By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) Rest easy, Roman numeral devotees: It’s only a one-year hiatus for the planet’s biggest single sporting event. The NFL would never be so brazen as to abandon permanently such an apparently significant connection to its ancient, gladiatorial roots.
It will be called Super Bowl 50 — not Super Bowl L – and the fact that such a thing is news is remarkable in itself.
That’s how unstoppably enormous football is, particularly the specific brand represented by the logo that commissioner Roger Goodell likes to call “the shield.” The American sports world belongs to the NFL until further notice, with that shield thrust forward to ably deflect the slings and arrows of traumatic brain injury, criminally violent players and attendance concerns. Nothing seems to matter for a league that has become a year-round attraction on every level, down to numerical fonts becoming a story.
Another headline yesterday concerned the potential location of the 2015 draft broadcast. Chicago, Los Angeles and New York are vying to win the event’s presence for a four-day festival of giant men in giant suits and tablefuls of people screaming forgettable opinions about them under hot lights. The cities’ respective mayors are taking turns wooing Goodell as if in pursuit of a major, corporate relocation that adds local jobs and tax revenue.
Merely a fleeting association with the NFL by welcoming its annual, overblown pageant is enough to have Rahm Emanuel and L.A.’s Eric Garcetti tap-dancing to steal a toy from rival Bill Di Blasio. We lose sight too easily that this isn’t a championship game or even an all-star weekend, but a celebration of a list of names being read very, very slowly.
Speaking of drafts, Major League Baseball conducted its own first round last night, providing yet another opportunity for the NFL to display its might. Chicago is not only a two-team city, but each franchise had a top selection — the White Sox grabbing a potentially fast-rising starting pitcher at No. 3 overall and the Cubs a slugging catcher one pick later. Naturally, the above-the-fold sports story this morning, complete with a photo of the smiling young man getting ready to throw a ball for his new team, involved…
He was signed by the Bears yesterday. He’s competing for a quarterback spot.
It doesn’t matter that he has been terrible at the job or that the only way he can possibly come close to threatening Jay Cutler in any way is in a jerk-face contest to measure which one of them has the most off-putting natural expression that makes you want to hit them with a polo mallet. All that matters is that he plays football.
It’s not all funny, either. Only in this league could the Ray Rice press conference happen. Only in the comically emboldened NFL could a star player knock his wife unconscious in a casino elevator and be caught on video dragging her across the floor, and then have his team proudly live-tweet the public blaming of the victim. She was kind enough to apologize for smashing her face repeatedly into that poor man’s fists.
That’s an NFL production, and so is the continued existence of a franchise name that is a wicked ethnic slur. They needn’t care, because they remain untouchable.
It’s now the time of an NBA Finals featuring dynastic powers and all-time-great players, the nation’s two most powerful media markets represented in the battle for the Stanley Cup, and baseball in full swing. Horse racing could see a Triple Crown winner tomorrow. Elsewhere, there’s French Open tennis, PGA golf and a pay-per-view fight for a middleweight title. And still we thirst for news of Roman numerals, draft cities and bad backup quarterbacks. Optional, informal practice sessions merit detailed discussion, even as we admit their relative insignificance.
That shield shines so brightly as to obscure.