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Billy Reed: Somewhere in Super Bowl pile of hype, gambling, commercialism is… a football game

The Super Bowl is not a football game as much as a celebration of commercialism, gambling, and show business, not to mention greed, bad taste, and hype. To some, it has become the most important day on the calendar, surpassing Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Donald Trump’s birthday.

In case anybody cares, the football game is between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers. It is the first that two teams with the same primary color – red, in this case – have played in the Super Bowl. The Chiefs have a score-at-will offense led by unorthodox quarterback Patrick Mahomes, and the 49ers play old-fashioned, smash-mouth football, relying heavily on their running game behind a splendid offensive line and an extremely stingy defense.

The Chiefs lost to the Green Bay Packers in the first Super Bowl, held in 1967. It was not called the Super Bowl until a couple of years later. It was not designated by pretentious Roman Numerals. But it was the first step of a merger between the established National Football League and the rogue American Football League. The AFL had a bunch of owners with deep pockets, meaning they were able to wrest a bunch of talented college players away from the NFL.

But enough of that football stuff. Let’s talk about the things that matter most to Super Bowl devotees.


Every year more money around the world is bet on the Super Bowl than any other sporting event, including the Kentucky Derby. Even consumers who don’t ordinarily wager on sports feel it’s almost un-American to not have some kind of bet on the Super Bowl.

The gambling casinos in Las Vegas, which decide who will be favored and by how many points, are more than happy to accommodate the betting public by offering a wide selection of what are known as “prop,” or proposition, bets. So, a gambler can bet on everything from who wins the coin toss to who makes the most turnovers, In the case of New England quarterback Tom Brady, who’s married to a former model, a gambler could bet on how many times she would be shown on TV.

With the advent of offshore and internet gambling, there’s no longer the need to be illegal. But some gamblers still prefer to bet illegally with their bookies if they can get better odds. When illegal gambling is figured into the total, there’s no way to get a hard number on the Super Bowl betting total. Suffice it to say it is somewhere between our rising national debt and the budget of a small nation.


At the first dozen or so Super Bowls, the halftime shows mainly were built around college marching bands. The ones from Grambling and Florida A & M were particularly popular. But then some marketing genius figured out that the halftime show provided an incredible worldwide platform that would help sell concert tickets and recordings.

So, in the last 20 or so years, many Super Bowl “fans” stay glued to their TVs to watch the halftime show. The stars have included big names such as Diana Ross, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. In the 38th Super Bowl – I can no longer figure out the Roman Numerals – something happened to Janet Jackson’s clothing while she was singing with Justin Timberland, briefly exposing one of her breasts.

The NFL blamed it on a “wardrobe malfunction,” forever embedding that phrase into world pop culture. Even in the most remote village in Siberia, somebody knows the story behind the phrase.

My personal favorite Super Bowl halftime were the ones built around Lady Gaga, Paul McCartney, and the Rolling Stones. I didn’t know much about Gaga before then, but I was impressed with her voice and talent. Maybe the same thing will happen Sunday with Shakira, a Colombian singer who will do the halftime show with Jennifer Lopez.

I am familiar with Lopez and like her. But I know as much about Shakira as the U.S. Senate does about running an impeachment trial.


Since the worldwide Super Bowl audience is well more than 110 million, advertisers have been willing to pay small fortunes for a commercial. This year the estimated cost for a 30-second commercial is $5.6 million.

I’ve read that the most prodigious spenders this year are Trump, running for re-election on the Republican ticket, and New York mayor Mike, formerly Michael, Bloomberg, one of several Democrats who are running against him. Trump and Bloomberg are expected to spend $10 million each on Super Bowl ads.

These, I will not watch. It will be the same stuff we see everyday on the cable news networks, so I was hoping the Super Bowl would be politics-free. But no. I expect Trump and Bloomberg to hit each other hard than any player gets hit during the game.

The traditional Super Bowl sponsors include Ram trucks, Chrysler, Budweiser, Doritos, Tide and Coca-Cola. I have to single out Budweiser for its creative use of Clydesdales and Dalmatians.

My favorite all-time Super Bowl commercial is the one where Mean Joe Greene of the Pittsburgh Steelers tosses his jersey to a kid. And I always enjoy the one right after the game where the winning quarterback says he’s going to Disney World.

This is Madison Avenue’s time to shine, and the competition to come up with the most memorable commercial is fierce. I’ve forgotten a lot of the better ones, but I’m sure there will be a couple Sunday that are discussed as much as the game.

Ah, yes. The game.

Cut through all the hype and you will find the game in there somewhere. Most Super Bowls don’t live up to the hype, but how could they?

People forget it’s just a game, nothing more.

But woe be to the player who makes a mistake that causes millions of gambling dollars to change hands. His name will live in infamy and his life will be changed forever.

I like Kansas City to win, 31-21. But please don’t bet on my account. I’m not ready to go into federal witness protection.

Billy Reed is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame and the Transylvania University Hall of Fame. He has been named Kentucky Sports Writer of the Year eight times and has won the Eclipse Award three times. Reed has written about a multitude of sports events for over four decades and is perhaps one of the most knowledgeable writers on the Kentucky Derby. His book “Last of a BReed” is available on Amazon.

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