Within seconds of the Kansas City Chiefs clinching the AFC Championship last month, I frantically messaged my editors a very important question:
Can I cover the Super Bowl?
It’s a request I’m sure many journalists make every year, but not me. I’ve never been a football fan. The Super Bowl has marked an important milestone for me only in that it’s a day when it’s socially acceptable to eat nachos, mozzarella sticks and pizza all in the same afternoon. Hell, 365 days ago, I couldn’t have told you what sport was involved in the AFC Championship if you’d offered me a million bucks.
But like millions of others worldwide, I have become deeply invested in the success of the Kansas City Chiefs since Taylor Swift started dating the team’s star tight end, Travis Kelce. At first, it was mostly just fun to see Swift in the stands at the games — a small jolt of excitement during what had otherwise been a nearly three-hour-long slog I endured for my boyfriend’s sake.
But as the season progressed, I found myself vacantly scrolling through my phone less and less during the games. Admittedly, I paid more attention when the Chiefs were on offense — and Kelce was on the field — but then I actually started to grasp most of the rules of the game. My questions went from “Don’t you think the ball should light up so we can see it better?” and “Do those blanket-jackets the players get draped in when it’s cold have arms?” to “Why would you ever go for a running play over a passing play?” or “Which coach is giving plays to Patrick Mahomes in his earpiece?” I even started clutching a red-tinted carnelian crystal during games, which I am convinced has something to do with the Chiefs’ success this season.
Or maybe its magical powers worked on my bosses, who actually agreed to submit me for a Super Bowl credential. For any real sports fan reading, fear not: I will be accompanying three of my esteemed colleagues in The Times’ sports department, who will be all over the ins and outs of the big game. My purview is strictly the Taylor Effect.
For even as I’ve come to appreciate the sport more, it’s still Swift and Kelce’s love story — and the millions of people who support it — that I find most captivating. In fact, it was when I watched Swift walk onto the field after the AFC match — a place I never dreamed her security would allow her to venture — that I knew Super Bowl LVIII would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. When else is the biggest pop star in the world going to be at America’s most popular cultural event not as a performer but to cheer on her boyfriend? All while bringing a whole new audience to something that already seemed ubiquitous? How rare is it to witness soul-affirming romance play out on such a public stage?
I’ve become irrationally angry with those who have suggested that their courtship is some sort of elaborate public relations stunt. Like, really: How cynical do you have to be? Yes, these are two people who are well aware of how highly documented their lives are. In fact, my biggest issue with Swift — a woman who on the whole I admire and whose music I’m obsessed with — is how concerned she can seem with her image.
During her first acceptance speech at the Grammys on Sunday; instead of allowing herself to get swept away by emotion, she instead moved ahead with a plan to announce the forthcoming release of a surprise new album. And after months of her onscreen discussions being parsed for meaning by amateur lip readers, she brought a fan to hide her mouth from view during the show.
I get why she would be consumed with concern about her reputation, of course. Having your every interaction scrutinized by TikTok sleuths or criticized by right-wing pundits must incite a level of anxiety that’s unbearable. And I think that’s why I’ve found the Swift we’ve seen during her Kelce era so refreshing.
Despite what she called the “dads, Brads and Chads” annoyed by her presence at NFL games, she’s continued to show up. She’s posed for photos in box suites and at afterparty celebrations, seemingly unconcerned with who ends up posting her off-hours activity on Instagram. She walked onto a field, kissed her man and told him she loved him when she knew everyone could hear. The level of IDGAF that takes? I aspire to it.
And then there’s Kelce, who has proved to be the living embodiment of boyfriend goals. Since arriving in Las Vegas on Sunday, he’s been subjected to two news conferences in front of the media, each about an hour long. At the first, which took place during Monday’s Super Bowl opening night ceremony at Allegiant Stadium, I counted at least 17 questions about Swift: What’s it like to date her? What’s his favorite of her songs? Does he have any plans for Valentine’s Day?
Never once did he show even the slightest hint of irritation. He answered every inquiry graciously — if sometimes too vaguely — praised Swift repeatedly and said she’d taught him how to “check his ego at the door.”
Can you imagine another male athlete who would be that willing to share the limelight with his girlfriend? What if Swift sat in front of the media for 60 minutes’ worth of questions and a third of them were about the dude she was seeing? How pissed would everyone be? How pissed would I be?
And yet this guy, who is about to play one of the biggest games of his career, barely seems bothered by it. Not only does he understand the assignment, he’s getting an A+.
I’m leaving for Vegas on Wednesday, where I hope to witness and report on some of this chaos up close. I’m as hopeful as any Swiftie that I’ll get to share some “seemingly ranch” with Swift or chant Beastie Boys slogans with Kelce. I accept that the closest I may actually get to either of them is as one of the irritating journalists who asks Kelce a Swift-related question at yet-another news conference.
But this has not stifled my excitement. And yes, I will also be watching the game — though I’m thinking I might keep my opinions about a light-up football to myself while shoulder-to-shoulder with sports journalists in the press box. But I will not be a dispassionate viewer. After perusing Etsy for a disturbing amount of time, I have purchased a Kelce T-shirt; he’s making the Swift heart hands on it. I bought red and gold beads in bulk and have made an alarming number of friendship bracelets to trade with any Tayvis fan I encounter. My crystal is packed too — I’m just worried it won’t be allowed past security, given that its sharp tip could be viewed as some sort of weapon. But hey, with a little luck?