Hail to the Chiefs

Football has a lot of its appeal to us in recent years, what with all the head injuries and thuggery and political spats and endless video reviews, but we weren’t going to miss Sunday’s LIVth Super Bowl. Watching the big game is pretty much a patriotic obligation, and here in Wichita rooting for the Kansas City Chiefs is a civic duty.
The game proved quite entertaining, even if it was bogged down with a longer-than-usual halftime and even more commercial interruptions than a regular season game. After an early field goal by the San Francisco ’49ers the Chiefs took the end-of-the-first quarter lead with a touchdown by superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes, but the bad guys got the better of the second quarter and the teams went into locker room tied at 10 to 10. Things looked bleak for the Chiefs after the ’49ers scored another field goal and one touchdown during a third quarter of offensive futility for the Chiefs and their superstar quarterback, but the good guys had overcome bigger fourth quarters deficits in winning their two previous playoff games, as well as the regular season finale that earned them a first-round bye and home field advantage, so nobody around here was changing the channel.
Sure enough, the Chief’s underrated defensive unit shut down the ’49ers, Mahomes snapped out of a brief slump and his underrated running backs and receivers and offensive line came up with big plays, and after three unanswered fourth-quarter touchdowns the Chiefs won by a deceptively convincing score of 31 to 20. There were gunshots and fireworks and audible cheers on our way home, as the Chiefs fans celebrated the team’s first championship in 50 years, so the pent up emotion was understandable. That last championship was so long ago that we and some of the neighborhood kids played a pickup game in the backyard during the uneventful halftime show, there’s a famous picture of the Chief’s then-star quarterback Len Dawson smoking a halftime cigarette in the locker room, and the game was still called the AFL-NFL World Championship, although it’s been retroactively re-named Super Bowl IV.
All the rest of Super Bowl’s much-ballyhooed sideshows also reminded us of how much things have changed in a mere half-century. As we recall the Chiefs’ first Super Bowl half-time show featured a guy flying around with a James Bond-style jet pack and a brief performance by the aging but still-beloved Broadway diva Carol Channing, but since then audiences have come to expect something far more extravagant. The acts have included such baby-boomer favorites as The Rolling Stones and Sir Paul McCartney, along with some younger and hipper entertainers we’d not previously heard of. This year’s show featured Jennifer Lopez, who’s so famous that we have heard of her, although we couldn’t name a song she’s recorded or any of the famous men she’s been famously involved with, and another woman we’d not previously heard of named Shakira.
We must admit, it was quite extravagant. Both women are quite comely and extremely callipygian, and were accompanied by what seemed a cast of thousands of comely and callipygian and similarly scantily-clad backup singers dancers, along with some high-tech and state-of-the-art stagecraft that seemingly plunged them all into an infernal pit of orgiastic excess as fireworks went off and laser lights beamed. Both of the undeniably gorgeous and talented women are reportedly more than 40 years old, which some of our 40-something female Facebook friends proudly noted, and they included a lot of cute kids singing something vaguely patriotic toward the end, but a much younger friend we’ve known since her birth predicted the halftime show will eventually wind up on Pornhub.com.
These days the interminable advertisements are part of the ostensible appeal of the telecast, as Madison Avenue always unleashes its most ambitious efforts on the most-watched and most-expensive show of the year. We pride ourselves on being inoculated to Madison Avenue’s most market-tested enticements, but we try to assess their creativity and chuckle-worthy cleverness with the objective eye of a cultural critic, and we give this year’s crop of Super Bowl ads a mixed review. Part of the problem was that the ads were populated with celebrities we are supposed to recognize but don’t.
There was a Cheetos commercial featuring M.C. Hammer, who was a hip-pop star so long ago that we remember his hit “You Can’t Touch This,” which was amusingly about how you can’t touch anything after eating Cheetos. Another had a woman we used to enjoy on “Saturday Live” and the guy who so endearingly played “Jim” on “The Office” and some other guy pitching for some company’s self-parking car, but at first we didn’t recognize the guy who played “Jim” behind his fashionable, we still have no idea who the other guy is, but at least we got the joke about the Boston accents and the cameo by Boston Red Sox legend Dave “Big Papi” Ortiz, even if we can’t remember what company invented this seemingly amazing self-parking vehicle.
