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The Greatest (Ever?) Show on Turf

The Free Press guide to the Super Bowl.

This year’s Super Bowl has it all. On the field tomorrow night, two dominant teams face off in a heavyweight clash for the ages, with the greatest quarterback of his generation aiming for a third title in five years. Then, of course, there’s all the off-the-field excitement. Las Vegas! Usher! Tay. Lor. Swift. 

No wonder Sunday night’s battle between the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs is expected to be the most-watched Super Bowl in history—perhaps even the biggest event in television history. 

The monoculture is back, baby! And folks, we’re all in. Now is not the time for cool detachment. Bookish millennials, shelve those jokes about “sportsball.” There’s plenty of room at the nerd table in the corner over there. The jocks are in charge again. 

But if this year’s Super Bowl is really going to bring us all together, we all have to do our homework. The Swifties need to brush up on the Chiefs’ playbook. The NFL fanatics need to stop complaining about the Swifties. Everyone needs to limber up and be ready to pop and lock their way through Usher’s halftime show like it’s 2008. The introverts (who’ve had a great run since 2020, when these teams last met in a Super Bowl) need to get themselves to a watch party—where the hosts need to make sure the fridge is stocked with a beer for all political persuasions. 

So we’ve collected advice from some people we trust and compiled The Free Press Guide to Super Bowl Sunday. 

We should probably start with the actual game. To clue us in to the big storyline on the field, we reached out to Tyler Dunne, who writes the pro football Substack Go Long. Here’s Tyler on Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ quest for greatness:  

Patrick Mahomes has entered rarefied air. At 28, the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback will now be judged by one number only: Super Bowl rings. 

Mahomes grasps this reality more than anyone. One of his best friends, Coleman Patterson, told me that this is easily the most motivated he’s ever seen Mahomes. Over the years, Patterson has watched Mahomes lock in to dominate everything from axe-throwing competitions at Nashville bachelor parties to rounds of golf—not to mention his two previous Super Bowl wins. And all the QB cares about now is hoisting as many Lombardi Trophies as he possibly can. 

Mahomes picked up his second trophy last year. A win tomorrow would put him at three—one behind Joe Montana and four behind Tom Brady, with plenty of time to catch up to the GOATs.  

His ability to rise to the moment when the pressure is on transcends pro football, and that’s bad news for a leaky San Francisco 49ers defense. This is not the 2019 unit that reached the Super Bowl, no. After Mahomes vanquished the Baltimore Ravens—the first defense in NFL history to finish No. 1 in points allowed, sacks, and turnovers—this 49ers crew will resemble fresh meat for a QB fully aware that his legacy is on the line. This is also the best defense Mahomes has ever had in KC. . . and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo lives for a challenge like this. The Chiefs will give up yards on the ground to 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey, but bank on defensive tackle Chris Jones wrecking yet another big game. He’ll get to San Francisco quarterback Brock Purdy. 

Last year, a buzzed Mahomes groused at the championship parade that the Chiefs had been labeled a “rebuilding” team after trading star wide receiver Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins. He enjoyed proving the critics wrong then. And he has an opportunity to do the same this year: for the third straight game in this playoff run, they’re underdogs on Sunday. 

If this all sounds familiar, that’s because it is. For two decades, Tom Brady tried his hardest to harness slights into fuel. He and his New England teammates were convinced the league was out to get them. And when people raised their eyebrows at then–42-year-old Brady’s decision to leave the Patriots for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he had the last laugh by winning one more Super Bowl. 

Brady always found a reason to chase another ring. So will Mahomes. 

The First Couple of the Super Bowl: Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

While Patrick Mahomes will be the center of attention on the field, Taylor Swift will be a bottomless source of off-the-field excitement—assuming, that is, she can make it to the game after her concert in Tokyo. The Swift-Kelce celebrity juggernaut just keeps on rolling, minting new football fans and nutty conspiracy theories along the way. Paula Froelich digs into the celebrity story of the year—and why football’s old guard shouldn’t be so snooty about the pop sensation. 

This Sunday’s Super Bowl matchup of the Kansas City Chiefs versus the San Francisco 49ers is set to be the most expensive ever, with suites at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas going for up to $2.5 million, and a seat in the nosebleeds hovering around $6,000. 

And it’s all because of one woman: Taylor Swift.

When Swift started dating Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce last summer, her army of loyal fans became football fans too, adding more than $331 million to the value of his team. 

But the NFL’s success has also caused much hand-wringing and confusion, especially among a certain crowd of right-wing men. 

Take Boomer Esiason, the Trump supporter and former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback who choked so badly at the only Super Bowl he went to, his performance is ranked the ninth worst in the showdown’s history. This past week, he took to his radio show, Boomer and Gio, to claim the NFL is paying for Swift to fly from Tokyo, where she is on tour, to Las Vegas for the game. 

