Greg Cote

Welcome Patriots, Rams and a sweating, squirming NFL commissioner

Super Bowl With a Smirk returns this year beginning with a daily needling jab at the self-important NFL and the oversized gravitas of its big game. Flying under the banner, “Make Fun, Not War,” Smirk is an annual Super Bowl Week feature in the Miami Herald except years we forget to do it.

We football fans don’t agree on much, but can we at least all agree it’s sort of fun to watch Roger Goodell squirm?

Or is it just that we’re so used to it?

Thinking of the NFL commissioner awkwardly attending a Patriots game right after his Deflategate ruling. Or trying to explain away his fumbling of the Ray Rice case. Or his league’s years of inattention to brain-trauma injuries. Or his own waffling on players protest-kneeling during the national anthem. Now controversy even chases Goodell inside the holy sanctum of his Super Bowl.

This is the week the league is supposed to be worshiped and celebrate itself and still the beleaguered commish needs an umbrella for what would dampen his parade.

As the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams arrive for this coming Sunday’s Super Bowl there are reminders all over host city Atlanta that this is the Super Bowl the league’s officiating blunder stole from New Orleans. Angry Saints fan Matt Bowers has rented seven billboards that say things like SAINTS GOT ROBBED and NFL BLEAUX IT!

Other Saints fans took the league to court — welcome to Suit Bowl LVIII — hopelessly trying to force Goodell to act on Rule 17 Article 2 Section 3, which enables a commissioner to reverse an outcome or reschedule a game entirely or in part if an “extraordinary act” occurs.

The suit never had a chance, even as the NFL slapped a $26,000 fine on the Rams cornerback whose pass-interference mugging and helmet hit on the Saints receiver was never called even though 55 million viewers all saw it.

What we are left with is a #BoycottSuperBowl hashtag, fans who think the Rams shouldn’t be here left to root for the bleepin’ Patriots, and, of course, Goodell forced once again to put on a fake smile and pretend all is well.

Did you watch the Pro Bowl on Sunday? Yeah, me neither. It’s the unofficial kickoff to Super Bowl Week, and this year Miami’s Xavien Howard had an interception in an AFC win. But the game itself is now usurped by the Skills Challenge, whose signature event is (we’re serious, unfortunately) a game of Dodgeball. Other Skills Challenge events include dreaming up fake injuries to avoid playing in the Pro Bowl and patently egregious, Super Bowl-altering officiating blunders.

The lid on Super Bowl Week continued to lift Monday with two other major events: The opening of the NFL Experience, a week-long interactive theme park where fans can get autographs, kick field goals and simulate kneeling during the anthem; and Opening Night (formerly Media Day), where both teams gather for the first time for en masse media interviews. The only real pertinent question this week: “Why are the Rams here?”

The Rams arrived in host city Atlanta 3 hours 15 minutes after the Patriots on Sunday. Based on the 80 percent of betting money going toward New England, the Rams are also expected to be way behind the Patriots this coming Sunday as well.

The National Weather Service has a winter storm watch in effect for several metro Atlanta counties starting Monday night. The uncooperative conditions are being blamed on the same official whose blown call screwed the Saints from appearing in the big game.

Tom Brady led Patriots fans in a raucous “We’re still here!” chant at a sendoff rally at Gillette Stadium. (”Yes, we know,” forlorn Dolphins fans replied in a sad chorus).

The NFL is investigating a green laser pointed at Brady during the AFC Championship Game. “My client has an alibi,” said an attorney for Smirk..

PIzza Hut for this week only has changed its name to Pizza Hut Hut Hut. The chain denies it is a publicity stunt.

Something Else Designed to Annoy Don Shula, one in a series: USA Today ranked every Super Bowl-winning team, 1 through 52, and the only Perfect Season team, the 1972 Dolphins, finished third behind the 1985 Bears and 1989 49ers. “!@#$%!” said Shula.

Super Bowl Party Tip Du Jour: Surprise and delight your guests by serving haggis, a Scottish dish consisting of minced sheep’s or calf’s organs traditionally boiled in a bag made from the animals’ stomach lining. Even better, once it cools, knead the organ-filled casing into the shape of a football for decorative serving!

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