One week or two? The NFL returned this year to a longer break between league championship games and the Super Bowl, giving America a weekend in between to catch up on the Winter X Games.
And, while the anecdotal evidence suggests a better game usually comes out of the shorter break, it turns out there are plenty of good reasons to play the game in February for only the second time in 38 years.
Among them, it:
gives Bill Belichick time to develop game plans for next season's opener, too;
allows Houston extra time to plant 20,000 trees to beautify the city. Unfortunately, one extra week isn't enough time for the seedlings to grow big enough to obliterate the chemical plants, oil refineries, strip malls and topless clubs that litter Houston.
gives He Hate Me time to update his marketing portfolio.
allows drug companies an extra week to gear up for their own big game, the erectile-dysfunction bowl. Operating under the theory that advertisers know their audience, two companies that make medications to improve male sexual function will be advertising during the Super Bowl, while a third is thinking about it.
gives party girl Paris Hilton time to get to Wal Mart, buy a map and find out where Houston actually is.
gives CBS seven more days to make sure no one actually sees Houston on television.
makes people realize just how dull Belichick and John Fox really are.
allows Tom Brady time to show off his Young Republican credentials at the State of the Union speech as a guest of Laura Bush. New England fans are hoping Brady has been studying Carolina's defensive schemes as much as President Bush's tax cuts.
gives halftime acts Janet Jackson, P. Diddy, Nelly and Kid Rock longer to get their lip synching together.
gives Houstonians time to practice their smiles. With an estimated 120,000 Super Bowl visitors on the way, Mayor Bill White unveiled a new slogan for the city: ''Put your smile on. Company's coming!''
allows that company plenty of time to party and gives the average fan another week to think about how he'll never be able to afford to see the game in person.
makes players grumble under their breath that the loser's share is a mere $36,500 hardly enough to buy a good used Cadillac Escalade. Each member of the winning team gets $68,000, but you do the math on this one. Start with 70,000 tickets times $500, which equals a cool $35 million live gate alone for the NFL.
allows additional time to update outfits for the Lingerie Bowl.
delays the opening of Arena Football for another week.
makes football fans forget what the salary cap has done to the NFL, turning it into a parity-driven league where teams can't afford more than one superstar and dynasties are a thing of the past.
forces reclusive Carolina owner Jerry Richardson to come up with new reasons not to talk to the media.
gives CBS accountants more time to count $2.3 million for every 30-second commercial. The Super Bowl is one game immune to the trends of declining sports viewership, with an estimated 88.6 million people watching last year.
gives corporations another week to convince shareholders that spending $2.3 million to air a 30-second commercial while most people are taking bathroom breaks is a good thing to do.
gives Doritos' scientists more time to come up with that elusive low-carb chip.
helps everyone forget the Panthers were once best known for having Fred Lane, Rae Carruth and Kerry Collins on their roster. Lane was shot dead by his wife, Carruth was convicted of plotting his pregnant girlfriend's murder, and Collins was punched in the face by a teammate for using a racial slur.
allows people to discover the Manning in this game is Ricky Jr., not Peyton, Eli or even Archie.
gives oddsmakers a chance to come up with more goofy wagers for the betting-challenged, such as which team will win the opening coin flip.
allows time for someone to convince himself that he knows who will win the opening flip and convince his wife that putting the rent money on it is not really such a gamble after all.
gives authorities more time to raise money to make sure the subways are safe from terrorists oops, that's the Athens Olympics.
gives Jake Delhomme more time to scour the Daily Racing Forum for some quarter horses to buy.
gives fans more time to figure out who Jake Delhomme is.
allows masterminds at other networks to counterprogram with shows such as ''Travel Channel's World Poker Tour Battle of Champions'' or ''Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.''
The real reason a two-week break is needed for this Super Bowl, though, is simple:
It gives the NFL's potent publicity machine more time to convince fans that two teams that win by not taking chances, refusing to throw the ball downfield and relying on the other team's mistakes are going to give us a great game, after all.
No, wait a minute. Even the NFL can't do that in just two weeks.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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