“You gotta know that her people are in touch with the NFL. And her people are probably saying, ‘If you want her at the game, you gotta pay for the jet coming back from Tokyo. And she needs her own suite,’ ” Esiason said.

Esiason’s claims could be brushed off as moronic—except they come on the heels of a MAGA meltdown that has given rise to multiple conspiracy theories about Swift’s Super Bowl attendance, including that she is a Pentagon asset widening her fan base so that she can make the most impact when she throws her star power behind Biden. 

Does President Biden want her endorsement for reelection? Of course he does, and he may well get it given that she endorsed him back in 2020. But does that mean her romance with Kelce is a deep-state conspiracy? Of course not. 

That said, it’s clear why some conservative dudes fear her. She’s a Democrat, and more than half of U.S. adults now say they are fans of hers—and even people who are nowhere near her core demographic say she could sway their votes. 

As Michael Dee, a 67-year-old investment banker and big daughter-guy from Texas, told The Guardian, “I think she could, potentially, absolutely change my mind politically, because she is a strong woman who is a role model to my 24-year-old daughter.”

What’s more, as a self-made billionaire, Swift has more power than almost any man alive. She’s her own boss, so she can’t be threatened or cajoled into doing what other people want.

But while there is no way she is billing the NFL (sorry, Boomer), and she can easily cover the $200,000 cost of a return flight on a luxe jet as well as a $2 million Super Bowl suite, the point is: she shouldn’t have to.

Given how much money she has made for the all-male suits at the NFL, they should club together and not only insist on paying for her travel but roll out a magic carpet, flown by unicorns on a rainbow, to get her to the game. 

It’s the gentlemanly thing to do.

When we want hosting advice, there’s only one person we ask, and that’s Liz Lange. Liz is the CEO and creative director of Figue, and the founder of Liz Lange Maternity. And she’s also a great host, whether in New York City or at her Grey Gardens estate in the Hamptons. She may know nothing about football—but she knows how to throw a party.

I couldn’t care less about football, or about the Super Bowl. Every year it kind of sneaks up on me, and then I feel that because I like entertaining, I should probably have some people over and have the game on. I used to like to watch the commercials because they were funny, but not anymore. I’m typically just in the kitchen, chatting with friends and eating with anyone who wants to come in and out. 

For me, it’s all about the food and the kibitzing. I normally do Mexican, because I think it goes with football for some reason. I’ll have platters of nachos and make-your-own fajitas: corn and flour tortillas, guacamole, salsa, shredded cheese, crema sauce, ground beef, pulled chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, you get the idea. 

At some point, I’ll turn over the buffet and make it a dessert buffet. Here, I’ll depart from the Mexican theme and do plates of cookies, cakes, you name it. As you can tell, I’m really into buffets. I like people to have what they want, and I don’t want to do that annoying thing before someone comes over and ask them about food restrictions. 

I’ll also put out a bucket of ice and throw in all different types of beer because I think guys who are watching football want to drink beer. I draw the line, though, at paper plates with the teams on them. I’m just not a theme type of gal.

Super Bowl showman Usher. (Photo by Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

While not everyone will be watching the game, all of us—including you, Liz—should be excited for Usher’s halftime show. So says Free Press writer Eric Spitznagel, who thinks the R&B legend is set to kill it. Here’s why:   

The Super Bowl halftime show is notoriously hit or miss, but I have reason to believe that Usher, this year’s headliner, could deliver a performance for the ages. What makes me think that? Let’s count the ways.

1. He can dance in the rain if necessary.

It’s an unequivocal truth that Prince delivered the greatest halftime show of all time in 2007, when he played “Purple Rain” during a Miami downpour. Usher has demonstrated repeatedly that he’s capable, and even enthusiastic, about performing in the rain, from his 2001 video for “U Got It Bad” to his rain-soaked performance at the 2004 VMAs to his sloshy-shoed remake of Gene Kelly’s “Singin’ in the Rain.” 

The forecast for Sunday doesn’t call for rain, but Usher is ready if that changes.

2. This isn’t his first rodeo.

Back in 2011, the Black Eyed Peas played a mostly panned halftime show, but there was one memorable moment: a guest appearance by Usher, who was lowered to the stage from the stadium’s ceiling on a freaking chain!

Plus, Usher has spent the last two years performing a career-spanning residency in Las Vegas, which he wrapped up in December. “I played 100 shows in Las Vegas,” he told Billboard. “And my 101st will be the Super Bowl.” The man is anything but rusty.

3. He has a history of wardrobe malfunctions.

Nobody wants a repeat of the 2004 halftime show, in which Justin Timberlake “accidentally” exposed Janet Jackson’s breast. Except don’t we though? Usher is no stranger to wardrobe malfunctions. His pants have ripped open during a performance not once, but twice

4. It’s going to get weird.

The halftime shows that stay with us are the ones that make us wonder, What the hell did I just see? Whether it’s Diana Ross leaving via helicopter in 1996, or Michael Jackson just standing there quietly for two solid minutes in 1993, or the entire 1988 show, which featured 88 tuxedoed pianists, 300 Jazzercisers, and Chubby Checker, we yearn for the stupid and surreal.