We also got the joke in the Doritos ad that featured rapper Li’l Nas X challenging the taciturn and mustached and gravelly voiced western movie star Sam Elliot to a break-dancing duel on the dusty streets of an Old West town, and Billy Ray Cyrus coming in at the end. As old time country music fans we took an interest when X rose to the top of the country-and-western charts with a western-themed rap number called “Old Town Road,” and how Cyrus was one of the few country stars to object when Billboard pulled it from the country charts as insufficiently country, and how it sparked an interesting debate about what the hell is country music anymore these days? We have our own opinions of the matter, and rather enjoyed the ad, but the joke’s so obscure we can’t imagine it selling a lot of Doritos.
Politics once gain intruded, which didn’t happen last time the Chiefs won a Super Bowl. Starting with President Barack Obama it’s become a custom to kick off the Super Bowl festivities with a nationally televised pre-game presidential interview, and of course that’s the one thing Obama ever did that Trump wants to continue. Obama always gave his interviews to friendly media who allowed him to assure the public that on Super Bowl the state of the union of strong, and Trump granted his time to Fox News sycophant Sean Hannity, who allowed Trump to warn the nation that if he didn’t win reelection the country was inevitably headed toward communism. Fortunately, in both cases the broadcasts were relatively low-rated.
Both Trump and his much-more-billionaire Democratic rival Michael Bloomberg spent $10 million on Super Bowl ads, and we wonder if either of them got more out of it than Cheetos or Doritos or the company with the amazing self-parking car. We missed Bloomberg’s ad, as we were in the men’s room or taking a cigarette break or on a liquor store run, but we hear it was all about his gun-grabbing policies, which is not likely to appeal the considerable good ol’ boy audience tuning into a Super Bowl, nor to many minorities. We did catch Trump’s ad touting his pardon of an elderly and woman non-violent black drug offender, and boasting how he had freed even more black felons by passing a criminal justice reform bill that Obama couldn’t get passed, which seems to be playing to what Madison Avenue euphemistically calls the “urban audience,” which Trump is assiduously courting with the low black unemployment numbers he can credibly claim.
The good old boys should know, though, that the non-violent and elderly woman drug offender Trump pardoned was sentenced at age 41 for leading a multi-million-dollar cocaine ring, and although there was no proof she’d ever committed a violent crime the drug ring she ran had plenty of them. Reality show star Kim Kardashian and wife of Trump pal Kanye West lobbied for her presidential pardon, as they’re somehow related, and although a lot of those felons freed by the criminal reform act some of them probably deserved they release, but most good old boys would agree that some didn’t. Trump’s not likely to win over a decisive majority of the “urban audience,” given his long history, which the “urban audience” by now well knows, and most of it doesn’t know either Kim Kardashian or Kanye West personally, although he still won’t lose any of the good ol’ boy vote.
By the way, as inconsequential as it is, Trump also “tweeted” his congratulations to “the great state of Kansas” for the Chief’s victory. We mostly love the Chiefs here in Kansas, until you get so far west they start rooting for the Denver Broncos, but in fact the Arrowhead Stadium where the Chiefs play and most of the Kansas City metropolitan is located in Missouri. Before Trump could delete and correct the “tweet” people were posting “memes” showing a crude “Sharpie” drawing including the entire Kansas City metro, which is a funny allusion to a previous Trump story about including in Alabama in a hurricane, but by now a bit obscure.
The important thing for the moment, though, is that the Chiefs won the Super Bowl, and all the Democrats and Republicans and homosexuals and heterosexuals and socialists and libertarians and good old boys and the “urban audience” around here are at least momentarily happy about it. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another long, long half century before it ¬†happens again,

