The NFL loves booze. It's no coincidence that 10 Super Bowls have been played in New Orleans, the football-loving birthplace of the Mannings and notorious drinking town, where discarded go-cups line the festive path to the Superdome.
Alcohol is without a doubt the drug of choice among NFL fans -- a visit to the local liquor store reveals oodles of NFL-related advertising, and beer ads are a staple of any NFL broadcast, no matter how inane -- but this weekend something different is going down.
The NFL visits the capital cities of marijuana legalization in America.
Both Seattle and Denver, the biggest cities in the first states to legalize cannabis, are hosting conference championship games on Sunday. And the road teams -- including our own San Francisco 49ers -- are from areas that also have liberal cannabis laws.
What's this mean? Weed smoke in the tailgate area, for sure, but also a loosening of the NFL's notorious rules on drug use.
It is, of course, nothing but a coincidence that the two states that made drug reform history in Nov. 2012 would have successful playoff football teams in January 2014.
It is, however, becoming more and more likely that an NFL team would come from a place where at least some of the citizens can use cannabis legally: 20 states now allow some use of the drug. So sooner or later, weed smoke will scent a Lombardi trophy victory parade.
This has partially forced the NFL's hand on this issue, which for a long time was a non-starter. When weed went legal in Nov. 2012, league officials were quick to say that marijuana, which has wrecked a number of football careers, would remain a banned substance.
Possibly sensing the lunacy of banning players from the field for conduct freely and openly enjoyed by fans in the cities on national TV for eight hours on Sunday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell backed away from a hard-line stance and said that it was "possible" players would be allowed to use the drug.
From impossible to possible in 14 months. Not bad -- but in a league where chronic pain resulting in chemical dependency are common currency, it's literally high time.
To what extent marijuana has taken over fans' chemical preferences at Mile High Stadium in Denver or CenturyLink Field in Seattle remains to be seen. It's still illegal to consume marijuana in public in those cities. A blunt at the tailgate is still off-limits. though just three people were cited for using marijuana by Denver police on Sunday, according to spokesman Sonny Jackson (similar stats weren't handy from Seattle, but cops in both cities reported "no change" in fan behavior. Calls to the PR departments of the teams weren't returned Wednesday).
And none of this means much to the millions of NFL fans in football-mad places like Florida, Texas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Watching at home, they won't likely see much of this weekends' broadcasts dedicated to proselytizing for pot, nor will they see Super Bowl ads extolling weed's power (and with good reason: for the price of a 30-second Super Bowl commercial, you could run a ballot initiative campaign to legalize marijuana in California).
For now, with the New Hampshire legislature the first in the country on Wednesday to pass a legalization bill, legalization pushers have more important things to do that preach to football fans. But weed is on peoples' minds.
And "hopefully there will be a break in the beer commercials for a discussion of marijuana laws," said Mason Tvert, the Denver-based spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project (and the brains behind the simple TV ads pushing pot broadcast at NASCAR).
After all, "playing football is more dangerous to your health than smoking marijuana," he noted. So which one's illegal, and which one is a $9 billion business, again?