Gunner Guidry, the co-captain of subkrewe Inane of Krewe du Vieux, asked that whatever I write about the float that he and his fellow crewmembers made—a float-size rendering of lurid, livid, vaguely Little Shop of Horrors-ian vagina that was devouring a very unhappy looking papier-mache rendering of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell—make mention of Krewe du Vieux's mission statement.
Which mission statement reads: "The Krewe du Vieux is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the historical and traditional concept of a Mardi Gras parade as a venue for individual creative expression and satirical comment." So there is that, and then there is that predatory pudenda with the sport's powerful commissioner defeated in its… what, jaws? Aperture? And where those two collide—a long history and tradition of irreverence on one side, Roger Goodell on the other—there is what's almost certain to be the most memorable image of Super Bowl XLV.
It helps, of course, that the float is both hideous and wonderfully ornate—Mike Alltmont, an Inane krewemember who worked on the float with his wife and fellow krewemember Ava, pointed out that the giant vagina has "a lovely disco ball clitoris." This sort of thing—that is, jokes in blithely ribald bad taste, done with artisinal attachment to detail—is what Krewe du Vieux does. They did it somewhat earlier than usual this year, as the Super Bowl moved up Krewe du Vieux's parade and occasioned the Krewe's chosen theme, "Krewe du Vieux Comes Early," but it's what they always do. In the New Orleans Times-Picayune's review of the Krewe du Vieux parade, Doug MacCash notes that the Krewe "aims for eyebrow-raising, low-brow amusement and often hits the mark." Guidry was slightly more specific: "Through the years [Krewe du Vieux] has morphed itself into an adult parade and every so often genitalia seems to be sculpted." Alltmont was even more so: "There are a lot boobs, butts, cocks, balls, and vajayjays in Krewe du Vieux; we have sub-krewes named L.E.W.D., C.R.U.D.E., sPANK, and the Mystic Krewe of Spermes after all. That said, they are not always swallowing public figures."
The reason this particular genital item is eating this particular public figure has to do with with Goodell's harsh, extrajudicial and since-overturned suspensions of various former Saints after it was revealed that one of the NFL's worst defenses was also one of its most worst, with players hunting bounties for defective Cobra Kai godfather and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. That Goodell decided to play his authoritarian card during a season in which New Orleans was hosting the Super Bowl certainly did a lot to put his stressed-looking effigy inside that giant vagina, but is finally a matter of timing. Things did come together especially fortuitously in this case—the Super Bowl's Roman numerals inspired Krewe du Vieux's "Super Hole XLVag" concept, for instance. But even if the Super Bowl had been somewhere else, Guidry and Alltmont gave the impression that, one way or another, Goodell was going to wind up inside that vagina, or in a similar situation, if indeed any similar situation can be said to exist. An early concept, Alltmont relates, was a ten-foot Saints fleur de lis with "an extra-pointy bottom tip staked in Goodell's ass." That was eventually judged untenable; the "fire-breathing scary clown we have at our fundraiser" was not available to further augment Krewe du Vieux's float due to a scheduling conflict.
And yet this still seems something like the right float at the right time, and not only because, as Guidry says, "If you ask just about anyone on the streets of New Orleans, 'Would you like to watch the demise of Roger Goodell by a giant man-eating vagina?' Their answers would be 'yes.'" There is that, of course, but there's also everything else.
Goodell, in a way that even David Stern has barely dared, has tried to bring lockstep brand-managed predictability to the NFL. From the perspective that Goodell and the league's owners—at whose pleasure and as whose proxy Goodell serves—this is a fine idea; they view the league as a profitable business, and quite logically want to extract more profits for themselves from it. And so the owners locked out players, and then locked out officials, in search of maximizing profits on the labor side of the equation; so the league continues to hunt for leverage and explore synergies and hone its own wholly false brand truths, and generally behave with the not-quite-human but extremely self-conscious rapacity of any other corporation. The entire sport is now more or less a disaster area, strewn with the human wreckage that the game makes; it is also hugely profitable, increasingly popular, and arguably more entertaining to watch than it has been at any time in the past. It's a gold mine and a Superfund site at once. In short, a strange place.
There are various different ways that Goodell and the NFL's elite could confront this reality, and shape a future—thousands of looming litigants, fading into the damage the sport inflicts; lawsuits that could humble and conceivably bankrupt even this hugely profitable league—that's marginally less bleak. This can be done, and should be done—the NFL, for all its issues, is great to watch, and would be great to watch even if more serious and less cosmetic measures were taken to protect the players who are both the league's labor and its product, both on the field and after. None of these things are easy, none of them are perfect, and none of them will fully mitigate the violence that's not so much intertwined with football's appeal as intrinsic and inherent to it. But Goodell and the NFL are not doing any of those things, not really. The NFL's owners are getting while the getting is there to get; Goodell is managing that project for them. For the moment, at least in the most basic of bottom-line senses, it's working, although we can't yet know whether the NFL is growing into another stage of rude strength or merely bloating with sickness.
This Super Bowl will not be about that. It will be about what other recent Super Bowls have been about, which is a sort of dimly understood and loudly expressed and increasingly queasy sort of community—a thing we all do together, and feel increasingly strange about doing at all. The NFL is being devoured, if not by anything quite as picturesque or amusing/horrifying to look at as a giant papier-mache vagina. No wonder that effigy looks so fucking unhappy. That's the face of someone who knows what's coming, maybe not too soon, but soon enough.