The most important thing to know about the Super Bowl is that it's not really a football game. Yes, if you were to break Sunday's Super Bowl broadcast down by onscreen time, in fact, there might (maybe) actually be more football action than there will be commercials touting the peerless heterosexuality of some (but not all!) brands of headache-scented lite beer or illustrating the equally not-gay hauling-a-cruise-ship-up-a-mountain power of some (but not all!) pickup trucks. But the balance of power is not really in doubt. Miller Lite, and its vision of the world as a bleak broscape populated by day-drinking knobs constantly trying to figure out which of their buddies is acting fruitiest in his choice of fart-carbonated Pilsneresque beverages, will win the Super Bowl, as it does every year. Either the New England Patriots or New York Giants will get an honorable mention for winning the game that breaks up the ads.
But while the idea of the Super Bowl as a primarily football-centered thing is long gone—when last seen in 1992, that vision of the Super Bowl was smeared with seven-layer dip and had Dorito-dust in its hair and was drunkenly screaming brand names—there will still be a game on Sunday that will certainly be the best thing about the broadcast. Again, the competition—which will be hours of advertising and a halftime show built around a scowling Madonna thrusting her wizened pelvis and lip-synching "Holiday" for an audience of executives and their children/escorts—is not especially intense. In the interest of helping you enjoy the football-related portion of Super Bowl Sunday more, here is what you need to know about the two teams involved.
New England Patriots
They Are: AFC Champions; Playing in their fifth Super Bowl in the last decade; won back-to-back Super Bowls in 2003 and '04.
They Are Basically: The football equivalent of a private equity firm, at least in terms of surly superiority, unremitting ruthlessness and the vague sense that they're getting away with taking a giant shit on our culture because of how excellent they are at taking that particular kind of shit. The sort of team you'd like if you also think Tucker Max would make a good President. A firehose that blasts you with scalding hot mayonnaise, and the firehose is being held by Bill Simmons and Mitt Romney.
Their Best Players: Are all on offense. One of them, an impossible-to-cover galoot named Rob Gronkowski, may or may not play due to a high ankle sprain.
Their Coach: Bill Belichick, who is probably one of the greatest coaches in NFL history, and also a bilious, prickly dick of world-historic proportions—a grudge-farming organizational genius who, after being caught illegally videotaping the opposing bench early in 2007, basically turned himself into a human-sized perforated ulcer wearing a demolished, too-big gray sweatshirt.
Note: Assistant coach Josh McDaniels, hilariously, dresses exactly like Belichick.
Their Fans: Members of the Affleck family. People for whom "professional" is the highest possible praise. Jon Bon Jovi.
Will They Win? That depends to a great degree on whether and how well Gronkowski is able to play, and on how effectively the Giants are able to bother—that is, tackle in painful ways—quarterback Tom Brady. If the Patriots are right, they are awfully good.
New York Giants
They Are: NFC Champions; The team that beat the New England Patriots, who had run up an 18-0 record to that point, in the 2008 Super Bowl.
They Are Basically: The football version of a Police Academy movie, but with running back Brandon Jacobs, an outright sociopath, standing in for the guy who made the crazy noises. A septuagenarian uncle telling you a football-related story that features a discomfiting number of sort-of-racist details. A parking lot full of tailgaters, all of whom are eating from tin catering trays of braciole and none of whom will share their beers with you.
Their Best Players: Mostly didn't start playing well until a month ago. Quarterback Eli Manning, who just had the best season of his career, still doesn't get much respect because he breathes exclusively through his mouth.
Their Coach: Tom Coughlin, who is a seething/screeching maniac in the classic Jesuitical tradition. Because Coughlin is a crazy person—he famously fined players for being late to meetings if they arrived fewer than five minutes early—and because his teams routinely endure stretches in which they show up so unprepared and out-of-it that they might as well be wearing bathing suits and flip-flops on the field, the New York sports press runs stories about him "losing the team" and columns demanding that he be fired every year. He chews gum during every game; his favorite flavors of gum are "vinegar" and "unflavored."
Note: Assistant coach Kevin Gilbride makes extra money by working as a Brian Dennehy impersonator at corporate events and children's birthday parties.
Their Fans: Members of my family. A surprisingly large number of hip-hop artists. People for whom the New York Jets are too downmarket.
Will They Win? See above in re: Gronkowski, but sure, I guess they could. The Giants offense never looks quite as unstoppable as the Patriots offense can, but New England's defense is sketchy, late-season surge aside. If Eli ever closed his mouth, this would be a much easier pick.
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