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Beat Goes On: Once More, With Healing

The game is a mismatch, the town is a rascal, and the cops are everywhere.

Everyone’s talking about patriotism, but the team wearing red, white and blue will probably have the dawn’s early light beaten out of it.

Everyone’s talking about security, but the probable winners were stolen from another city.

Thus, the Super Bowl will stagger into our homes this afternoon, as it has done for 35 years, wearing a gaudy tie of excess knotted above a wrinkled shirt of expectation.

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But also with a pulse.

A wonderful, familiar pulse.

We will recognize it not because it belongs to a player or a team, but because it is ours, the pulse of a nation that has been checking such things often since Sept. 11.

Listening to the quickened beat. Hoping for the slowing thump. Waiting for normal.

With the start of today’s Super Bowl XXXVI at the Superdome, that wait could be over.

For the four hours it takes for the St. Louis Rams to play the New England Patriots, something will occur that was unthinkable for most of the last five months.

The nation will halt for a football game.

Not for a speech. Not for a news flash. For a football game.

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It will be sweaty, bruising, even bloody, and that’s just in your family room.

But it will be normal. We will be normal.

The specter of armed guards and terrorist warnings will remind us it is a new normal, perhaps. But it is normality nonetheless, of a kind that couldn’t be discerned previously, at least not on this sort of giant stage.

The Super Bowl is Thanksgiving without the stress, Christmas without the religious wars, New Year’s Eve without Dick Clark. It is the World Series doubled. It is the Final Four squared.

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It won’t matter if it’s a terrible game. It’s almost always a terrible game.

It won’t matter if the TV announcers are lousy. We love the commercials.

It won’t matter that we eat too much, and spill on the carpet, and fall asleep on the couch. We do that every year.

The important thing about today is that, no matter what happened nearly five months ago, we are doing it again.

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In this Super Bowl, the most important play will not be the longest pass or most dazzling run or winning touchdown.

The most important play today will be the kickoff.

Members of the Kummerer family of Chandler, Ariz., will be sitting in my Los Angeles house with members of my family to watch that kickoff.

Circumstances have made it a pain--they will fly in on the morning of the game, they will fly home early the next morning.

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But they will be there because, for the last 22 Super Bowls, that is what our families have done. We watch the game together.

No matter where we live, no matter how busy we may be, no matter that we rarely talk the rest of the year.

On Super Bowl Sunday, minus a certain sportswriter, we are together.

For us, it is more than a game, it is a connection.

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The events of Sept. 11 have altered all of our lives in many ways. But it wasn’t going to change my family’s Super Bowl tradition. Not a chance.

For many of the 130 million viewers in the United States, today will undoubtedly be an affirmation of that same conviction.

Remember one of the first sports questions anybody dared ask after the terrorist attacks?

What about the Super Bowl?

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We asked it not because we cared about our football, but because we cared about our culture.

“We think there are many values in our game that are important to society at large today,” NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said Friday.

Corny, maybe. But this is what we’ve come to expect not just from our biggest game, but from ourselves.

What about the Super Bowl?

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Well, what about it? It’s here, and who do you like?

Do you like Goliaths? If you do, you will cheer for the Rams, who, with a high-scoring blowout, can proclaim their offense the best in NFL history.

It’s easy to enjoy Kurt Warner, the pleasant former supermarket worker who is becoming one of the greatest quarterbacks in history.

It’s easy to admire Marshall Faulk, the running back who has raced out of the New Orleans housing projects and into fame.

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Yeah, the Rams were virtually stolen from Los Angeles seven years ago.

But this is an entirely different team, and if they win, you can always mute Georgia.

Maybe, though, you like Davids? If so, then you should know that the Patriots are full of them.

Their quarterback, Tom Brady, was the 199th player taken in the draft, threw all of three passes in his rookie season in 2000, and is playing now only because starter Drew Bledsoe suffered an injury that nearly killed him.

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Blocking for Brady will be Joe Andruzzi, a guard whose brother is a New York firefighter who barely escaped the collapsing World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11.

Teaching Brady should have been the beloved Dick Rehbein, a quarterback coach who died suddenly before this year’s training camp.

Inspiration everywhere, and maybe it will help one team win, not that it matters.

Rarely, in fact, has a Super Bowl’s outcome mattered so little.

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Today’s game is about the national anthem, the national audience, the national psyche. It’s about four safe quarters of football, a safe afternoon of hot dogs and nachos, then a giant sigh as we leave our parties and step outside into the doubts of the still new year.

If the Super Bowl has survived, then so have we.

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Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com.

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