I’m predicting a Pissed Off Bowl I.
Coach against player.
Teammate against teammate.
Commissioner against team.
Brother against sister.
Oh, it should be lovely.
I think we’re going to see heightened player protests at the Super Bowl over race and injustice, thanks to President Donald Trump’s recent alleged use of the phrase ‘‘shithole countries’’ to describe Haiti, El Salvador and African nations. That the game will be played on Feb. 4, a few days into Black History Month, only adds to the probability of another protest.
That means two head coaches will have to deal with a perceived threat to team unity. They’ll fear a rift that will affect their teams’ performance. They’ll fear a split locker room and the possibility of players not working hard for each other. This is a coach’s idea of the apocalypse.
And just imagine the reaction nationwide to social issues being introduced to the biggest game. The fans who Just Want to Watch Football vs. the fans who Refuse to Just Stick to Sports. I foresee living-room brawls across the country and a massive nachos-cleanup effort afterward.
The possibility of people screaming at each other and missing all the $5 million ads will be enough to get commissioner Roger Goodell involved. And, as we’ve seen over and over again, nobody wants that.
NBC already has said it will train its cameras on any anthem protesters, so forget about ignoring them.
‘‘If there are players that choose to kneel, they will be shown live,’’ Super Bowl executive producer Fred Gaudelli said. ‘‘I would say, probably since Thanksgiving, a lot of that has kind of dissipated and died down. It’s certainly possible it could happen again.’’
Several things are likely to happen in the next two weeks:
† Players, possibly urged on by outside protest groups, will discuss making an on-field statement before the big game.
† Some players will be irritated that the biggest game of their lives is being hijacked. Others will spend too much time planning a protest.
† Coaches will get down on their knees and beg players not to do anything that could affect the team’s performance.
It’s the coaches who figure to freak out the most about this. What do NFL coaches fear? Their playbook getting leaked to opponents? Their best player injuring his knee? A late-night call from the police about their star wide receiver? Every one of those things.
But of all the issues that keep coaches awake at night, dissension among their players is at the top of the list.
And, oddly, that’s why so many NFL people were on the side of unity in the national-anthem debate this season. Owners. Coaches. Players. They were unified, arms locked. Who could be against unity? Unity is a fine thing, a noble thing! Unity equals good! Of course, not everyone was sure what they were unified against, but they were doing it together, and a team could rally around it. You almost could hear coaches sighing in relief afterward.
Coaches love a rallying point. They love a cause. I’m sure a decent percentage of them didn’t like the idea of players protesting during the national anthem, and you can bet a few don’t see what all the fuss is about when it comes to racial inequality in the United States. But they’d link arms with players over the right to drown puppies if it meant their team was unified, on the same page and ready to beat the enemy.
It’s why coaches constantly are pushing the idea of family on their players. If a player comes to think of the guy next to him as his brother, he might play harder. That’s the idea. The team that stays together plays well together. Never mind that no real family cuts a son, a father or a sister, tempting as it might be sometimes. And never mind that original anthem protester Colin Kaepernick was good enough to be family on at least 15 teams. But he was too scary, too controversial to be signed to a contract.
A Super Bowl protest, if there is one, might be too much for all involved. When the anthem protests broke out this season, there were plenty of protesters who weren’t even sure what they were protesting. There will be no avoiding the message this time. And I’m sure the president will use the highest blender setting to stir the pot again.
So we’ll watch the players, the coaches and each other. Oh, and possibly the game.
Then there’s this: No one knows what anthem singer Pink and halftime entertainer Justin Timberlake will do.
Ulcers are forming. And they have nothing to do with nachos.
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.