How Not to Talk About the Super Bowl

Greg Olsen demonstrates how not to catch a football on February 4, 2016 in San Jose, California.
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Here’s something that many NFL fans often forget: The rules of American football are entirely arbitrary, and obey no logic except its own twisted blast of patent nonsense. That is to say that unless you know how the game is played before you watch it, it’s not often clear what’s going on, who the big players are, or why a particular play deserves the spotlight.

This is part of the reason why Red Zone is such a success, since it focuses on scoring points. Everyone can understand scoring points, even the people who can’t figure out why the game is called football since the ball looks like an egg and spends most of the time in someone’s hands. It’s cool. We get it, and we got you (or your clueless friend). We’re here to help you talk about the Super Bowl and not sound like a total know-nothing when you do so.

We’re not even really going to talk about most of the rules, because those will get explained as needed by the broadcasters — these guys fill a lot of air, sure, but a lot of what they say pertains to what’s happening on the field and is usually really good listening for the folks who don’t know what’s happening. No, instead, we’re going to hit on the big talking points of the game, and how to make yourself seem more knowledgeable while saying less.

First thing’s first, let’s tackle the quarterbacks. They’re usually the biggest names on a football team. They’re the ones who handle the ball and call the shots, at least nominally, and this year’s Super Bowl features one all-time great and one who could rewrite the book on what all-time great means.

How not to talk about Peyton Manning

during the AFC Championship game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 19, 2014 in Denver, Colorado.
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

If you know nothing, know that Peyton Manning is going to retire as one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, regardless of how he plays in Super Bowl 50. Odds are, he’s not going to deliver a performance for the ages, but he doesn’t have to, because Denver’s defense is the real star of the show. All Peyton has to be is competent, and that’s all anyone is really expecting from the guy at this point.

It’s hard to hate on a guy who can’t feel his fingertips in his throwing hand (this is a big deal for a quarterback, as you might suspect). So, if he looks less impressive than the accolades and the applause suggest, it’s because we’re essentially watching his farewell tour on the NFL’s biggest stage. A little respect is warranted, so save the HGH talk for after the game.

How not to talk about Cam Newton

Here’s the thing: Cam’s become sort of a lightning rod for the race discussion that the NFL has always been particularly bad at having: We’re all here to watch guys run into each other at high speeds, and not necessarily to dissect the language differences involved when people talk about a white quarterback or a black one. Not that the conversation isn’t worth having — far from it — but odds are, the average Super Bowl watcher — like, say, the host of the party and your friends — aren’t really interested in having the conversation during the game.

While Peter King’s assertions that this topic “jumped the shark years ago” or that it’s a non-issue because Russell Wilson made a pair of Super Bowl appearances is almost certainly wishful thinking, there’s loads of reasons to root for Cam, and none of them have to do with race, or involve his situation in college regarding laptops. Even though that is still hilarious.

How not to talk about the team you’re rooting for
(and how not to pick one to root for)

Chances are, if you’re reading this guide, you don’t have an abiding interest in either squad. That’s ok, despite what all the “real” fans will tell you. At some point during the broadcast, though, you will want to ditch the impartial observer act and start rooting for a team — that’s where a lot of the fun of watching the Super Bowl comes from, alongside the fact that every single one of these players is so far from normal on the athleticism scale that they can awe you on any given play.

But once you pick your team (and how you pick it is up to you, don’t let anyone fan-shame you here), make sure you’re not immediately transformed into the super aggressive version of a fan that will make everyone sick of being around you. You don’t want to be the guy that gets into a fight because of your fandom, especially since it’s brand new, and you don’t want to push anyone’s buttons. Remember, even if you think it’s stupid, some people get really into football. Don’t wind up talking smack to the guy who can’t take a joke.

How not to talk about the halftime show

speaks onstage at the Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Press Conferenceon February 4, 2016 in San Francisco, California.
Christopher Polk/Getty Images

It’s headlined by Coldplay. If you like Coldplay, that’s cool. If you don’t like Coldplay, that’s also cool, but there are many ways to express that fact beyond the easy joke you’re lifting from a movie that’s 11 years old. The fact of the matter is that most Super Bowl halftime shows aren’t particularly great anyway (unless it’s the one with Prince), so the inclusion of Coldplay doesn’t move the suck meter a whole lot. Sit back, enjoy the spectacle to the best of your ability, and if it’s really not your thing, go grab a beer or some wings.

How not to talk about injuries

Injuries are the worst. Seriously. There’s nothing good about them. If anything, the Super Bowl should be the two best teams in the league going at each other at full strength in a battle to determine their supremacy over the 2015 NFL season. Even if it’s a guy on the team you’re not rooting for, just say “man, that’s awful” and move on. Even if it’s “just” a concussion, which is something of a big deal in the world of the NFL these days. Saying things like “he should just play through it” makes you look archaic, not tough. Remember, even if you’re a new student of the game, you probably don’t want to see anyone getting hurt.