Published February 03. 2013 4:00AM
Remember the good old days when the only thing that seemed to matter about the Super Bowl was who won?
This year so many controversies on and off the field have shifted the focus away from the game it's tempting to speculate that viewers will be less enthralled with the score and more tuned in to the many subplots:
• Did Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis use deer-antler spray and pills containing a banned product connected to human growth hormone to help him recover from a torn right triceps?
• Will this be the last Super Bowl to feature hard hits before the National Football League imposes new concussion-mitigation rules that turn the game into a glorified game of touch football?
• How many fans in the stands will be wearing Manti Te'o masks?
• Will Alicia Keys really be singing the national anthem live, and if so, will she remember the words and hit the right notes?
Actually, serious concerns about steroids threaten the "integrity" of not just the NFL on Super Bowl Sunday but nearly every professional sport. In the aftermath of the Lance Armstrong doping scandal, which late last year stripped the former bicycling champion of his seven Tour de France victories, as well as the latest drug allegations involving New York Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez, it's been open season on athletes allegedly using banned performance-enhancing substances - even golfers.
Vijay Singh withdrew from the Phoenix Open last Thursday, a day after admitting he administered the same deer-antler spray Mr. Lewis is accused of using. The 49-year-old golfer claimed to be "absolutely shocked" it may contain a substance banned by the PGA.
Really? Shouldn't the fact he supposedly paid a whopping $9,000 for a simple nasal spray made from deer antler velvet, along with hologram chips and other products, have been a tipoff?
His words echo the line from "Casablanca," when, just before pocketing his winnings, charmingly corrupt police Capt. Louis Renault tells Rick, "I'm shocked. Shocked to find that gambling is going on in here."
Well, most of us no longer are shocked by the behavior of pro athletes.
Thirteen years before the deer antler spray controversy, Mr. Lewis was involved in a much more serious matter. Following a Super Bowl XXXIV party in Atlanta, the football player was involved in a fight in which two people were stabbed to death.
Police charged him and two companions with murder and aggravated assault, but dropped serious charges after he agreed to testify against the others. Mr. Lewis pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice, was sentenced to 12 months' probation and fined $250,000 by the NFL. His companions eventually were acquitted.
The following year, 2001, Mr. Lewis was named MVP of Super Bowl XXXV when his Ravens crushed the New York Giants, 34-7, and he was well on the path toward redemption.
Longtime fans of the New England Patriots will remember Irving Fryar, the former All-Pro receiver who scored the Pats' only touchdown in their 46-10 loss to the Chicago Bears during Super Bowl XX in 1986 despite stab wounds on his fingers - apparently inflicted during a fight with his wife.
A few weeks before Super Bowl XLI between the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts in 2007 police arrested Chicago defensive tackle Tank Johnson for possessing unregistered guns and assault rifles. A judge granted him permission to play in the game, which the Colts won, 29-17.
So by those standards, the travails preceding today's game between the Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers seem trivial.
The fact is when it comes to the NFL, most fans prefer to forgive and forget bad behavior, and even the most naive 9-year-old knows better than to regard any player as a role model.
As for the Super Bowl, almost as many of the hundred million or so expected viewers say they will tune in for the commercials and the halftime show - especially after Janet Jackson's notorious 2004 wardrobe malfunction - as for the game itself.
If so, the ad scheduled to air during today's game featuring the Minnesotan who adopts a carefree attitude and Jamaican accent after driving a Volkswagen perfectly reflects prevailing sentiments when it comes to football and its various scandals: No worries, mon.
Of course, some think the commercial is racist and culturally insensitive - so apparently there's no escaping controversy after all.