It is only proper and correct that Satan’s Fortnight, a.k.a. the vacuum between the NFL conference finals and Super Bowl Sunday, should begin and end with a quarterback trade … more or less.
With a quarterback duel like Patrick Mahomes vs. The Other One (I’ve gone two weeks without invoking the guy’s name just as a personal challenge and I do not intend to break that vow so close to the end), it is remarkable to note how little outward buzz this Super Bowl has generated. People have cited the absence of an on-site presence of fans, players, coaches, teams, celebrities, media, marketers and other gaseous objects in Tampa as a principal reason, and others have cited the ravages of COVID-19 in a state that has refused to acknowledge its existence as a secondary story line. A few people have even mourned the loss of the Pro Bowl, but they have been seized and placed in quiet rooms until the fever subsides.
There is, however, a different reason for the minimal attention paid to the two-week pastiche of game-related, meathead-driven arglebargle, and that is this: Today has the same vague feel as the NBA All-Star Game, only LeBron James cares a bit more about the Super Bowl.
No, wait, that’s not it, although it’s close. The news is that watching quarterbacks go to new teams is actually more fun than watching quarterbacks, even if they’re playing in the Big ‘Oom.
When this started last Monday, the talk was the Matthew Stafford trade from the hell of the Detroit Lions to Los Angeles in exchange for Rams hero/failure Jared Goff, and how this would create a newly ginned-up market for Deshaun Watson. It certainly created conversation that shoved the midweek Super Bowl chatter into a place usually reserved for NCAA Tournament play-in games, tout shows, and Johnsonville Cornhole championships (honest, this is a thing). And now these two weeks are ending with rumors of Carson Wentz being shopped by the Philadelphia Eagles with the vigor of a frat house putting the neighboring frat’s furniture on the front lawn with “FREE” signs nailed over the vomit stains.
In other words, to Chicago, according to reports late Saturday, Nick Foles goes the other way with another player and a first-round pick, which means that five of the last nine Super Bowl quarterbacks are now either on different teams or freshly inducted into the Hall of Fame, and a sixth (Jimmy Garoppolo) could join soon.
With each rumor, of course, comes corollaries linking all the other teams needing quarterbacks to other quarterbacks not yet available, generating more conversations that have nothing to do with Bruce Arians pregame speeches, Roger Goodell’s increasingly listless State Of The League address, or the latest breathless long snapper side-by-side. It is the Super Bowl that belonged to every team but the two who got there, and the only ones complaining about that are the folks at CBS who have seven hours of programming beamed into all those homes whose denizens instead will be watching nine hours of Puppy Bowl XVII because that time that used to be used for party prep is now extra free time for stuff that isn’t the same sludge delivered by inflatable suits sitting 15 feet from each other that you’ve been handed for the previous 13 days.
Plus, let’s be honest, your favorite team has an 82 percent chance of employing a quarterback you don’t like, and you have dreams, too. Miami is supposed to be in the hunt for Watson by offering lots of draft picks and Tua Tagovailoa, whom the Dolphins would have burned down a South Beach nightclub to get a year ago. Hell, as soon as the Lions got Goff, there were rumors about the Lions including him in a different trade. This is the NFL of the future. Frankly, the games just get in the way.
At least this one does, and it’s supposed to have the quarterback matchup of the century. Maybe it’s just that we already know all the stories about the two quarterbacks from previous tellings, including five of the last six Super Bowls. Trades are different because they spark images of alternate universes, all of which are better than the dump site that this universe has become. Besides, the 10-plus months of quarantine have actually reduced viewing audiences in most sports rather than increased them, so a buzzless Super Bowl could serve up the same level of national ennui, one in which only puppies anthropomorphized to a cartoony level by the already over-anime’d Snoop Dogg, Martha Stewart, and Monday Night Football face Steve Levy are immune.
The central fact here, though, is not about puppies forced to perform ridiculous tasks by deranged owners (which is kind of like, well, football, only with a more sympathetic species), but about what truly carried us through to game time and will carry us come Monday afternoon. After all, only one team can have a parade. Thirty others can either trade their quarterback or have it discussed on a daily basis. The long-held but unwritten law in the NFL that news should not be broken during Satan’s Fortnight is now disregarded like the latest Lou Dobbs update. You got a new strength and conditioning guy? Do it. You got a new quarterback? Hell, do it twice, and twice as loud.
After all, something has to fight off the Puppy Bowl’s inexorable march toward cultural dominance, and if the Super Bowl can’t do it, the churn of the human market will have to suffice.