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Belly up 

I find the Super Bowl to be an almost sickening celebration of corporate excess and gluttony. And I even covered the game a few months after September 11, 2001, when the festivities were supposed to be more subdued.

I didn't see anybody going without.

People stuffed their faces at the pre-game Super Bowl brunch, at the post-game party for special guests, and at the individual parties during the week. And they stuffed their suitcases with all the free trinkets the corporate partners gave away. It was debauchery, and I felt like Nero. Then again, we were doing our patriotic duty, showing terrorists they could not threaten our way of life. My stomach should have received a Purple Heart.

I predict the Patriots will win Super Bowl XXXIX. Philadelphia is a good passing team and a sub-par running team. The Patriots are good against the run. The Eagles will have trouble running on New England, so Donovan McNabb must pass, which will be more difficult because New England will expect that. The Patriots can run with Corey Dillon because the Eagles are not a great run-stopping team. So, take the Patriots and the points. Passing teams don't fare well in Super Bowls against Bill Belichick. Just ask the 1990 Bills and the 2001 Rams.

But there's more to the big game than betting lines. I once ran into Sports Illustrated writer Paul Zimmerman days before Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego and asked him if he was enjoying himself. Zimmerman's reply: "No, I hate Super Bowl week."

Zimmerman can be gruff.

He once told me how he appeared on Good Morning America in 1993 to talk about Oilers offensive lineman David Williams, who missed a regular season game and paycheck to be with his wife for the birth of their first child. Charles Gibson asked Zimmerman how many NFL players would sit out a game to be with their pregnant wives for delivery. Zimmerman thought it was a silly question, so he said without elaboration, "Eight."

Perhaps that was Zimmerman's way of getting back at a medium that has eroded good print journalism. He was simply giving TV journalists what they're always after: a concise sound-bite.

Part of the reason he hates Super Bowl week is because the hordes of TV cameras and reporters make it impossible for print journalists to get substantive reports. The players are focusing on lame sound-bites for TV, rather than meaningful thoughts for print.

Zimmerman remembers when a reporter could actually sit down and have a significant conversation with a Super Bowl player. Today, a media outlet has to pay billions of dollars to be an NFL broadcast partner just for that kind of access, and still there's hardly any substance.

But the public doesn't demand substance, and the league cares mostly about ratings. NFL executives brag that 800 million people from 229 countries and territories watched Super Bowl XXXVIII, which sounds great.

But one of my greatest fears is that the Super Bowl reaches such world popularity that the game will no longer belong to America, leading Americans to reject it altogether.

Do you want your children to one day wake up to a Super Bowl Sunday when the national anthem has been replaced by a Yanni song? I don't. How would I talk to my children about that? I was a wreck explaining Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction, but Today gave me some good advice on how to broach the subject. And then Matt Drudge blew up a picture of her nipple so large that I had absolute confidence in my explanation.

But I've seen the effects of over-popularity before. I remember original Metallica fans becoming resentful when the band reached mainstream success in 1991. Suddenly, they didn't have Metallica all to themselves, and they ultimately rejected the band.

But Metallica made more money. And I imagine the NFL would discard America if it could improve its bottom line. The league worships the almighty profit. In fact, I can almost hear the owners yelling all the way from Jacksonville: "Show me the Yanni!"

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