If the unnamed source who spoke to Page Six can be believed, Usher’s halftime show will likely include “pole dancers—dressed in a tasteful manner, of course—as well as dancers on roller skates.” Buckle up, friends. It’s going to be a wild ride.

Free Press intern Evan Gardner turns 21 today (Happy birthday, Evan!). That means he can finally enjoy the big game with a beer in hand. Here, he weighs his options ahead of kickoff. 

While I have long taken part in the time-honored American tradition of snacking on as many buffalo wings as possible and watching grown men slam into each other for three hours straight, I’m ready to watch football the way it was meant to be watched; unfortunately, I have no idea what I like to drink. So I’ve drawn up a list of beers to sample tomorrow night.

Bud Light: America’s former number one beer became a casualty of the culture wars when it was boycotted by conservatives for working with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney. But Bud Light is trying to reclaim the top spot with an inoffensive Super Bowl ad and a partnership with the canceled—and now uncanceled—comedian Shane Gillis. President Trump recently called for his supporters to give the drink another chance, declaring Budweiser’s parent company, Anheuser-Busch InBev—in which he is a shareholder—“not a woke company.” 

I’m all for burying the culture war hatchet. Which is why I’ll be sipping this liberal lemonade and cheering whenever I see beloved psyop Taylor Swift.

Ultra Right: Here at The Free Press, we’re big believers in reaching across the aisle and engaging with all ideologies—which means that I am compelled, out of a sense of professional duty, to add Conservative Dad’s 100 percent Woke-Free Ultra Right to my must-drink list.

Modelo: Because I want an authentic American experience tomorrow night, I have to try America’s top beer: Modelo. I’m eager to get a taste of the real, America First option, brewed locally in. . . actually, never mind where it comes from. I know it tastes like patriotism. 

PBR: Because I still want to be in a country song. 

Natty Light: This one has a special place in my heart; it’s the beer that means home. Sophomore year, I came back to my dorm every night, where I would be greeted by a chandelier covered in Natty Light cans and a bathroom floor covered in their spilled contents. If nothing else, it’s the only beer I know that doubles as an interior design accent.

(Hazy?) IPA: I have no idea what this actually is, but it feels true to my Brooklyn roots. Whatever the letters stand for, they sound like Bushwick and beards to me. What could be more comforting than that? 

White Claw: Only here for DEI reasons. I’m sure my dorm screening will have enough TV static; I don’t need my drink to taste like it, too.

Readers, help Evan in his alcoholic education. What beers should he try next? Let us know in the comments.

We understand that not everybody will be organizing their weekend around the Super Bowl. And even if you are—there’s plenty of time to fill before kickoff. So here’s Free Press managing editor Margi Conklin with some other cultural recommendations for the weekend. 

At the start of the year, I resolved to read more books. Well, by following the Rob Henderson method of reading at least 10 pages a day, I’m happy to report that last week I completed the novel Beautiful World, Where Are You? by Irish millennial sensation Sally Rooney.

At only 32, Sally’s written three bestsellers. I’ve read them all. What I love about her writing is her unique voice: it’s both detached and intimate. She uses no quote marks in her dialogue, which makes you feel like you’re reading her characters’ inner thoughts. And what are her characters thinking about? 

Sex.

Honestly, no author in the world writes about sex better than Sally. Somehow, she manages to convey the beauty—the heat—of physical connection without making the reader cringe or squirm or feel like they’ve stumbled onto a porn set. I cannot stand Fifty Shades of Grey—but this? This is art!

If you’re new to Sally’s work, I recommend you skip books one and three and go straight to her middle masterpiece: Normal People, which is the (less tragic) Romeo and Juliet of our day. And the TV series of the book is somehow just as good. Read it, then stream it. I dare you not to cry.

Meantime, my current Sunday viewing pleasure is The Gilded Age on MAX. Set in nineteenth-century New York City, the show is the American Downton Abbey with even more class war. Everywhere, factions of society—rich and poor, black and white, old money and new money—are duking it out, and you can’t help but take sides. I am partial to beautiful upstart Bertha Russell, played by Carrie Coon, whose frocks and hats are as bright and bold as her ambition.

This Sunday, per family tradition, I will be watching the Super Bowl with my husband and parents. But before that, we plan to stream Ferrari, the film about Italian motor god Enzo Ferrari. My dad used to build race cars, so we enjoy a good movie with some thrust. In 2019, we loved Ford v Ferrari, about the first U.S. team to beat the Europeans at Le Mans. Back then, I rooted for the Americans. But this time, with a cool Adam Driver at the wheel as Enzo, I have a feeling my loyalties will slip.

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