EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Super Bowl doesn’t have to be all crazypants excess, NFL avarice and Richard Sherman auditioning for his own reality series.
It can be about civic mission, too.
That’s why I’m here.
It’s all fine and good that Spokane, and the rest of the Northwest, is agog, a-Twitter and a-Facebook about another Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl, and enjoying the much-needed economic bump it’s generating in sales of licensed apparel and hangover meds. But that gold rush will peter out.
And it’s just recycling our own money.
We need something more. We need what Omaha’s getting – national name notoriety.
“Omaha has kind of taken on a life of its own,” Peyton Manning admitted the other day.
And the city has the Denver Broncos quarterback to thank for it.
No fewer than 75 times in the Broncos’ two playoff games, microphones have captured Manning barking out “Omaha!” during his pre-snap signals, signifying … well, no one has been able to break Manning’s code yet. For all anyone knows, it means nothing at all, a third-base coach tugging on his ear simply because his lobe itches – though it’s probably an indicator to his offense during an audible that the snap is about to be triggered.
In any case, it’s meant a starburst of attention for the Big O.
At Denver International Airport, all flights to Omaha are now listed on the departure board as “Omaha!” Announcements at gates and baggage claim also come with exclamation points.
Five Omaha businesses earned some good will by kicking in 800 bucks to Manning’s Peyback Foundation for every mention during the AFC championship game – a cool $24,800.
But frankly, they can afford it. The national pub is priceless.
Omaha hasn’t had a PR bonanza like this since Marlin Perkins was revealing the mating habits of the African dik-dik to sell life insurance on “Wild Kingdom.”
I think you know where I’m going here.
Why can’t we get Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to shout “Spokane!” as he calls out signals on Sunday?
“Spokane!” he could holler. “Spokane! Set! Hut!”
Is that a touchdown for the city or what?
“Just think what it would do for Spokane,” agreed Eric Sawyer, president and CEO of the Spokane Sports Commission.
And frankly, it makes more sense.
What’s with “Omaha!” anyway? It isn’t even in the same time zone as Denver, much less the same state. Nebraskans don’t root for the Broncos, they root for subsidies. And “Omaha” sounds too much like “Obama” – Republicans will likely demand three hours of airtime for Cathy McMorris Rodgers to bark out rebuttal code words after Sunday’s broadcast (“Empowerment! Secure our borders!”).
Whereas “Spokane!” is a natural for Wilson.
He is, after all, now a Texas Rangers baseball farmhand, plucked by the Spokane Indians’ parent club in the minor league draft. And he plans to go to spring training. Can a month of summer ball at Avista Stadium be far behind?
And as far as our relationship with Seattle, OK, we might not be in the cool kids’ club. But at least it’s only a four-hour drive to visit our tax money.
“All the eyes are on Seattle,” said Visit Spokane president and CEO Cheryl Kilday. “If it could be a little more about all of Washington, there’s an opportunity for us.”
What kind of opportunity?
One analyst of sports sponsorships told USA Today that the mention of a brand name by a participating player during this time could be worth up to $40,000 in exposure.
“It’s similar to the millions of dollars people pay for commercial time during that game,” said Rich Hadley, president and CEO of Greater Spokane Incorporated.
So I put it to Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, the man who has to traffic cop all the play-calling: How about a shout-out for Spokane?
“Ha ha ha,” he laughed.
“Uh, it really doesn’t flow off the tongue quite as well,” he said.
C’mon. This is football, not phraseology.
“Maybe you could call a play that,” Bevell said, trying to let us down easy.
Oh, no. Nothing doing. The next thing you know, Wilson calls the “Spokane” play in the huddle, throws an interception, it gets run back for a touchdown and Percy Harvin gets hurt again trying to make the tackle. The Seahawks lose and Seattle ditches its disdain for us and nurses a grudge instead.
“I can hear them saying, ‘We always knew Spokane was our problem,’ ” Sawyer predicted.
No, it has to be the pre-snap code word, or nothing at all.
“Of course, you know what would happen,” Sawyer said. “He’d yell ‘Spo-cain!’ instead of ‘Spo-can!’ Then we’re back where we started.”
Which is rooting from the sidelines. For Peyton Manning to get laryngitis.