Today separates the real football fans from the ones who are outfitted with pink hats and voted for Mayor Menino.

But seriously, I detect an overpowering lack of Super Bowl XLVII interest in the camp of professing New England Patriots fans.

It’s as if playing in the Game Labeled With Obscure Symbols No Longer Taught In Most American Schools is considered a divine right. Apparently no NFL season counts if it ends with two other franchises bidding to put their fingerprints and chapstick on the Lombardi Trophy.

How soon they forget. Or perhaps how soon their shallow grasp of football history is exposed.

Real Patriots fans, you see, remember what it was like before Robert Kraft rescued the franchise from its legacy of overflowing toilets, wild card celebrations ending in fan electrocution, and sexual harassment. Before Bill and Bill. Before Bledsoe and Brady. Before three titles. Prior to five Super Bowl appearances in 11 years.

Almost every season ended before Christmas. Nay, Halloween. So rather than allow the professional sports season we loved most to fade into early irrelevance, we took a deep breath, made the sign of the cross and chose a fallback team.

Yes, that’s right. Boys far shy of adulthood learned the feeling of being married to a shrew and seeking comfort in another’s welcoming arms. We weren’t proud of it. It was a survival tactic.

Since I made the rules, I even chose two teams — one from each conference. Mine were the Washington Redskins and (don’t laugh) Cincinnati Bengals.

The Redskins are an easy one to explain. They had The Hogs, who were a prodigious offensive line by the pre-PED standards of the day. To a fat, uncoordinated kid, they made the dream of athletic glory appear attainable.

There was John Riggins, the running back who looked like he hated haircuts as much as he loved beer and was the antithesis of the sleek, streamlined position he played on the field.

Washington had the Smurfs, the Fun Bunch, and Mark Moseley with his Super Jock-style kicking approach and single-bar facemask. Even Joe Theismann seemed like a great guy before he started dating Cathy Lee Crosby, became an insufferable analyst and made commercials touting his overactive bladder.

And people forget how good the Bengals were, first with the unflappable, consistent Ken Anderson under center, then the flaky but limitless Boomer Esiason. I can still do the Ickey Shuffle. Oh, and it was Cincy and Sam Wyche who brought the no-huddle offense to the NFL, not Buffalo and Marv Levy, let the record show.

I share this sordid history of my wandering eyes to inspire you, my fellow Patriots (or Giants or Steelers or Cowboys) fan, that yes, it is possible to enjoy tonight’s game without any chance of your team being showered in confetti.

Which begs the question: Who should be your fallback team?

That’s a tough one this year, especially if you’re like me and find the Harbaugh family nearly intolerable as the Manning clan.

Cheering for the Ravens feels wrong on multiple levels.

They eliminated the Patriots from two of the past four postseasons, most recently in humbling fashion one fortnight ago. They lack both a filter and a shut-up button. They, like a certain Patriots tormentor before them, have a quarterback with the personality of aluminum foil who fancies himself “elite,” yet is maddeningly mediocre in any month not named January or February.

They have Ray Lewis, who as a by-product of his team’s success, has supplanted Tim Tebow and reclaimed his rightful status as the most polarizing player in football. One clear common demoninator and obvious reason they’re both despised by many is their tendency to talk a lot about Jesus. I respect and honor them for that. One notable difference between the two is that a boatload of people still believe that Lewis murdered somebody in 2000. I do not, but I don’t have the time or patience to argue about it.

The 49ers feel less threatening to the Foxborough Faithful, unless you count their employment of Randy Moss. They’re safely tucked in the NFC West, where we only have to see them every presidential election year.

San Francisco shares much with the 1980s dynasty that carved its identity, chiefly the fact that it’s hard to dislike them. They go about their business with professionalism and class. With few exceptions they have built up the old-fashioned way: By stinking out loud long enough to accumulate oodles of plum draft picks and using them wisely.

Like the ’80s version, they’re led by a dynamic, innovative coach who had the courage to unleash a middle-round draft pick over the safe, veteran choice at QB (think Alex Smith as Steve DeBerg) and unveil a non-traditional offense designed to his skill set.

I’m not yet convinced that Colin Kaepernick and the Pistol will revolutionize pro football for two decades the way Joe Montana, Steve Young and the West Coast offense did. But it brings an excitement that is so often missing from the post-collegiate game. That alone is reason enough to admire the 49ers.

Jim Harbaugh is sort of the hyper-caffeinated frat boy to Bill Walsh’s professorial aura, but that’s OK, too. As a Patriots sympathizer and quote-hungry journalist, I find that much easier to like than Bill Belichick’s apparent conviction that he is guarding military secrets.

And so it is that I will root, with relative comfort, for the 49ers tonight. Ray Lewis is no John Elway. He already has a ring. I’m also fully convinced that God loves all the guys in the red jerseys, too.

True football fans respect any entity that escalates this great game to a higher level. The ‘Niners are on the threshold of doing that.

What are sports, after all, without rooting interests, even temporary adopted ones? More dull than a Belichick press conference.

Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. His email is [email protected]


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