It’s amazing that the NFL even managed to get all its games completed this year, much less deliver a Super Bowl LV matching The Old Guy (Tom Brady, 43, drinks almond milk smoothies full of nuts, married a movie star and a supermodel) against the The Kid (Patrick Mahomes, 25, likes ketchup, engaged to a fitness trainer). The game itself didn’t deliver up to expectations (Bucs won, 31-9) but there were some unusual features to this Super Bowl played in the shadow of Covid. I’ll wind up talking about the Jeep commercial and whether or not there is still “A Middle” in LDS theopolitics, but first the other stuff. Lots of other stuff.
The Flyby. Things started with a notable flyby. It’s a little odd the extent to which flags and military units and air force flybys have become part of NFL football tradition. I’m not an air show guy, but I’ve seen the Blue Angels (a Navy outfit) a few times. One plane did a tight turn over West Seattle when I was watching from a ridge. So low I could see the pilot. Later, I watched them zoom around tall buildings in San Francisco from about the 35th floor. Anyway, Sunday’s flyby featured a venerable B-52, a big B-2 (the one that looks like a bat), and a B-1B with the wings forward. Impressive. Don’t mess with Uncle Sam. It’ll be a long time before you see that formation flying over a football stadium again.
The Lady Ref. Sarah Thomas was the first female referee to work the sidelines in a Super Bowl. The media made a big deal out of this. Maybe this is a big deal. One more step along the path to gender equality, which is something to be proud of. Maybe someday there will be a General Conference with the first lady apostle. And the media will make a big deal out of it. This was a good look for the NFL, whose players don’t always play fair with others, especially female others. Say, did you notice Antonio Brown’s touchdown catch?
Cardboard Fans. There were apparently 25,000 real people in attendance, including about 7500 health care workers invited as guests of the league (which means, I think, that they have received Covid vaccine shots and they got free tickets). The rest of the seats were filled with 30,000 cardboard fans. These were images of actual people who paid a hundred bucks to have their photos plastered on the cardboard cutouts. Including more than a few celebrities. This cardboard or video fan gimmick is clever, but one of the more bizarre developments of this Covid year in sports. Could the Church do this for General Conference in the Conference Center? Would members pay a hundred bucks to have their image attend Conference? Let’s see, $100 times 21,000 capacity equals $2,100,000. A nice addition to the hundred billion dollar fund. That might be the winning argument. Make it so.
Halftme. I confess that I had never heard of the performing artist known as The Weeknd until last week. I still can’t quite figure out the bandages. And the spelling. And the robot masks that looked a little like C3PO. If the streaker who appeared in the fourth quarter had run on the field during the halftime show, we all would have thought it was just part of the show.
Man of the Year. If there’s one NFL award that merits serious acknowledgment, it’s the Walter Payton Man of the Year award. Each team nominates one player who exemplifies excellence on and off the field, with particular emphasis on charitable activities supporting the community or a wider global cause. It is truly impressive the extent to which players get involved in supporting good causes. This year’s winner was Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks, shown during the game in a skybox along with his wife Ciara, sitting next to Commissioner Roger Goodell. Since before his rookie year even started, Wilson has made low-key weekly visits to kids at the Seattle Children’s Hospital, comforting those who stand in need of comfort. I’m hoping at next year’s Super Bowl Wilson is out on the field rather than up in a skybox.
The Jeep Commercial. Super Bowl commercials have become something of a Big Thing. Some years, they can be more entertaining than the game. Not so much this year, I think. Except for the Jeep piece. Wow. It was more of a two-minute PR piece for America than an ad. It was a plea for unity and a return to common ground, or “The Middle.” It wasn’t until after the game that I realized the man in the ad was Bruce Springsteen, who did the narration as well drive a Jeep up to that little chapel in Kansas.
It was better than any two minutes of the Trump presidency. It was better than any two minutes of the new Biden presidency, although Biden has at least been sounding the unity theme. Welcome to America, where an aging rock star and an SUV company can team up to give us two minutes of video that outshines two presidents and the marquee sports event of the year. Go watch it again if you haven’t already.
The Political Middle. The focus of the Jeep video was a plea to return to the political middle in America. There was a time when politicians could regularly reach across the aisle to support important legislation. Not all the time and not every time, but at least some of the time. There was a time when there were some liberal Republicans and some conservative Democrats. I’m not sure we can get there again — it’s a very partisan political scene at the moment, in case you hadn’t noticed — but a Biden presidency and a nice Jeep video are a start. There is hope on the road ahead.
Is there an LDS Middle? So here’s your Mormon question for the post. As politics has seeped more and more into LDS discourse and doctrine, LDS culture has become more partisan as well. A lot of mainstream LDS have become zealous Republican conservatives and Trumpists, and more than a few have become political extremists. Any remaining LDS Democrats and progressives have felt more than a bit alienated by all of this. The LDS leadership has done very little to combat these developments. Is there an LDS Middle anymore? Is there common ground that all Latter-day Saints, regardless of political views or affiliation, share? Is there anything that can be done to get crazy conservative politics out of LDS thinking and culture?
I’m not going to try to spell out any specifics, partly because I’m fairly pessimistic on the whole issue. I think a good chunk of LDS leadership, both general and local, are now Trumpists, some openly and some by default, having done nothing to oppose it. I think the political disclaimers that LDS leadership issue from time to time are largely window dressing, and that deep down most of them think that Zion would be a country full of Mormon Republicans. But perhaps some readers have a more optimistic view of the future of the Church. If so, share it. Tell us how the Church can re-establish a Mormon middle. Could we get Bruce Springsteen to do a two-minute spot to air at the next General Conference? Maybe drive a Jeep up to the This Is The Place park above Salt Lake City? I’d like to think that, for the Church as well as for America, there is hope on the road ahead.