How to Fake Your Way Through the Super Bowl

Yeah, shoot.

You don’t understand the Super Bowl? The ubiquitous event that dwarfs every other American entertainment option? The seasonal culmination of a sport woven deep within the rich tapestry of a mighty country?

Maybe you’re not from the United States. Or were the kind of child who watched “Meet the Press” on Sunday. Or maybe you just prefer pickleball. We’ve got you covered. You’ve come to the right place to find out all about this year’s Super Bowl with no tears or embarrassment.

The Super Bowl is the final game of the season of the National Football League, the mammoth league with the $100 billion television contract and teams that are each worth $5 billion or more. This year, the San Francisco 49ers will face the Kansas City Chiefs in Las Vegas on Sunday starting just after 6:30 p.m. Eastern on CBS, although pregame coverage starts at 2 p.m.

Yes, Native Americans, and that makes some people pretty uncomfortable. The team in Washington changed its name in 2020 from a slur against Native Americans. First they were simply named the Football Team, and now they are the Commanders.

There are so many to choose from. In Super Bowl III in 1969, Joe Namath predicted his New York Jets would beat the heavily favored Baltimore Colts, and then backed up his boast with a victory.

To promote their appearance in Super Bowl XX in 1986, members of the Chicago Bears made a cringey pop video, “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” and then won anyway, by a record margin.The New York Giants upset the undefeated New England Patriots when a player caught the ball by trapping it on his helmet (XLII, 2008).

The game has never been canceled, but it has been halted for half an hour by a blackout (XLVII, 2013).

There have been memorable Super Bowl performances of the national anthem (Whitney Houston, XXV, 1991), and halftime shows, including one with a “wardrobe malfunction” (Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson, XXXVIII, 2004) that was the subject of a New York Times documentary.

The N.F.L. does, except in 2016 when they called it Super Bowl 50 because Super Bowl L looked a little silly. This year’s game is the absolutely, positively unsilly-looking Super Bowl LVIII.

OK, but we are going to oversimplify.

There are 11 players on a side, but the key player is the quarterback. He takes the oblong ball at the start of each play and either hands it to a player who tries to run with it or throws it downfield for a receiver to catch. Teams have four tries, or “downs,” to advance the ball at least 10 yards (9.1 meters, but don’t get caught saying that when surrounded by football fans).

The other team will try to stop them from doing so, a process that often ends with one or more players grabbing the player with the ball and hurling him to the ground abruptly.

Sometimes a player will do something wrong (a “penalty”) and the referee will signal this by throwing what looks like a yellow hankie (the announcers will say that “a flag is on the field”).

The field is 100 yards long, and a team making it past that point (the “end zone”) gets 6 points (a “touchdown,” very, very good), and 1 more if it can kick a ball through some big metal posts (the “goal posts”) afterward. There are other ways to score, but we promised to keep it simple.

Sorry, soccer fans, the game cannot end in a tie. If it does, the teams play “overtime” until a winner is determined.

Amazingly, you are not the first person to make these observations. A hoary joke says that the game should really be called “hand egg.”

American football evolved from “rugby football” in the late 19th century. The transition came in 1906, when teams began passing the ball forward instead of only backward. The N.F.L. was founded in the 1920s and started the Super Bowl championship game in 1967 after a merger with a smaller upstart, the American Football League.

There are several variations of football around the globe. What Americans call soccer is football or fútbol in much of the rest of the world. Canadian football is similar to the American game, but teams can charmingly score a “rouge,” worth 1 point. Australia’s football involves men with very little padding passing the ball by hitting it with their fists.

The quarterback for Kansas City is Patrick Mahomes, and San Francisco’s is Brock Purdy. You’ll see a lot of them whether you look for them or not.

On defense, look for Chris Jones of Kansas City (if his health is OK) to terrorize Purdy, and Nick Bosa of the 49ers to do the same against Mahomes.

And the key man for Mahomes to pass the ball to will be …

You got it. Kansas City’s Travis Kelce, perhaps the best player ever at his position, tight end, has raised his profile even more by starting a relationship with music’s global superstar, Taylor Swift. She has attended several of his games, causing some purists to grumble that shots of her in her luxury box are overshadowing the game, although a close look reveals her total screen time is actually fairly limited.

When it is fourth down, yell for the team with the ball to try a play (“go for it”), rather than kick the ball away or try for a field goal. Fans have always loved this aggressive strategy, and the game is catching up. While coaches used to routinely kick even when they were inches away from a first down, they now are much more inclined to try for the yards.

When in doubt, say that “the game is won in the trenches.” Or “edge rusher” or “Tampa 2” or “Jet sweep.” Your football-loving friends will nod sagely.

No one knows exactly how much money is bet on the Super Bowl, but it’s a lot — more than $10 billion, according to estimates, much of it illegally. The most common way to bet is through the point spread (San Francisco is a 2-point favorite, meaning they must win by at least 3 points for bettors backing them to cash in).

But you can also bet on almost anything related to the game: how many yards a particular player will gain, who will win the coin toss that starts the game or which song Usher will sing first in the halftime show.

Don’t do it. Advertisers spend a fortune to get a slot on the Super Bowl, and then another fortune to create new, funny and memorable ads for the occasion. Especially if the game is a blowout, the ads may be the next day’s major talking point.

Sadly, yes. The size of the players and the violence of their hits mean that the possibility of serious injury is always there. Worse, players who take repeated hits to the head risk developing C.T.E., a degenerative brain disease.

Players who receive blows to the head now must leave the field and be examined for a concussion.

More and more fans are tempering their enjoyment of the sport with the sobering knowledge that the players entertaining us on the field are doing so at grave risk.

Around the time of the game, internet searches for “Super Bowl” go way up. But so do searches for “superb owl,” as rapidly typing fans put the space in the wrong place.

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