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by John Cardullo, sportswriter
It’s taken 6 months to have gotten to this spot. 6 months of games, highs and low’s, the same old teams, and a few new surprises. The NFL is wrapping the 2023-24 season in Las Vegas with the Super Bowl between the San Francisco 49ers taken on the defending champions, the Kansas City Chiefs, for a rematch of the game of a couple of years ago. Then, the Chiefs outlasted the 49ers to start, what to many is called, the latest dynasty.
The Taylor factor
This year’s Super Bowl has much more going on as subplots. Let’s begin with the 600 lb. gorilla in the room, Taylor Swift, perhaps the biggest musical entertainer currently on the planet. She began dating Kansas City’s tight end and NFL star in his own right, Travis Kelce. The two went public with their romance as the season began, and Swift has been a fixture at every one of his games throughout the season. This created a new wave of football fans know as the Swifties, who now suddenly began to follow Chief games to catch a glimpse of Taylor cheering on her man! The NFL soaked it up to a tune of $338.8 billion dollars in added revenue in ticket sales and merchandising. As if the Chiefs didn’t need more star power with Head Coach Andy Reid and superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes leading the team, they now have a legion of new football fans behind them.
49ers slow and steady
On the other side of the ledger is the San Francisco 49ers who have been to the Super Bowl a few times, themselves. That was back in the 1990’s when Bill Walsh was their coach, and the team was led by Joe “Cool” Montana (who ironically was traded to Kansas City at the end of his career). Montana gave way to Steve Young who won a Super Bowl with the 49ers. But after Young a drought came, and the 49ers were “also rans” to teams like the Rams and the Seahawks for many years before making their way back to the Super Bowl. A few years back former Patriots Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo got them to a Super Bowl where they lost to the Chiefs, and this season led by the 199th and last selection of the 2022 NFL Draft, Brock Purdy, aka Mr. Irrelevant, which is the name given to every last pick of each NFL draft. Each week that he played, Purdy proved the critics wrong as the wins kept mounting up. In the 2023 NCF Championship game, an injury to his right hand in the middle of the game derailed the 49ers dreams of getting back to the Super Bowl. The 49ers came out of the gates of 2023 determined to be the team to beat. Well, here they are, so mission accomplished!
As a little side bar, the 49ers picked up NFL superstar running back Christian McCaffrey in a trade last season. This season he has been anything less than spectacular. But that’s not his back story. McCaffrey is engaged to international beauty queen, now actress, Cranston, Rhode Island’s own Olivia Culpo. She may not be Taylor, but she does all right! American model, actress, influencer and beauty queen, also owning a restaurant, the Back 40, in North Kingstown. After winning the Miss Rhode Island USA, she went on to win Miss USA 2012, and then Miss Universe 2012. Their wedding is set to happen over this off season right in her/own home state.
If it seems that this year’s Super Bowl has a lot of moving parts, it does, with the match ups being so even this year, many of the pre-season experts did predict both these teams facing off for the Lombardi trophy. The odds makers out of Las Vegas have made the 49ers the slight favorites to win the championship. Speaking of Las Vegas, in a world that nobody would have said the Super Bowl would ever be played in Las Vegas would not have been more wrong! Las Vegas, the gambling capital of the world, also landed the site for this year’s Super Bowl, shining in what it offers, the good and, well, we know all about the rest, and “the rest” is part of every SuperBowl story that isn’t written.
The town that had the claim to fame of having the University of Las Vegas Nevada basketball as its only major sports team has evolved. “Sin City” has become a mecca of professional sports franchises. Beginning with landing an NHL expansion team, the Las Vegas Golden Knights. In only their 5 years in existence, the Golden Knights played in two Stanley Cup finals, winning the championship last season. In the NFL, Las Vegas was able to get the nomads of the NFL to come to call Las Vegas home. The Oakland/Los Angeles/Oakland/ now Las Vegas Raiders play in the dessert of Nevada, with a new multi-billion stadium they call home. The venue will be on full display at the Super Bowl for all to see. Las Vegas is looking to enter the NBA via expansion by convincing an NBA franchise who is unhappy where they currently play, to consider a move to the southwest. Finally, the Oakland Athletics have announced that they will be relocating to Las Vegas. Geez, talk about picking on the bones! Poor Oakland!
As the lure of more money through gambling continues to increase through casinos or online, the walls have crumbled that kept sporting events on the up and up. Draft Kings and Fan Duel have become too lucrative to ignore, and too much money is to be made. The big question is, how will these professional sports react when a major scandal happens? You know it will eventually, people, sports and money have shown in the past that the urge can be too great. All we can do is wait and see. But for now, the average fan will sit and watch what is looking like a pretty even game and hopefully an entertaining one, but there is only one big question that remains when all is said and done, will Gronk make the kick?
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