The Real Highlights From the Super Bowl

While lots of commentators are dissecting the plays and the players, here is what really mattered in the Super Bowl broadcast.

football play book

For me, the highlight of the Super Bowl is that the San Francisco 49ers are still at five Lombardi trophies, one behind the record held by my Pittsburgh Steelers and some team based in Boston. 

But there were highlights, too, for those of you who aren't yinzers. So I'll run through a few and explain how they relate to insurance — starting with the total absence of cryptocurrency ads.

Weren't we being assured for years that the entire economy was about to be rewired around decentralized digital currencies? What ever happened to that notion? What does the crypto crash tell us about other ideas that might be fads (beyond that we shouldn't just take Matt Damon's word for it when he tells us that "fortune favors the brave")?  

I'll be rather quicker than normal because I'm headed to the airport and to México City to help my older daughter celebrate her 30th birthday. She was born there but has no recollection of the city because she wasn't yet two years old when we moved back to the U.S. We're going to wander around and acquaint her with the city of her birth.

On to the highlights. Mine aren't as jazzy as Chris Berman's, but I hope they're more helpful.

Fortune Favored the Cautious

Cryptocurrencies are still around, of course, and Bitcoin has more than doubled in price since languishing in the doldrums in the second half of 2022 and into 2023. But the total lack of Super Bowl ads (the "dog coin" that didn't bark?) shows how much more perspective we've gained on the prospects for the currencies and for spinoffs such as non-fungible tokens (NFTs). 

Even if crypto eventually becomes the core of our financial system (and I'm a skeptic), it faces the sort of chicken-and-egg problem that slowed the rollout of high-definition television. I saw demos of HD TV decades ago, but the same old analog signals were driving them, so there was almost no difference in the resolution I saw on the fancy new screens. Nobody was going to spend thousands of dollars on an HD TV just to get the same reception they always had. It was only after most of the back end of the television world became digital that there was enough sharp, new video to justify the switch.

So there's no need to figure out how to take payments in digital currencies, no need to rush out a host of new coverages, etc.

The lack of crypto ads also got me thinking about how we can all distinguish fads from real business trends. In addition to crypto, I've been skeptical about the metaverse (here, in 2021) and virtual reality (including Apple's new Vision Pro), while touting generative AI (including in this piece last spring), and I feel quite comfortable with all those predictions. Why? The rule of thumb for breakthrough innovation is that it needs to be 10X the status quo — not 10% better, 10 times as good.   

Crypto doesn't even work nearly as well now as our banking system does. Turning myself into an avatar without legs in Mark Zuckerberg's metaverse feels like a distinct loss to me, too. At least with the Vision Pro, I can see gamers loving it, but I'm simply not going to strap a 1 1/2-pound weight to my face to go online, not when my laptop, phone and iPad all do nicely. Generative AI, by contrast, has all sort of immediate applications to help, for instance, gather documents for underwriters and claims that pass the 10X test for parts of the work. 

While Matt Damon comes across as a good guy, fortune only favors the brave when they're headed in the right direction. In the case of crypto, fortune favored the cautious, as it does with all fads.

Social Media Is Forever

Troy Aikman got snippy back in September 2019 when someone noted on Twitter (now X) that "Patrick Mahomes has thrown 36% of Troy Aikman's career touchdowns, in about 8% of the games."

Aikman, who won three Super Bowls in the 1990s as the quarterback of the Cowboys, replied: "Talk to me when he has 33% of my Super Bowl titles."

Well, Mahomes and the Chiefs won the Super Bowl after the 2019 season and have now won the last two, as well, so Twitter dredged up the old exchange and made sure Aikman knows that "Patrick Mahomes would go on to win 100% of Troy Aikman's Super Bowl titles before turning 29 years old." 

I think we just about all have gotten the message by now to be careful on social media, but reminders never hurt. Right, Troy?

On the Other Hand...

...Social media can be your friend, if you use it right. Yes, lots of social media is toxic these days, but people still respond to clever posts, and they can be used to help, say, an agency build a persona. 

