The Super Bowl gets its Vegas wedding

As the guy who fixed the pregame prayer, (more on that later) I am reluctant to scoff at sports gambling, the eager engine and place mat for Super Bowl LVIII. I speak of Las Vegas, as excessive and pretentious as the game’s Roman numeral.

Back when boxing did the sports washing for Sin City, no one was fooled. The worst game found the worst place and money was made. The Iron Mikes and the Sugar Rays passed through and the world did not wonder why they were there.

It may be argued that Las Vegas does not merit the sanction of the NFL, that it is no more than a pit stop for mischief, a rootless weed in a wasteland, a selfish swindler in search of a soul, a place full of fakes and frauds, but so what?

The last time I saw Paris, it was in Las Vegas. New York was, too. And Venice. Why not the Super Bowl?

Sure, it is a natural fit, America’s grand game in America’s garish garnish, a perfect union, violence and greed, aggression and exaggeration, brutes and bums, distraction and desperation, the fierce and the phony, gladiators and glitz, wretched excess and excessive wretchedness, all together on a Sunday afternoon.

Las Vegas is a place that rents events, all bait to draw a crowd. It does not expect allegiance (no matter the stadium name) nor for its customers to linger too long away from the casino.

Vegas stalked big time sports teams for years. It took a stab at getting the Expos from Montreal. It talked to Seattle about the Supersonics. It toyed with the Sacramento Kings.

Las Vegas had a tryout for the NBA, hosting the All-Star Game, a scary debacle by most accounts, and very likely the reason Oklahoma City got the team Seattle let get away.

While dead rappers, bounced bouncers and general street mayhem were accepted as part of sports’ periphery, the NHL was undaunted and set up shop. The resident Stanley Cup has, as far as I know, been unmolested, yet it is as out of place as the Statue of Liberty shading street hustlers. What used to be Oakland’s football team now squats in town awaiting the neighboring baseball A’s, as soon as space is cleared.

Ah, but the Super Bowl, that is the adult ticket, the prize that elevates a place from curious to valid, not that it has done much for Jacksonville nor for poor Pontiac. The Bears dangle the promise of a Super Bowl with a new stadium.

It really doesn’t matter where a Super Bowl is held since it is essentially a studio sport. TV needs someplace to point its cameras and one community looks like another between the end zones.

NFL franchises jump around from place to place, wherever owners can get the best deal, exploit the local tax base and pretend to care. Las Vegas and the NFL may not need each other but they do deserve one another.

The NFL doggedly guards its shield, protects its brand as wholesome and honest, speaks of “integrity” and considers invasive gambling the fault of the Supreme Court, and yet it kisses sportsbooks with an open mouth, thrives on point spreads and over/unders and endless prop bets, the most common being the length of the national anthem, which is kind of where I started this piece.

In an earlier life, when press boxes mattered, I worked where it was customary to start games with a blessing from a local clergyman, the various dominations taking turns. We press boxers had our own prop bet on just how long the prayer might be, each of us donating to the pot.

As I recall, Baptists were the longest and Presbyterians the most succinct. My own pastor was invited to pray before a game and he asked if I would help him write his homily. I agreed and together we managed a football appropriate blessing that I had him read aloud several times, checking my watch as he did so. Don’t change a syllable, I said.

On the day of the game, guesses were collected, money pooled and we stood as the prayer met the solemn silence of all. I think I made $17 that day.

And for what it is worth, I’ll take the 49ers over the Chiefs.

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