Usually at the conclusion of the AFC and NFC Championship Games we are afforded a brief, yet wonderful, grace period before the unrelenting avalanche of Super Bowl hype begins. This year, in particular, the respite was especially lavish -- by my clock it lasted almost an entire 37 seconds.
Then Ray Lewis tore off his jersey and shoulder pads, and as part of an ongoing retirement carnival that has begun to rival Cher’s three-year, 600-date Farewell Tour from 2004, the future Hall of Fame linebacker ran to midfield and fell to his knees.
The grand moment of emotional release and gratitude was somewhat overshadowed by the large collection of media, fans and TV cameras that instantly engulfed Lewis and remained there for what seemed like several long, awkward minutes, staring directly at Ray’s, well, um … Ray Lewis’ plumber crack.
There’s always a moment like this one, where it finally hits you that, after months of waiting and hundreds of games, the biggest, weirdest, greatest sporting event in our culture is officially upon us.
And, well, for Super Bowl XLVII, this was it: You, me and the rest of the football world waiting there together in solemn silence for the great Ray Lewis to finish mooning us.
Rest assured that in the next 10 days there will be many, many more wonderfully weird moments to enjoy. To help you navigate that minefield, Flem File has compiled a list of 47 things to be on the lookout for between now and Super Bowl XLVII.
1. The debate will rage on all week about whether Beyonce plans to sing live at halftime inside the Superdome, because, you know, everything else with the Super Bowl is so authentic.
2. Even the NFL’s fan base, a group that has become numb to player problems off the field, will find itself revolted by ongoing news that Dallas Cowboys nose tackle Jay Ratliff was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated less than two months after his backup Josh Brent was indicted on intoxication manslaughter charges in the death of Cowboys player Jerry Brown.
3. The 49ers and the Ravens will continue to make changes to their game plans all the way up until kickoff, knowing the entire time that in 10 years Tim Brown will probably accuse them of sabotaging the game.
4. Pundits will continue to sing the praises of the SEC even though the Super Bowl quarterbacks went to Delaware and Nevada and Washburn University (a Division II school in Topeka, Kan.) has as many players in the game as Alabama.
5. For an entire week in New Orleans, guys will blabber on about the super-special fraternity -- no, the brotherhood -- that NFL players are privileged to belong to. Then, on Sunday, these deeply connected quasi-family members, knowing full well the long-term ramifications of head trauma suffered during games, will attack each other with the crowns of their helmets with reckless abandon. (I will ask again: Why are the rest of us supposed to care so much about the welfare of NFL players when it seems like they care so little about it themselves?)
6. Ed Reed will continue to insist that despite being a highly skilled and highly trained world-class athlete at the top of his profession he can’t possibly be expected to alter his tackling technique by, say, 5 percent in order to avoid injuring someone’s brain, or his own.
7. Media day will continue to have nothing to do with the actual media. Nevertheless, during the event Ravens safety Bernard Pollard, who has knocked out every single one of the Patriots’ best players at some point during their careers, will demonstrate how just by staring at a picture of Bill Belichick he can give the Patriots coach a migraine.
8. There will be outrage, dismay and anger over the Hall of Fame selections and the voting process for almost an entire 12 hours -- and then we’ll all ignore it for another 364½ days.
9. In a moment of maturity and deep reflection, the city of Cleveland will realize that Art Modell, while not perfect, was an undeniable pillar of the National Football League who built a model franchise in Baltimore and deserves to be enshrined in Canton. Then I’ll wake up surrounded by empty Hurricane glasses from Pat O’Briens.
10. Saints fans will continue to blame Roger Goodell for their troubles, forgetting that he essentially kept the franchise in New Orleans after Katrina and, oh yeah, the 2012 Saints would have totally been in the Super Bowl if not for the tiny little problem of having the WORST DEFENSE IN NFL HISTORY.
11. Many defensive ends from around the league, guys who used to get paid like quarterbacks, will watch how the 49ers’ scheme attacks the edge and leaves even the most athletic defenders flat-footed and obsolete and, after the Super Bowl, rush to enroll in grad school.
12. The NFL will continue to brag about how almost 50 million women watch the Super Bowl while failing to mention that there is not a single female with direct influence over an actual NFL roster -- meaning, in 2013, while women occupy more than 50 percent of the executive workforce, the only women close to the actual game of pro football stand on the sideline in miniskirts waving pom-poms.
13. The Super Bowl winners will wear those stupid, just-out-of-the-box world champion hats without taking just a moment to work the brim, and an entire generation of young men will continue to think it's cool to sport man bonnets. It’s not.
14. Football experts will rave about the innovative qualities of the pistol formation, ignoring the fact that its basic elements are at least 40 years old.
15. Roger Goodell will thoughtfully and thoroughly answer questions about the NFL in Los Angeles, taxpayer-supported stadium-construction plans, brain injuries and even Bountygate. Only later will you realize he actually didn’t say anything.
16. Colin Kaepernick and Jim Harbaugh will get all the credit while we ignore the real root of the 49ers’ success: a talented offensive line built by GM Trent Baalke that features three first-rounders in LG Mike Iupati, RT Anthony Davis and LT Joe Staley.
17. Ray Lewis will dance, sob and wedge himself into every possible spotlight before, during and after the game, and we will remember fondly how, in 2008, Ravens future Hall of Fame lineman Jonathan Ogden retired by calling the team and saying, basically, “Thanks for everything, I’m done.” At some point we will realize that one way isn’t necessarily better than the other.