— Bud Norman

L Is For Super Bowl

Although we’ve pretty much lost all interest in professional football, which lately seems an interminable series of obnoxious commercials for pickup trucks and pharmaceutical aphrodisiacs followed by a few brief seconds of tattooed behemoths beating their chest as they stand over some supine opponent and then an endless series of pointless play reviews, we still tune in for the annual Super Bowl extravaganza. By now it’s an almost obligatory secular rite, at least for any red-blooded American male who doesn’t want to be left out of the new few days of guy conservation, and it’s also our annual foray into contemporary popular culture.
The rest of the year we’re playing old jazz and hillbilly and garage rock tunes on the stereo, watching the occasional old sit-com over the rabbit ears on our analog television set or taking in Netflix’s offerings of the good old black-and-white days on this newfangled computer machine of ours, or reading books mostly by dead white males and a few dead white women, and our sports spectating is mostly limited to such old-fashioned fare as Missouri Valley Conference basketball and American Association baseball, so we’re annually curious to see what’s going on out there with the young folks and their modern world. It always comes as quite a shock, of course.
There’s always a slight surprise to find that they’re still playing the Super Bowl at all, for one thing. Football has always been a rough affair, and was arguably even rougher before President Theodore “Rough Rider” Roosevelt sissified the the rules to eliminate the frequently fatal “flying V” formation, but these days the players are so big and strong and fast that the kinetic energy exerted against the players on each down is so great, and the lifelong physical consequences are so severe and common, and the entire culture is suddenly so risk-averse, that we might have expected the lawyers and the oversight sub-committees to have put a halt to it all by now. The effort is well underway, naturally, but such a profitable organization as the National Football League can well afford to buy plenty of its own lawyers and oversight sub-committees, and vicarious risk will always be a big draw on television, so perhaps the fight might take a while.
In the meantime, sports in general and football in particular remain the last redoubt of unapologetic masculinity in America, for both better and worse. The Battle of Waterloo truly was won on the playing fields of Eton, as Lord Wellington famously observed, and the men who stormed the beaches on D-Day were already veterans of hard-fought wars in backyards and on vacant lots where not everybody got a trophy, and every successful culture since Sparta has honored the victors of rough games, and we’d like to think there’s still some role for unapologetic masculinity in American culture. So long as the players are fully apprised by the best medical experts of the risks, and have agents and hangers-on to advise them how to weigh that against the not inconsiderable benefits of a professional football career, we say let them play, and let the lawyers and the oversight sub-committees and the rest of the risk-averse and all-too-feminized culture be damned.
Still, for such history-minded sports fans as ourselves there’s also something unsettlingly bread-and-circuses-like about these roman-numeraled Super Bowls. After five decades they went with the more standard arabic “50” instead of the roman “L,” reportedly because “L” would confound a public that was never taught to count that far in roman numerals, and “Super Bowl L” looks kind of odd to even the most Latinate priest, but the same imminent-fall-of-Rome vibe was still there. The guys they’ve got playing in the Super Bowl these days are so big and fast and strong that they’d whip your childhood idols easily, even that Super Bowl-winning Kansas City Chiefs squad of of our long-ago wide-eyed youth, but there’s a tattooed and preening thuggishness about them that Lord Wellington would have disdained and an unabashed self-interestedness that would not have sat well with those boys who played for the team at Normandy, and there’s little of that helping-a-guy-up-after-you’ve-knocked-him-down sportsmanship that was always part of the western tradition on the playing fields and battlegrounds and business deals and interpersonal relationships.
The same tendency to unnecessary roughness that afflicts football is evident in popular entertainment, where Quentin Tarantino’s post-modern revenge fantasies and thuddingly aggressive hip-hop and heavy metal music and bondage-fantasy romance novels are now standard fare, but there’s also a slightly more respectable mainstream left over from the Ed Sullivan days that the Super Bowl annually books for its much-ballyhooed half-time shows. This year it was some band called Coldplay, or Cold Play, or however they might write it, and some woman named Beyonce, who has an accent mark over the last letter that we’re not willing to figure out how to put there, and some guy named Bruno Mars, whom we think we can vaguely remember from Super Bowl halftime show of a few years. The band was dressed up in nostalgic jeans-with-flower-patches and played electric guitars just like the garage bands used to do, although with a football-field-sized dance group jumping around, and the Beyonce woman with the accent mark over the last letter did some kinetic dancing with her noticeable legs and group of similarly leggy young women and did some song that supposedly has something to do with the edgy “Black Lives Matter” movement, and the Bruno Mars guy sang something about “funking you up.”
In past years the Super Bowl has featured what are politely called “veteran” acts of the late rock ‘n’ roll era, but lately there’s been a spate of those dying off. The past month has seen the passing of heavy-metal hero “Lemmy,” glam-rock innovator David Bowie, country-rock star Glenn Frey, popular funk-lite performer Maurice White, and our Super Bowl was especially saddened by Sunday’s news of the passing of Dan Hicks, who wasn’t so well known but played a delightful blend of jazz and hillbilly and garage rock and old-fashioned goofus music that we’ve dearly loved ever since we borrowed a friend’s VW Beetle to cut class one day in high school and found Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks’ “Last Train to Hicksville” in the eight-track player. Musical culture has since been in severe decline, judging by the recent Super Bowl halftime shows, and we’ll admit it probably began even before that.
We do try to keep up with politics and other unavoidable matters, and of course we notice the same decline there. On the Democratic side of the race they’re talking about trophies for everyone and trying to pretend there are no more battles of Waterloo or D-Day to be fought, and the putative front-runner is claiming that any biological masculinity should be disqualifying and her pesky challenger self-described socialist challenger isn’t do much to dispute the argument. On the Republican side that pick-’em-up-after-you’ve-knocked-’em’-down approach to the playing fields and battlegrounds and business deals and interpersonal relationships seems out of fashion with at least a plurality of the party. Neither side seems to have any good music, for that matter, and judging by the endless commercials during the most recent Super Bowl even the private sector seems wanting.
At least the game was pretty good. At the risk of violating that warning about “unauthorized accounts” of the game, and bringing down the wrath of the NFL’s lawyer’s and oversight committees upon us, the Denver Broncos’ defense beat the Carolina Panthers’ offense. This kept the Panthers from their infamous beating of chests over the supine bodies of their opponents, and allowed the seemingly good guy Peyton Manning a crowning glory to his scandal-free and sportsmanlike career, and maybe the youngsters will get something positive out of this rough game.

— Bud Norman