Super Bowl LVI has a lot to live up to. This year’s National Football League playoff games were among the most exciting of all time, and Super Bowl champion quarterback Joe Theismann thinks Sunday’s game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Cincinnati Bengals will continue to have fans on the edge of their seats.
“If the playoffs are any indication of what we may see in this Super Bowl, it should be a classic,” the NFL MVP told Yahoo Finance Live.
The Rams will be going for their second Super Bowl win after their victory in 2000 against the Tennessee Titans, while the Bengals are hoping to bring home the Lombardi trophy for the first time in franchise history.
“I think it's going to be very competitive,” Thiesmann said. “When you look at the playoffs that we've had over the last two or three weeks, you have to think that this game is going to be that kind of a football game. The Rams are favored by four and a half. I don't think they can win by that many. I think it'll be a much closer football game. I am picking the Rams. This is the earliest I've ever picked a team.”
Theismann predicts the Rams will beat the Bengals by a field goal, but did not discount a Bengals upset.
“If the Bengals win, I don't think anybody would be surprised. I know it's their first opportunity. The Rams have been here just a few years ago, and didn't quite get it done. So now they're back again to have another shot at the brass ring, but I think it's going to be a terrific football game.”
A record 117 million people are expected to watch the Super Bowl on NBC Sunday. That would be a 21% increase over last year’s big game, and it would leapfrog the current No. 1, the Super Bowl in 2015 between the Tom Brady-led New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks, which drew 114 million viewers.
This year’s Super Bowl is also set to become the biggest legal gambling event in football history, with bettors expected to wager more than $7.6 billion on the game.
“We didn't have legal betting for so long so we should be setting records all the time. People love to bet on football," said Theismann. "I think we're going to see handheld devices in the stadiums in the not too distant future where people will be able to bet, whether it's going to be a pass or a run, or whether they'll pick up the first down or not, or whether the punt will be 42 yards or 47 yards. I think all those different propositions will wind up coming into the game as we move further and further with the development of technology and the world of gaming.”
A new legacy
Theismann, who won the Super Bowl in 1983 with the then-Washington Redskins, believes the team’s new name, the Commanders, is appropriate.
“To me, it speaks to Washington itself as a seat of power when it comes to the military, which I honor tremendously," he said. "You'll never take away the championships we won as a Washington Redskin, and we have that as our legacy. Now it's a chance for these young guys to have a new legacy going forward.”
Theismann also said he liked the fact that the team’s colors, burgundy and gold, remain the same.
'It's not touch football'
Theismann famously suffered one of the worst career-ending injuries against the New York Giants in 1985 when he broke his leg in two places during a sack by Lawrence Taylor. Four decades later the league continues to grapple with player safety, including the debate over brain injuries.
“It's a contact sport. It's a violent sport,” said Theismann. “That's what it is, especially at the professional level. And you're going to have injuries... but I think the league continues to strive to make it safer and safer. I would hate to see the integrity of the game completely annihilated because it's not touch football. It's professional tackle football, and we can continue to do the best we possibly can to be able to protect the athletes.”
Revisions to NFL rules since the 1980s are designed to protect quarterbacks — something Theismann wishes he had 40 years ago.
“I'd still have my own teeth. Are you kidding me?” said Theismann, adding that it wasn't a penalty "when Byron Hunt took my teeth out. That to me would have been roughing the quarterback.”
In some respects, he thinks efforts to protect QBs have gone too far. “It goes to a point sometimes where I just shake my head and say, wow, it's like they want to make it two-hand touch for the quarterback.”
When asked about controversies plaguing the NFL, including issues of racism, sexual harassment, and accusations of throwing games, Theismann said, “I don't know enough about it to make those comments. I do know that the league will do everything it can to be able to make it right, to be able to be the diverse organization that they want to be going forward, and that hopefully the opportunities will be presented to everybody who is qualified to be able to be a head coach in the National Football League, and some of the other things that need to be dealt with."
He added, "But those are all things I guess you could say are above my pay grade when it comes to the National Football League. But I believe the National Football League will be here. And we get a chance to celebrate I believe what's going to be an incredible football game on Sunday.”
Alexis Christoforous is an anchor and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @AlexisTVNews.