On politicians and Super Bowl wagers

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, left, and New York

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, left, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg record an advertisement to appear during the Super Bowl. While the mayors joke about the New England Patriots and New York Giants rivalry, they use the ad to publicize for the work of their coalition, Mayors Against Illegal Guns. (Jan. 31, 2012) (Credit: AP)

John Jeansonne

Newsday columnist John Jeansonne. John Jeansonne

Jeansonne has been a reporter in Newsday’s sports department since

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In their unending quest to be populists, politicians can't seem to resist the notion that the Big Game is an exercise in provincialism -- Us against Them -- or that they should participate in Sunday's over-the-top event's lowest common denominator: gambling.

Thus have New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his Boston counterpart, Thomas Menino, announced a wager in which a family of four from the winning metropolis with receive a dream trip to the losing city in Sunday's Super Bowl.

Such dares involve huge assumptions about loyalties and geography. The Giants, though they carry the name "New York," train and play home games in New Jersey. Menino's New England Patriots are based in Foxboro, Mass., more than a half-hour drive from Menino's city.

Just two weeks ago, Giants placekicker Lawrence Tynes' overtime field goal against San Francisco saved Bloomberg from having to rename Manhattan's 49th Street "49er Street." And forced San Francisco mayor Ed Lee to outfit a San Francisco cable car with blue-and-red Giants flags.

Yet Tynes' connection to New York City is a recent approximation, at best. He was born in Scotland, raised in Florida, played college football in Alabama (Troy University), with professional stops in Kansas City, Ottawa and Scotland, and now lives in New Jersey. Steve Weatherford, who saved the slightly errant center snap for Tynes' kick, hails from Indiana.

Still, the goofy my-city-will-beat-your-city argument goes on, even as gambling addiction experts fear the tragic excesses of Super Bowl Sunday. It is the biggest gambling day of the year, a trigger for many with gambling problems.

At least the old ritual of politicians conjuring wagers on sporting events is essentially harmless. It even has evolved, at times, into a humanitarian gesture. Four years ago, when the Giants and Patriots met for the first time in the NFL's championship lollapalooza, Bloomberg and Menino arranged for the losing city -- backed by the largesse of local corporations -- to provide food for food banks and homeless shelters in the winning team's city.

Almost as often, though, the bets devolve into a silliness such as the one last month for the Denver playoff victory over Pittsburgh, when Pittsburgh mayor Luke Ravenstahl paid off Denver mayor Michael Hancock by donning a Denver Broncos jersey and publicly performing the act that has come to be known as "Tebowing" -- kneeling in prayer as Denver quarterback Tim Tebow routinely does after scoring.

Pennsylvania governor Edward Rendell, to fulfill an agreement with a then-Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney when the Philadelphia Eagles lost to the Patriots in the 2005 Super Bowl, sang the national anthem at a Boston Celtics game against the Philadelphia 76ers. Rendell fudged a bit by bringing his wife, a trained singer, on court with him.

And just last month, even the title game of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision -- the step below the major schools -- moved North Dakota governor Jack Dalrymple to bet Texas governor Rick Perry that North Dakota State would prevail over Sam Houston State. (North Dakota State did, and Dalrymple got a box of Texas grapefruit; another of Perry's recent losses on the public stage.)

New Jersey governor Chris Christie may have offered the most sober observation of these exercises recently, when he was asked if he would bet with Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick on Sunday's Super Bowl outcome.

Such a practice is "really stupid," Christie told reporters. "It's just politicians trying to get themselves in the newspaper on what's really a sporting event. As all of you know, I'm in the news enough. I don't need that as an excuse."

Besides, the Giants and Patriots won't be defending the citizenry or the status of New York and Boston. They'll just be playing football.