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Sunday night, after the Super Bowl is won and America’s most popular and grandiose sporting event concludes, the NFL will cap everything off with one of the most awkward buzzkills in sports.
After a lengthy television commercial break, commissioner Roger Goodell will ascend a makeshift stage and awkwardly hand a second-generation rich guy in a suit (Kansas City’s Clark Hunt or San Francisco’s Jed York) the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Then Fox’s Joe Buck, or someone from the broadcast, will try to interview him, possibly referring to him as “Mister,” as he basks in the glory and confetti.
Neither man will have made a tackle or scored a touchdown or done a whole lot more than get born into the right family.
We get it, they’re rich. Other than that? It has been 50 years (all under Hunt family ownership) since the Chiefs have even reached the Super Bowl, but now they are football geniuses?
Eventually the ceremony will get to Patrick Mahomes or Richard Sherman or Andy Reid or Kyle Shanahan or someone who actually played a part in the winning of the game. By then the magic of the moment is gone. Most of the players will be relegated to an off-stage holding area.
The NFL does a lot right. Its trophy presentation isn’t one of them.
It’s clunky. It’s anticlimactic. It’s misguided and values successful businessmen, or descendants of successful businessmen, more than the players, let alone the value of a team.
The league should try something different.
Really only one North American sport does this well. The NHL has its commissioner get down to the ice and present the Stanley Cup directly to the winning team’s captain. That player then skates around in a delirious state of joy, pumping it in the air. It is a moment of such great anticipation, it can become a storyline unto itself.
After a brief period, he then summons a teammate and hands it off. That player takes his own twirl, a moment both personal and communal, and then passes it along. The exchange is one more reminder that it takes the talents and sacrifices of an entire team, one for all and all for one.
The Cup ceremony is something every young player dreams about. It is common for the players to become overcome with emotion. Fans roar. Even when the away team wins, spectators often stay out of respect for the moment.
There are no clunky interviews for a few minutes. None are needed.
Whoever the heck owns the team can cheer on from the side. Never once has anyone missed them. Same with the coach. Or the play-by-play guy.
So why can’t football be the same? Why wouldn’t Goodell hand the trophy directly to the captain, or even the game’s MVP? Mahomes hoisting that trophy and then including his teammates would sure be better than what’s coming on Sunday.
There is no need for an owner to be there other than the longstanding tradition of NFL team owners believing they are pillars of America who must command attention. The media sure doesn’t need to be in the middle of it. There’s plenty of time for questions about “how does it feel?” Watch a guy skate with the Stanley Cup as tears slide down his cheeks. You don’t need words to explain how it feels.
If the NFL really wanted to do this right, it could even eliminate Goodell. Sometime in the fourth quarter the league could carry out the Lombardi Trophy and set it up on a stand behind one of the end zones.
Then, when the clock finally runs out or the game is decided, the winning team could sprint to the trophy and seize it in a frenzy of group excitement and accomplishment. You think the Gatorade bath is cool, imagine that?
It happens in numerous rivalry games in college football, where the winner gets the mammoth Floyd of Rosedale trophy (a pig) or Paul Bunyan’s Axe (which is then taken to an end zone so some beefy lineman can pretend to chop down a goalpost).
It’s great stuff, pure, unscripted and fun. It never gets old.
No suits. No stiffness. No choreographed productions. No microphones.
The NFL ought to try it.
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