Pepsi in Coke country; here comes the Atlanta Super Bowl

© Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

ATLANTA — Super Bowl media day always has been crazy. Now it’s commercial. Now it’s “Opening Night Fueled by Gatorade.” Now it’s been turned into another spectator event, people in the stands and, of course, paying to get in.

Now it’s as choreographed as a Broadway musical dance routine.

Opening Night is for opera, Media Day is for sports.

Long ago the late, great Pete Rozelle, then commissioner, responded to the contention that the NFL was growing too large with the comment, “All we are is entertainment.”

Now all they are is a money-making enterprise determined to make more money.

The patron saint of the NFL used to be Vince Lombardi, after whom the championship trophy is named. No longer. It’s somebody who can get $2 million for a commercial.

Atlanta is where Coca-Cola was created and where the company is based. Bobby Jones, the golfer, the guy who won the Grand Slam — the only guy — was from Atlanta and owned stock in Coke. But for the NFL, tradition doesn’t compare to profits.

Super Bowl LIII is Sunday at Mercedes Benz Stadium (named for a car from Germany) and here, there and everywhere in Coca-Cola country are billboards that proclaim, “Look who’s in town for the Super Bowl.”

Besides the Rams and Patriots, that is? Oh yeah, Pepsi Cola. Oh, those, sneaky non-diet soft drink types.

Nothing consequential takes place on Opening Night. If you don’t count the infamous backpack incident. Blush.

That was two years ago, Super Bowl LI. Atlanta was playing New England — the Patriots always are in the Super Bowl, the way the Warriors always are in the NBA finals — but the real story was that Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was going to be named head coach of the 49ers when the game was over.

Back then, 2017, I was employed by the San Francisco Examiner and so was prepared to focus on Shanahan. Since the game would be at NRG Stadium in Houston, Opening Night took place at Minute Maid Park, where the Astros play. (Monday’s was at State Farm Arena, where the NBA's Atlanta Hawks play; the NFL might prefer La Scala in Italy where Opening Night is special, but it takes what is available.)

You’ve heard the tale. I get to the interview late, find Shanahan down the left field line, where he’s surrounded by maybe 20 writers, announcers and other unsavory types, set down my green backpack, which contains my computer, and start recording Shanahan.

After 20 minutes or so, I figure enough, and grab the backpack. But the lighting is poor, and as I find out from panicky cell-phone calls from a Falcons aide, oops, I took Shanahan’s backpack, also green, rather than my own.

The game plans were in Shanahan’s backpack. But I learn later that didn’t bother him as much as the thought of losing a couple dozen game tickets, at $1,000 each. My worry, when I learn of the mistake — I still hadn’t taken the pack off my back — was I would lose my laptop.

People, Falcons fans, accused me of being paid off by Bill Belichick. No way. Conclusion? We found out during this Opening Night on Monday 2019 that Belichick and Rams coach Sean McVay are texting buddies. Not exchanging strategy but good wishes.

The next thing you know, Bill will be on Facebook hoping people will “Like” what he posts.

What many would like is the comment out of the Opening Night chaos — song girls, an announcer shouting names as in wrestling and athletes getting their 10 seconds of fame — by Rams running back C.J. Anderson.

The ex-Cal star was in Super Bowl 50 at Santa Clara with Denver. Anderson then went from the Broncos to the Raiders to the Rams and thus to another Super Bowl.

Anderson said he’s always looked up to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, for which he shouldn’t be faulted even by people weary of the Patriots’ success.

“He’s always been inspiring and how he continues to prove people wrong,” said Anderson of Brady. ‘To be a late-round pick guy at 199, I’ve always respected what he does. He’s the best at what he does. Obviously he’s the GOAT of our game.”

As in Greatest of All Time.

As opposed to Opening Night. Not very great, but plenty noisy.