The Super Bowl is pretty perfect as is. But even a Ferrari needs some fine-tuning. Here are seven small ways the Super Bowl could become more super.
1 Get rid of the Roman numerals
Look, making reference to individual NFL postseasons is confusing enough. Since the Super Bowl is played in a different calendar year than almost all of the regular season, you have teams becoming champions of one year (Denver, 2015) but doing it in an entirely different year (winning Super Bowl 50 in 2016). Then you add to it these Roman numerals that are antiquated both as a method of calculation and Rocky-movie signifier and all hell breaks loose. They don’t even teach cursive anymore in elementary schools, so I can’t imagine educators are taking up valuable test-teaching time to review how Romulus and Remus used to count she-wolves.
The first 20 years or so were fine. I. V. X. Easy stuff. But the first time things became bulky (either with Super Bowl XVIII or Super Bowl XXVIII) it was time to cut bait. Last year was the perfect time to do it. The NFL acknowledged that “Super Bowl L” would look dumb and went to “Super Bowl 50.” But then, bam, back to Super Bowl LI, which means in the coming years we’ll have Super Bowl LIV and Super Bowl LIX. When the Super Bowl spells out phonetic words, it’s time. It’s time. (Frankly, I’m amazed they ever stuck with Super Bowl XXX.)
Ideally, they’d just stop counting Super Bowls as it is. They happen every year. Just call it The Super Bowl. I suspect part of it has to do with the aforementioned problem of playing the game in a different year than the championship it decides, but so what? Even though it’s in February, New England vs. Atlanta can still be the 2016 Super Bowl. Half of us are still writing 2016 on our checks anyway. (And the other half is mocking my half for still writing checks.)
2 On-field, pregame PSI checks
It’s just good practice and common sense.
3 The playoff draft
Like we said, the NFL playoffs are great as is. Change for the sake of change is never advisable. We need another round of the playoffs like we need more amateur political commentators on Twitter. The late-afternoon/primetime window is great for Saturday, but on Sunday it’s not needed, partly because we’ve been sleepy for 17 straight Monday mornings after Sunday Night Football but mostly because having a game at 8 p.m. ET means we don’t have a game at 1 p.m. ET and if there’s no early-afternoon game, what are we supposed to do with our Sundays?
That’s a quibble, though. The big thing to do is end the disadvantage that can sometimes come with being the No. 1 seed. This year was a good example. The No. 1 Cowboys’ divisional opponent would be the worst-seeded NFC team that won on wild-card weekend. The No. 2 Falcons were to play the best-seeded team. In the ideal, that works out to Dallas playing the No. 4 seed and Atlanta playing the No. 3 seed or Dallas playing the No. 6 seed and Atlanta playing whichever team wins the 4/5 game. But there’s one scenario that upends all of that and it happened this month when the No. 3 seed (Seattle) beat the No. 6 seed (Detroit) and the No. 5 seed (Green Bay) beat the No. 4 seed (New York). In that case, Dallas drew Green Bay, the top wild-card team and highest seed, instead of Seattle, a team that had a better record than Green Bay (10-5-1 to 10-6) but was far less of a threat. Dallas played the better team. (There are far worse scenarios. Imagine there’s an 11-5 wild-card team that wins along with one of those annual No. 4 seeds that limp to 9-7 and win a pathetic division. The top seed would have to play the 11-5 squad.)
Stuff like this happens in tournaments (see the way Venus Williams’ draw opened up at the Australian Open) but should only need happen in fixed-bracket events. If you’re going to let Dallas play whichever team is the worst, why not let Dallas decide which team is actually the worst? Most of the time it’d probably go by the numbers. But this year would have been different. Think of the drama of the announcement, the locker-room material for the “drafted” team and all the other good stuff that would come with this plan.
But seriously, don’t expand the playoffs. Nobody needed to see the Bucs, Titans, Redskins or Broncos in the postseason this year. We barely needed to see the Dolphins and the Lions. Less is more sometimes, a good lesson for Patriots fans debating their beverage intake.
