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Played in the Super Bowl's shadow, the FBR Open did just fine

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February 8, 2008

While driving the rental car I was lucky to get toward the FBR Open last week, I noticed traffic going the other way was going nowhere. Except, that is, for a motorcade of buses, escorted by police cars with lights flashing flanked by motorcycle cops. A funeral? Senator John McCain? Britney Spears? No, even bigger. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots! They were being whisked off to practice for Super Bowl XLII, another excuse for New York and Boston fans to insult each other, up close and highly personal. Until this perfect confluence of loud and louder, the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale was the loudest place in the desert. But the mighty NFL took over this year, not that you would know by FBR attendance figures. Thousands of people at the golf tournament probably didn't even know there was a football game in town. Then again, there were probably thousands of people at the golf tournament who didn't know there was a golf tournament in town, either.

Ambivalence was not as prevalent among PGA Tour golfers. Billy Andrade didn't play the FBR but flew in for the game, anyway. So did fellow chowderhead Brad Faxon, on wounded knee. Massachusetts-born Tim Petrovic went to the Media Day scrum for a TV gig and proposed a trade to Giants' quarterback Eli Manning: two golf passes for two Super tickets. The Giants have serious backers, such as Jim McGovern and J.J. Henry. "I grew up in Connecticut, rooting for LT and that bunch," said Henry, referring to Lawrence Taylor, the linebacker who credited golf with saving him from a substance-abuse habit. (Isn't it supposed to be the other way around?) Joe LaCava, caddie for Fred Couples, brought his Jeremy Shockey jersey for good vibes. When the Giants were last in a Super Bowl -- XXXV, in Tampa, also during the Phoenix tournament -- LaCava had invitations from locals to watch the game on TV. LaCava, who is not anti-social, locked himself in a hotel room; he likes to be alone with his team. "If I'm home, sometimes I'll let my son in," said LaCava, who attended XLII.

Thousands of people at the golf tournament probably didn't even know there was a football game in town.

Golfers such as Joe Ogilvie worried less about the final score than its ultimate result. A stock-market student, Ogilvie would be aware that when an original NFL franchise such as New York wins a Super Bowl, the Dow Jones Industrial Average usually rises for the year. When a franchise such as New England -- which joined the NFL in the 1970 merger with the American Football League -- wins, the bears tend to devour the bulls. Aussie Aaron Baddeley, defending FBR champion, lives in Scottsdale and is quite Americanized. But he's still learning NFL football. Most international pros find our sports slow -- imagine a golfer calling other sports slow -- but as Baddeley noted, you could play almost two Australian Rules football games in the time it takes for one NFL game, when the ball is live for about 11 minutes. "You have many more commercials and interruptions," said Baddeley. "When you first see [the players] huddle before every play, you wonder what they're doing. But, obviously, it has a purpose. Our football is more make it up as you go along."

The tour can't seem to get away from football. In Hawaii the first two events of the season were up against NFL playoffs. Last week, the biggest in the history of a region that didn't have pro teams until 1968 (NBA Suns), clearly was dominated by Super Bowl mania. That's understandable, but this isn't: The previous week's tournament, the Buick Invitational, was staged during a football-free zone, yet ratings for Tiger Woods' bravura victory were down 18 percent from 2007. For sure, you could count Phil Mickelson among XLII couch potatoes. He thought about rushing off to the game from the FBR, but only briefly. "Still in mourning," said the lefty, a bereaved San Diego Chargers' booster.

What's nice about last week, at least for football fans, is that Super Bowl XLII shall not be forgotten. With New York and Boston involved, there will be dozens of really terrific books hatched about the great game between two of America's great meccas for overkill. Many will be at grocery stores by Valentine's Day, by which time, traffic permitting, I will have returned the rental car I was told I was lucky to get. "There's a Super Bowl in town, old-timer," said the agent. Really? That's why I reserved it in 2004. That gave them four years to place a newspaper on the front seat. This used to be a courtesy. Now it's to cover a hole in the upholstery. But there was another front-page picture of Brady, who, during a lull in mass interviews, asked the same question they asked at the FBR. Where's Tiger? Aware that Nick O'Hern was in this field, Woods chose another desert to conquer. Wait. Here it is. The first Super Bowl XLII book! Brilliant!

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