🏈 Happy Friday! With Kobe's passing and today's Super Bowl Special, send times were all over the place this week. Thanks for bearing with me. Love you.
Today's word count: 2,263 words (8 minutes).
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
The Super Bowl isn't just a football game. It's the halftime show; it's the ads; it's the seven-layer dip; it's the fact that, for four hours on Sunday night, nobody is expected to be doing anything else.
Why it matters: The Super Bowl is one of the last remnants of an era when we all watched the same things at the same time. It is the "live sport" of all live sports, which is currently the only form of content tethering many consumers to traditional TV.
The backdrop ... With youth football participation falling, several states debating whether a tackle version of the sport should even be allowed, and NFL stars retiring in their 20s due to health concerns, there is a growing sense that America's moment of "peak football" may be in the past.
The bottom line: The conflict between football's cultural grip on America and the clear risks involved in playing it represents one of the great dramas of our time. The story will continue on Sunday — with 100 million people watching.
Go deeper: 54 things to know about Super Bowl 54 (CBS Sports)
Prop bets at Bally's Atlantic City Hotel and Casino. Photo: Wayne Parry/AP
With sports betting now legal in 14 states, the American Gaming Association estimates $6.8 billion will be bet legally and illegally on Sunday's game.
Latest lines (as of 4pm ET):
Go deeper: Super Bowl betting cheat sheet (Action Network)
So much red...
Patrick Mahomes plays the QB position unlike anyone else. Between the sidearm slings, the no-look passes and the weaving scrambles, he's made so many ridiculous throws that there is an entire glossary of them.
Jimmy Garoppolo has not been asked to do much this postseason (17-27, 208 yds, TD, INT), but don't be fooled into thinking he's merely a "game manager."
Tyrann Mathieu has done it all for the Chiefs this season and is one of the few truly position-less defenders in the NFL (look at this activity map! He's everywhere!).
Nick Bosa, who grew up in nearby Fort Lauderdale and will likely be named the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year tomorrow, is already the face of the 49ers' defense.
More key players:
Go deeper: Under-the-radar Chiefs and 49ers who could be heroes (SB Nation)
Andy Reid has built an offensive juggernaut in Kansas City thanks to an otherworldly QB and the NFL's fastest group of receivers. He also happens to be the sport's most valuable play-caller.
What they're saying: Chiefs WR coach Greg Lewis spoke about Reid's study habits and attention to detail, saying he has "a beautiful mind."
"He studies college games, high school games, CFL games, European games. He'll go look at stuff from 1910. ... He is able to compartmentalize everything then bring it out at the right moment [and] put it in terms everyone understands, and that's special."
On defense ... the 49ers' defensive line faces a unique challenge: generate constant pressure on Mahomes while playing disciplined enough to contain him and keep him from extending plays outside the pocket.
The bottom line: This is the marquee matchup of Super Bowl LIV: Mahomes and his speedy receivers vs. Bosa, Buckner and San Francisco's fearsome front.
Go deeper: Evaluating the Chiefs offense vs. the 49ers defense (The Athletic)
Kyle Shanahan uses the same zone-running scheme that his father, Mike, used to lead the Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowls in the late 1990s.
What they're saying: Future Hall of Fame LT Joe Thomas said Shanahan's scheme was his favorite offense he ever played in.
"It was like a computer program where everything was dichotomous; it was either a zero or a one and you knew exactly what you had to do on every single play and why."
On defense ... The Chiefs have one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. Their best bet at disrupting San Francisco's attack is 311 pound DT Chris Jones, who will try to wreak havoc on the interior against an O-line built for speed not brawn.
The bottom line: The marquee matchup — Mahomes vs. the 49ers — may not end up being the decisive one, as the action on the other side of the ball reflects a bigger point of differentiation between the two teams.
Go deeper: The 49ers are reinventing old-school NFL offense (WSJ)
Photo: David Eulitt/Getty Images
Andy Reid, 61, hasn't been to the Super Bowl in 15 years and is the NFL's best coach to never win one, making him the sentimental favorite among neutral fans.
Kyle Shanahan, 40, was a 49ers fan as a middle schooler due to his dad being the team's offensive coordinator when they won Super Bowl XXIX in 1995.
Photos: Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images; Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images
Amid the car and beer commercials, Michael Bloomberg and President Trump will air dueling campaign ads, which were revealed yesterday.
The Bloomberg ad features an emotional mother still grieving the loss of her son, who was killed by gun violence. She cites Bloomberg's history of seeking tougher gun laws as the reason she now has "a dog in the fight" for the presidency.
"I know Mike isn't afraid of the gun lobby — they're scared of him. And they should be."
The Trump ad is more celebratory, with images of the president's rallies and a narrator boasting about low employment and an America that is "stronger, safer and more prosperous than ever before."
"America demanded change, and change is what we got."
In related news ... Brands like Stella Artois and Burger King have decided to sit this year out.
During the week leading up to the Super Bowl, athletes and celebrities can be seen cruising "radio row," where they sit down with local and national sports radio shows to talk football and, more importantly, promote some stuff!!!
How it works: An athlete or celebrity offers to appear on a show. In exchange, the show agrees to plug whatever product the athlete or celebrity is promoting.
Between the lines: There's an underlying order to it all, with guests getting bigger as the week progresses. A "Monday guy" is a retired player plugging a CBD company, while a "Thursday guy" is Dan Marino representing Marriott Bonvoy.
Photo: Rich Graessle/PPI/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Easy: This will be the 49ers' seventh Super Bowl appearance. Which of the following teams has appeared in more?
Medium: Super Bowl LIV will be played at Hard Rock Stadium, which has gone by many different names since opening in 1987. Which of the following names was not used?
Hard: 24-year-old Patrick Mahomes has the chance to become the youngest player to ever win the Super Bowl and an NFL MVP award.
Answers at the bottom.
53-year-old Dan Meers has served as the Chiefs' mascot, KC Wolf, for the past 30 years, making him the NFL's longest-tenured mascot by at least a decade.
"I never was a great athlete, but God turned around and gave me a 30-year NFL career. How many guys get to say that?"— Meers, per WashPost
The backstory: Meers began his mascot career in college at the University of Missouri, where he excelled as "Truman the Tiger," placing in the final four of the Universal Cheerleaders Association's annual tournament three years in a row and defeating Akron's "Zippy the Kangaroo" for the title in 1989.
The other mascot: Meers knows 49ers mascot, "Sourdough Sam," and calls him by far the best dancer of any mascot in the NFL. "If we had a dance-off, Sourdough Sam will win that every single time."
Go deeper: Man behind KC Wolf is a "Mascot on a mission" (YouTube)
So many dips! And what's up with all the cake?
Enjoy the game,
Kendall "Perfectly content with buffalo wings" Baker
Trivia answers: Denver Broncos; Alltel Stadium; Brett Favre (27 years old)