4 Real fans
What do college basketball and the NFL have in common? An antiseptic feel to their biggest games. The corporate Super Bowl crowd is such a different feel than those at the rowdy conference championships, leading to a sterile atmosphere that mimics the Final Four and makes the game feel less like a sporting event than a staged play.
I don’t know what the fix is. If the World Series, Stanley Cup Finals and NBA Finals have home-field, why not the NFL? Best team hosts the Super Bowl. (The counter argument: Both teams get a home game in the other sports. Only one team would under this scenario. Counter-argument to the counter-argument: That team will have earned it, and the process would likely make the regular season important through Week 17.)
Could you pull off staging the country’s biggest sporting event with two weeks notice? It’d be a logistical nightmare, but I can’t see why any city would be disqualified from hosting. Atlanta is the 39th-biggest American city and has hosted the game. Miami and Minneapolis are 44th and 46th, respectively. Tampa is 53rd. And New Orleans is the smallest market in the NFL and the 49th-biggest city in the U.S. and is almost universally regarded as the best place to have a Super Bowl. With the possible exception of Green Bay, every NFL city and its surrounding areas could host the game. (If Green Bay hosted, it could hold all the events in Milwaukee and then everybody would schlep to Lambeau for the game.) Sure, it wouldn’t please the NFL to host its biggest event in Buffalo, but that’s a small price to pay for turning your showcase event into a rowdy, raucous affair befitting the stakes of the game.
This will never happen, obviously, but the list isn’t called “7 realistic ways to make the Super Bowl more super.”
5 Super Bowl Monday holiday
A good Super Bowl prop bet: At what time during your party will someone say, “Man, I wish we had Monday off,” a statement that’ll be followed by a discussion about how it could logistically work, maybe by moving one of the two federal holidays in late January and mid-February. But forget that. Why do we need to move anything? Celebrate Dr. King around his birthday, do the same with George Washington (remember, so-called President’s Day is really Washington’s Birthday — at some point GW had all the other presidents dumped on him even though not all deserve celebration — looking at you, James Buchanan). Then, on the first Monday in February, designate a national holiday for Abraham Lincoln (or all presidents, if you must). Yes, Abe’s birthday isn’t until Feb. 12 but the moment you start celebrating birthdays only on Mondays rather than the specific day, does it really matter if you’re off by another couple days? Plus, I doubt he’d mind. We could use an extra holiday — you know, keep up with the French.
6 NFL: Super Bowl XLVIII Stadium Preparations
Remember when Super Bowl XLVIII was played outdoors in New Jersey and there was Y2k-like fear that the earth would stop rotating on its axis because the game was subject to fickle February weather? All was good and the game was actually played in comfortable, though chilly, temperatures. Again, there’s a counter-argument. You don’t want wind, rain, snow, sleet or extreme cold to determine a champion. And again, I say why not? Fans love weather-impacted football, and it’s not like snow would only affect one team. (I used to feel strongly about this, but that’s waned now that there’s just one dome in the Super Bowl rotation. A dome game brings just as much benefit for a team as a rainy game would. Don’t think the speedy Falcons wouldn’t love to be playing in New Orleans next week.)
7 Hip-hop halftime
Lady Gaga will put on a great show, and you have to imagine Taylor Swift will get around to a halftime one of these years. (Adele has a great voice but not for an energetic show in a 70,000-seat stadium.) After them, who’s left? It’s time to get rap into the act. Puffy, picture above, has actually done it once. (Forgotten in the hoopla of the Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake moment was that there were a bunch of other performers before, including Diddy doing Mo Money, Mo Problems.) But that was a guest spot, like those of Nicki Minaj, M.I.A. and Missy Elliott. We’re talking headliners here.
Jay Z is the obvious, “safe” choice and it would allow the Super Bowl to do its favorite thing — bring out Beyonce. Beyond him — eh, maybe there’s not many directions to go. Eminem and Kanye are too unpredictable even with a seven-second delay, Drake is awful, and no one else is famous enough to carry a show for 115 million people. Although, maybe by the time the game is in Atlanta in 2019, Migos will have made good on the hype and become our generation’s Beatles. Who says no to Bad & Boujee at halftime?