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February 03, 2011 8:29 am

SPORTS GUY: The end is nigh

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Wednesday morning, Punxsutawney Phil, that world-renowned groundhog meteorologist, was unceremoniously hauled kicking and screaming from his den in the midst of a 50-year blizzard to inform folks that he couldn’t see his shadow, couldn’t feel his toes and really just wanted to get the heck back to bed and curl up under some warm blankets.

Not coincidentally, this Sunday, my wife will emerge from her burrow in the bedroom, gaze around the corner and realize that she can’t see football on the television. She will then concur that, indeed, spring must be close at hand.

We have arrived, once again, at Super Bowl Sunday. The Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers will clash in a game that’s predicted to set a record for the largest attendance in Super Bowl history.

If achieved, that number will be a tad deceiving. For whatever reason, the NFL is counting those paying $200 each to stand around outside the stadium watching the game on special large-screen televisions as part of the crowd.

As an entrepreneurial aside, if anyone’s interested, I have a television that you can watch the game on for a pair of C-notes as well. As an added bonus, I won’t charge you the $50 parking fee found in Dallas and the beverages won’t be $9 a pop either.

The Packers, at the time of this writing, are 2.5-point favorites in the game, a forecast that predicts one of the closest Super Bowls ever. That number might look a tad quizzical considering the Steelers received a first-round bye in the playoffs while the Packers were the last team in on the NFC side of the bracket, but there’s a reason for that.

Remember, the folks who decide the favorite in each game aren’t concerned about whether or not the Packers are really 2.5 points better than Pittsburgh. They’re seated in Nevada casinos concerned with putting up a line that assures as close to a 50/50 split among money wagered as possible. With an estimated $90 millon being wagered on the outcome of Sunday’s game, it’s the single biggest business decision made in Las Vegas each year.

And so far, Green Bay fans have hammered the Strip throughout the NFL playoffs. Apparently the only thing those Lambeau crazies up north love more than cheese is laying down some green on their beloved Packers. So it isn’t surprising to see a prediction skewed toward Green Bay in this instance.

Again, it isn’t about accuracy. It’s about business.

Personally, I’ve gone back and forth on this one. I think the Steelers are the better team, but they also come into the game as an extremely banged up team. Remember, this was a side that had exhausted its supply of eligible offensive linemen in the third quarter of the AFC title game just 10 days ago. In a contest that frequently favors the defense, that can’t be a good thing.

Green Bay, meanwhile, has arguably been playing the best football since the month of November and needs to deliver just one more time.

Lost amid all the forecasts is the fact that Sunday might feature the last NFL game anyone sees in quite some time. The shadow of a possible lockout for the 2011 season is looming large. The head of the NFL Players Association is on record as saying that, on a scale of 1-10, the odds of a lockout are “a 14.”

That sort of assessment makes you question what sort of advice the record-setting 56 underclassmen who waived the rest of their eligibility to make themselves available for the NFL draft later this year were receiving. It certainly doesn’t leave one optimistic for next season.

So enjoy the Super Bowl this Sunday. Next fall the only football banter you hear on Sundays may well be that of millionaire players squabbling with billionaire owners.

The end is nigh. And for the record, Pittsburgh 21, Green Bay 17.

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