59-year-old with the hair of a far more in­ter­est­ing man, said. “I work out to it.”

It’s like find­ing out that your high-school prin­ci­pal was re­ally into Pere Ubu back in the day. It ruins ev­ery­thing.

But this is where the NFL lives now. It’s teth­ered to a peak mo­ment that feels like a long time ago, though it was only a few years. As such, all they have left is the qual­ity of the on-field prod­uct.

The post­sea­son has so far been mod­er­ately com­pelling. A few good games and a cou­ple of de­cent talk­ing points, but no real sur­prises.

The league will be hop­ing to see Brady back in the cham­pi­onship, know­ing he is po­lar­iz­ing in a way that doesn’t ex­cite real feel­ing. Peo­ple don’t love or hate him, but they’ll watch be­cause he is so fa­mil­iar to them.

That still works for now. But you can only be mil­que­toast for so long be­fore peo­ple be­gin to crave some­thing with more flavour.

MAD­DIE MEYER/GETTY IMAGES

Devin McCourty of the Pa­tri­ots breaks up a pass in­tended for Mike Wil­liams of the Charg­ers on Sun­day. At 41-28, the score does not cap­ture the drea­ri­ness of the sec­ond half.

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