One of my favorite examples is Merriam-Webster, which decided it didn't need to be dry. It drops little pearls of cleverness into my feed from time to time, including this one, based on a snippet showing Taylor Swift and two friends hooping and hollering in reaction to a big play by the Chiefs. The droll caption reads, "When you spell ‘restaurant,’ ‘definitely,’ and ‘accommodate’ correctly in the same sentence." (Warning: If you read lips at all, you'll see Blake Lively scream a word that starts with "f.")

Trey Wingo, a sports broadcaster, does personal branding with clever tweets like this one, mocking the conspiracy theories about how Taylor Swift's dating Travis Kelce is somehow part of an elaborate plot to win reelection for President Biden while also taking a shot at the bloviators who claimed earlier in the season that she was distracting the Chiefs and costing them games. He puts her face on a famous photo of longtime Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson smoking wearily during halftime of the first Super Bowl. The caption reads: "Taylor Swift after carrying the Chiefs all season to a Super Bowl victory."

Oh, okay, here's one more just because I like it. Someone posted this widely shared image of Kelce screaming at his coach, Andy Reid, and added the best caption I've yet seen: “We’re losing, coach! She’s gonna write a song about me! She’s gonna write a song about all of us!!!!!”

Close up image of Travis Kelce yelling in Andy Reid's face during the SuperBowl

For Heaven's Sake, Know the Rules

The overtime rules for the Super Bowl changed a couple of years ago — but some 49ers players say they didn't get the memo. They didn't know that both teams were guaranteed a possession until they heard the referee say so at the start of overtime.

I see no reason to think that the lack of knowledge affected the outcome. While some commentators say the new rules meant the 49ers shouldn't have decided to receive the kickoff in overtime when they won the coin toss, head coach Kyle Shanahan had gamed out all the possibilities ahead of time. Still, the lack of understanding is unforgiveable.

Communicating key messages is a pain for executives. They not only bore themselves with their repetition but are sure they're boring their audiences. But I've never heard a CEO say they communicated too much, and I've heard a lot wish they had hammered their messages home more. 

Simplicity Sells

While Tony Romo got so involved in explaining the new overtime rules that he talked over the winning touchdown, here is Dora the Explorer explaining a false start. There's a reason the Nickelodeon broadcast was so well-received — and, as I've been saying for years, I think the insurance industry's language could use a hefty dose of simplification.

A Bonus Highlight, From My Steelers

Yes, I know my team hasn't even been to a Super Bowl since 2011 and last won one in 2009, but the culture that pervaded the 49ers during the Bill Walsh days and that seems to be back reminds me of the importance of culture to all organizations — and great culture reminds me of the Steelers.

Steeler culture is often traced back to Art Rooney, the founding owner, and there's some truth to that. "The Chief," as he was known, instilled some kindness into what can be a brutal business. For instance, when Rocky Bleier came back from Vietnam with a right foot mangled by a grenade, Rooney told him to just worry about healing for a couple of years. The team would take care of him. Bleier, of course, more than repaid the kindness in four Super Bowl wins, including catching a game-winning pass in one. 

Steeler culture is also about steadfastness concerning its leaders. They have had only three head coaches in 55 years, and the current coach, Mike Tomlin, who has never had a losing record in 17 seasons, is only 51 years old. I'd say that steadiness is a piece of the culture, too.

But for me, the culture really took root the day Joe Greene showed up in camp, having been taken with the fourth pick in the first round of the 1969 draft. He was not only spectacularly gifted but competed so ferociously against the Steelers offensive linemen that the veterans told him to take it easy, to save his energy. They'd line up for the next play in practice, and Greene would blow up the whole line once again.

Eventually, the offensive linemen got the idea and started working much harder in practice, too, if only out of the need for self-preservation. Then the defense started filling in around Greene — Jack Lambert, Mel Blount, Jack Ham, Donnie Shell, LC Greenwood... all playing with the same sort of talent and intensity. The offense took longer but finally developed in the same mold, with Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Mike Webster and more.

Culture matters so much to businesses, and the Steelers have always been my model for how to get a culture right. The 49ers are probably a great model, too, though I'm far less familiar with them — and am in no hurry to have them win their sixth Super Bowl.

So much for being brief. Oh, well. Vamos a México.