National Football League
Super Bowl of mirrors shows us how NFL has and hasn’t changed
National Football League

Super Bowl of mirrors shows us how NFL has and hasn’t changed

Updated Feb. 5, 2023 7:59 p.m. ET

As Kansas City beat Cincinnati on Championship Sunday, the Super Bowl storylines were drawn into a house of mirrors. Wander into it and you’ll find all sorts of parallels.

I am by no means the first to point this out. It’s been widely covered that Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is going up against his former team (Reid spent 14 seasons with the Eagles). It’s also not news that for the first time ever, the biggest game of the year will feature two Black starting quarterbacks. Nor will it shock you by now to learn that brothers will play each other for the first time. You might have even heard it from Jason and Travis Kelce themselves

But I would like to dive a little deeper. Because when you go through the looking glass, these narratives all reflect much more than coincidence. They speak to just how much the NFL has — and hasn’t — changed over its long and storied lifetime. 

Patrick Mahomes vs. Jalen Hurts


This year’s quarterback matchup is hugely significant for a league that has historically impeded Black men from becoming star quarterbacks. Warren Moon is currently the only Black quarterback in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

That fact does not reflect on Black QBs, but rather their lack of opportunity. 

Take Marlin Briscoe. In 1968, he set the Denver Broncos’ rookie passing touchdown record (it still stands today). But Denver forced him to play wide receiver for the rest of his decade-long tenure in the league. It took until 1988 for Doug Williams to become the first Black passer to win the Super Bowl, and there have only been two Black quarterbacks to bring home a Lombardi since — Russell Wilson in 2014 and Mahomes in 2020. 

As recently as 2018, when the Ravens drafted wildly talented quarterback Lamar Jackson, HOF executive Bill Polian asserted Jackson would make a better wide receiver than passer. 

Look, I’m not saying we’ve reached the pinnacle of equality with this Super Bowl. Far from it; it’s pretty depressing that this is the first time two Black quarterbacks have gone head-to-head. 

But it is significant that the NFL has gotten to this point, however late. At the start of the 2022 season, 11 of the league’s 32 starting quarterbacks were Black — that’s still a long way from equal, but it’s a long way from where professional football began.  

Kelce vs. Kelce 

What can the "Kelce Bowl" teach us about change in the NFL? On the surface, not much — many brothers have played in the NFL at the same time (I’m not sure if anyone remembers the Mannings? Google them if you get a chance). 

Here’s what Jason Kelce had to say about going up against his brother: 

"I kind of don't like that we're calling it the Kelce Bowl. Appreciate the support, but there's a lot of guys involved with this. There's major organizations involved. … We're gonna get asked about this question nonstop from here until the end of the game, and I'm already over it.

"Did we think it was going to be both of us? I don't know. I thought it could happen. But I didn't ever really fully anticipate it happening until pretty much last week. I was like, ‘Man, this could really happen. We could really have a ‘New Heights’ Kelce Bowl, and we could actually be doing this.'"

What he said is not as remarkable as where he said it and whom he said it to. This was a conversation between Jason and Travis on New Heights, the podcast they host together. Their show is, as of this writing, the No. 1 show on all of Apple Podcasts. 

Do you realize how absolutely bonkers that sentence would read in, say, 2014? Tom Brady wasn’t even on Facebook a mere nine years ago! Fans and media members and league officials alike would have been pulling their hair out over the fact that two brothers on different teams were publicly speaking to each other about the upcoming big game without a middle man (one might hope for a middle woman, but alas). 

But in 2023, this is becoming normal. Warriors star Draymond Green released a podcast after every one of his 2022 NBA Finals games. Athletes have been taking back their stories. Brady now has several production companies, and so does LeBron James, who produces many shows and series. The Mannings (did you Google them yet?) are the masterminds behind Omaha, their impressive media empire. 

Is this trend good or bad? I’d say good. For the majority of the time that pro sports have existed, athletes haven’t had their own voices. Can things go too far in that direction? Sure. We all remember Kevin Durant's Players Tribune article. But I’m not bemoaning the days of "journalism’s integrity," because that would mean romanticizing a very white, very biased world. 

There’s a way for athletes, reporters and commentators to all exist in the same media landscape. I know this because it’s happening. 

Andy Reid vs. the ghost of Andy Reid and Nick Sirianni vs. the ghost of Nick Sirianni  

What’s that saying? The more things change, the more Andy Reid stays the same? If you’re a traditionalist, there’s one thing you’ll like about this year’s Super Bowl. Which is that, no matter how hard organizations try — or don’t try — to bring in new coaches, the carousel still spins round and round. 

I’m just glad Reid is one of the last two still riding it. No other NFL coach brings as much glory or love to Hawaiian shirts and cheeseburgers. But not only is Reid facing the team he coached for 14 years, it's one currently coached by someone who briefly worked for Reid in Kansas City. 

Sirianni was the Chiefs' wide receivers coach when Andy Reid succeeded Romeo Crennel in 2013. Reid quickly fired Sirianni (but apparently did so nicely). Eight years later, Sirianni became the Eagles head coach. Now, a mere two seasons into his tenure, he finds himself facing the team that let him go with the boss who fired him. 

And Reid is facing his own ghost; the man who won more games as head coach of the Eagles than anyone else, but just couldn’t bring home a Lombardi. 

No matter what happens, this game is haunted by the past. And the present. 

Taylor Swift vs. Taylor Swift

You knew we’d end here, right? 

This has nothing to do with how the NFL has evolved. But I just want to say that Taylor Swift is an Eagles fan who wrote a song called Mirrorball. And now Philadelphia is playing in the Mirror Bowl. So perhaps she wrote this line about the Lombardi trophy: 

"I’m a mirrorball, I'll show you every version of yourself tonight

I'll get you out on the floor

Shimmering beautiful."

Charlotte Wilder is a general columnist for FOX Sports. She's honored to represent the constantly neglected Boston area in sports media, loves talking to sports fans about their feelings and is happiest eating a hotdog in a ballpark or nachos in a stadium. Follow her on Twitter @TheWilderThings.

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