18. Despite the fiascoes with Lance Armstrong and Manti Te’o, we will continue to ascribe extreme moral qualities to players on the Ravens and 49ers (whether they deserve it or not) because it makes us feel better about spending so much time and energy on football.
19. We will learn that playing Scrabble, writing poetry, owning a telescope, playing a musical instrument, enjoying art and solving a Rubik’s Cube makes a football player a truly unique, intelligent and intellectual “character,” even though my 11-year-old nephew Andrew does the exact same things.
20. The $9 billion NFL, which exists in a technological world capable of Mars exploration, will continue to let refs eyeball the spot of the ball and measure first downs using a long link of metal chains, which is like the Redskins team doctor performing knee surgery on Robert Griffin III with a stone ax.
21. After hearing it from experts for 10 straight days, we will finally agree that speed is the single-most important factor in the explosive passing games of today -- and then we’ll notice Anquan Boldin leads the playoffs with 276 yards receiving and 14 first downs.
22. Kaepernick will seem so young until someone points out that Ben Roethlisberger was two years younger when he won his first Super Bowl.
23. Everyone will agree that defense wins championships, even though the ESPN Stats & Info folks say the 506 postseason points scored heading into the Super Bowl are the second most in the modern era of the game.
24. At least 87 times I will retell the story of interviewing Jim Harbaugh for Sports Illustrated when he played for the Colts and I watched and giggled as he threw on one white sock and one blue sock under his business suit while in a rush to get to the team bus.
25. The sport of football will evolve ever so slightly when other young quarterbacks notice that Kaepernick has earned the trust and respect of his teammates without having to absorb huge hits in order to prove his manliness.
26. By mentioning this week that you can still remember when the Super Bowls were blowouts, you will let everyone know that you’re quite old. No matter what your criticisms of the NFL might be, you can’t deny the quality of a system that year in and year out creates the best, most competitive games on the biggest stage.
27. After much study and intrigue, there will be numerous media reports that it’s actually cold in New York, the site of next year’s game.
28. Joe Flacco will be preparing to win for the 63rd time in his first five years as a starter while simultaneously fielding questions about his status as an elite quarterback.
29. A Super Bowl commercial will turn a baby, an animal, an alien, a nerd or a pretty woman into an instant phenom.
30. I’m quite certain that it will be revealed, at some point, that the Harbaughs are actually related to each other.
31. We will discuss every last example in sports of sons following in the footsteps of their coaching fathers without ever considering the idea that in some cases (though not the Harbaughs) it’s an adult child’s desperate way to garner the attention and approval of their absentee, Type A coaching fathers.
32. The fact that we still feel sorry for Alex Smith losing his job, in part, because he was recovering from a concussion will be proof that we still have a long way to go regarding our perspective on brain injuries and the long-term health risks football players face for the sole purpose of our entertainment.
33. The fact that Jim Harbaugh turned the 49ers around in two years will help put the Cowboys 15-year (or is it 20?) rebuilding plan into proper perspective.
34. The $10,000 fine for Tom Brady's karate slide will secretly be paid by Ed Reed for almost injuring Brady's foot with his groin.
35. Sometime next week, Denver Broncos fans will be standing in their kitchen making a sandwich and then stop and yell: “HOW DID WE GIVE UP A 70-YARD TD WITH 31 SECONDS LEFT IN THE GAME? HOW?”
36. At the same time Falcons fans will scream: “HOW DID MATT RYAN FUMBLE A SNAP THAT HIT HIM RIGHT IN THE HANDS? HOW?”
37. Ravens coaches will be referred to as geniuses because they decided to do something totally crazy, like cover tight end Vernon Davis.
38. A player will be fined for a $7,875 for a chop block in the Super Bowl, which in the messed-up world of the NFL will be less than what Frank Gore was fined ($10,500) for wearing his socks too low.
39. There will be talk of something known as the Pro Bowl having taken place.
40. The jokes about Manti Te’o’s imaginary girlfriend will continue nonstop, even though the ND linebacker will have the last laugh in the NFL, where no one could care less about him getting Catfished if he can run fast, hit hard and show up on time.
41. Someone will actually try to debate the idea that the Rooney Rule needs to be updated or improved only to be reminded that teams are hiring coaches from the CFL while Lovie Smith, who won 10 games with Jay “Coach Killa” Cutler, can’t find work.
42. Everywhere there is live music in New Orleans people will be doing the Jim-Harbaugh-reacts-to-a-denied-challenge-flag-against-the-Falcons dance. Including me. Especially me.
43. The ratings for the game will be so high, afterward Goodell and Ray Rice will personally travel to meet with the handful of people in North America who didn’t watch the game.
44. For the sixth time, I will bump into MC Hammer at a Super Bowl. Honest. True story: Smashed into him on the dance floor of the ESPN Party in Tampa and a friend yelled out, right on cue, Please Hammer, don’t hurt him!
45. After losing four of five to end the regular season, if the Ravens win the Super Bowl some radio guy somewhere who has run out of coherent things to say will begin to break down the merits of preemptive reverse momentum.
46. I will continue a long-standing Flem File tradition of passing along a photo of vomit (hopefully not mine) from Bourbon Street.
47. Late next Sunday we will all be sad, momentarily, until we realize it’s not so much the end of football season as it is the beginning of hockey season.