Maybe because we are sheltered this week on the fringes of downtown Houston, between the city’s sprawling convention center and a couple of parking garages, we can’t hear the buzz.
The Super Bowl buzz.
NFL-themed murals drape the sides of high rises. Network anchor positions have taken over the city center’s parks. And a steady flow of visitors appear to be streaming in and out of the NFL Experience, the league’s annual “interactive theme park.”
But as buzz goes, persistent media efforts to inflate Deflategate have fallen flat. Not even the New England Patriots want to talk about what the commissioner called “old news.”
If Patriots coach Bill Belichick has the President’s number saved in his cell phone contacts, he’s not saying. Likewise, quarterback Tom Brady’s mother is concerningly ill, but he doesn’t want to talk about it.
Each day since Monday the Patriots and Atlanta Falcons have been paraded before the media, and still – no buzz.
Belichick’s wardrobe, noticeably upgraded. Atlanta coach Dan Quinn’s Seahawks experience, duly considered. Receiver Julio Jones’ ascending star, definitely trending. And New England’s claim to seven Super Bowl appearances in the past 16 seasons has been noted, like the few other topics, again and again.
Let’s face it. The needle isn’t moving. The matchup – despite being billed as “the best offense against the best defense” – has failed to capture the nation’s imagination.
Houston, you have a problem. The Dallas Cowboys aren’t here.
Granted, the idea of Jerry Jones and his team coming to town for the big game was a subject of legitimate dread for fans of the Houston Texans.
As the city’s NFL poet laureate John McClain cautioned in the Houston Chronicle in November, “Read it and weep, Texans fans. Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys are coming to Houston for Super Bowl LI.”
Presumably, McClain meant it as an evacuation warning, in case anybody wanted to leave town. But Aaron Rodgers and the Packers diverted the oncoming Cowboys storm just in time.
Another headline in the Chronicle, right before the NFC championship game, predicted a Cowboys appearance in a Houston-hosted Super Bowl would be a “Fate worse than death.”
It’s the trophies, you see. And Jerry. And the way that, despite the Texans’ presence, the Cowboys seem to own the pro football fan base in every other county in the state.
When I showed some locals a story that appeared in USA Today this week under the headline, “The Dallas Cowboys are missed at Super Bowl LI,” they dismissed it as fake news.
But we know better.
Among the Falcons on Thursday, the talk was mostly about center Alex Mack’s fibula injury and receiver Julio Jones’ sprained toe. The Patriots’ quotes to the media, meanwhile, have mostly all ended with, “I’m just focused on the game.”
And that’s the problem. The Falcons have crashed the party. The Patriots and Cowboys franchises have 17 Super Bowl appearances between them.
If Jerry and the Cowboys were here, the spotlights and storylines would abound.
Nightly Owner Jones spottings would be on the 10 p.m. news. National reporters would eagerly be telling the stories of the two Cowboys rookies, Dez Bryant’s ex-monkey, Tony Romo’s next destination and maybe the beards on the offensive line.
In a regular season where the league’s TV ratings flagged in the first nine weeks, which team’s 11-1 start reinvigorated the second half? Whose defeat in the NFC title game alone caused Super Bowl tickets to plummet on StubHub by 21 percent?
The Cowboys invented NFL buzz.
A Cowboys-Patriots clash in Super Bowl 51 was what America wanted, even if Texans fans dreaded it.
Oh, well. How’s Julio’s toe, Houston?