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The problem for the Homecoming Court

When you win all the time people resent you (and other lessons from the Super Bowl)

Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift celebrate after Super Bowl on Sunday. Associated Press/Photo by John Locher

The problem for the Homecoming Court
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Part of the early Taylor Swift story was the importance of the Forgotten Girl as a narrative hook. Shot through the product/positioning (again, I have nieces) was this idea that Swift was continually “passed over” in favor of other, cooler, prettier, richer (choose your qualifier here) girls … which cultivated in her audiences a sense of relatability that would power the marketing and make her one of the most commercially successful human beings of all time because let’s face it, almost everyone has felt passed over by someone at some point.

But it’s hard to continue making the Forgotten Girl argument when you’re on television at the Super Bowl every 11 seconds, due to dating one of the more prominent members of a team that wins all the time. What may have begun as a deft marketing twinkle in some executive’s eye, may ultimately prove to work against Taylor Swift inasmuch as everyone really hates the Prom Queen and has since pretty much the beginning of time. As it turns out, Swift has chosen to sit at the cool kids’ table, and is now one half of the most insufferable couple at your high school, circa whenever.

Swift’s actual narrative is pretty boring (which isn’t her fault). She was a white girl of some means who moved from Pennsylvania to Nashville to become famous, and then succeeded at it. The fact that she’s been able to sell us on “Forgotten Girl” all these years is, perhaps, her single greatest achievement as a storyteller.

And the only thing that scans as “authentic” about Travis Kelce’s “love affair” with Swift, is the adoration that Kelce clearly has for himself. The fact of the matter is, Hollywood and Madison Avenue have a rich history of dreaming up love affairs in boardrooms and using them to sell products to us. It’s actually a pretty cool/funny premise and I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often. I mean, Mr. and Mrs. Smith (Pitt, Jolie) grossed $487 million despite being pretty bad. I rest my case.

Kelce needs to look at the body of work of the True and Better Football Meathead, Rob Gronkowski, to find his way forward.

But what to make of Super Bowl LV-whatever, in light of the above? I’m sick for Kyle Shanahan because a football game did actually happen, and while Roger Goodell got the ending he wanted, Shanahan didn’t.

The most likable member of the Kansas City Chiefs is their brilliant coach, Andy Reid, who will only be remembered, in the context of this game, for being screamed at on the sideline by his celebrity “tight end”—which I put in quotation marks because anyone who knows anything about football knows that Travis Kelce doesn’t block. The second-most likable member of the Chiefs is defensive end George Karlaftis.

The fact of the matter is, in the cold, hard morning-after light of day, a lot of people involved are going to have to re-engineer their victim narratives in order for this thing to have any long-term viability. Swift will have to be “hurt” in some way by the Prom King, in order to get audiences back on her side. It’s hard to buy Patrick Mahomes as an “underdog who nobody believed in” as he stays busy owning the Kansas City Royals and also a soccer team.

Kelce needs to look at the body of work of the True and Better Football Meathead, Rob Gronkowski, to find his way forward. Gronk has made himself likable, despite winning all the time, because of a heady admixture of actual physical prowess mixed with self-parody. He’s the guy on the Homecoming Court you actually like.

The NFL will have to find another narrative to foist upon us next season, because clearly putting on football games isn’t enough for a company that supposedly puts on football games. The narrative they choose will have to include hefty doses of Underdog, of Nobody Believed in Us, of Social Commentary, and of Celebrity Value.

Somewhere there’s a boardroom full of people, already writing on glass.

Ted Kluck

Ted Kluck is the award-winning internationally published author of 30 books, and his journalism has appeared in ESPN the Magazine, USA Today, and many other outlets. He is screenwriter and co-producer on the upcoming feature film Silverdome and co-hosts The Happy Rant Podcast and The Kluck Podcast.  Ted won back-to-back Christianity Today Book of the Year Awards in 2007 and 2008 and was a 2008 Michigan Notable Book Award winner for his football memoir, Paper Tiger: One Athlete’s Journey to the Underbelly of Pro Football.  He currently serves as an associate professor of journalism at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and coaches long snappers at Lane College. He and his wife Kristin have two children.

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