By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Feb 14, 2022 at 3:56 PM Photography: NFL Facebook

Happy holiday, everyone – no, not Valentine's Day, the Super Bowl, that day where we celebrate all things American: ads, violent sports and more ads.

Ah, I'm not gonna act like I'm better than it. This year's holiday featured the best helmets in the NFL – the Los Angeles Rams and the Cincinnati Bengals – clashing for the Lombardi Trophy, with the star-studded Rams pulling off the victory, 23-20, in front of a California crowd. But who REALLY won? And who REALLY lost? And who REALLY was scared by those beat-boxing Doritos-addicted jungle animals? Let's talk about the real winners and losers of Super Bowl LVI.

Winner: Los Angeles

Finally a small unheralded city like Los Angeles got its moment in the sun. Side-eye aside, the City of Stars was indeed a star on Sunday night – from the gorgeous new stadium to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in front of the hometown fans at the end. Plus, the halftime show was great, but much of that was due to the energy of the California crowd loudly eating up the several West Coast icons on stage, the stars and screaming fans clearly appreciating one another and appreciating the significance of the moment for the city and the cullture. The delighted hometown halftime act worked so well that I think the Super Bowl halftime show should always feature an act from the area. So look forward to Semisonic and Atmosphere if the Super Bowl comes to Minnesota!

Most impressive of all? It seemed like the L.A. fans actually showed up for the game on time! 

Loser: Ligaments

The Super Bowl's exciting conclusion almost wasn't, as star players' knees and legs made like the Bengals bandwagon and evaporated before our very eyes.

First Rams receiver Odell Beckham Jr. suffered the most insidious kind of knee injury: the non-contact variety, tearing his ACL merely trying to catch a short pass in the first half. Then during a sack, Matthew Stafford bent his ankle in a direction that ankles are not meant to go, hobbling for much of the rest of the game. And because fate was working really hard to make sure the game never got THAT interesting, Joe Burrow then screamingly injured his knee – the one that already exploded a season ago – rendering him a stiff shell of his livewire self for the final quarter.

Luckily, the quarterbacks all managed to stay in and keep things intriguing for the final few drives – but a brutal all-backups Super Bowl finale was just a few ACL fibers away from becoming a deflating reality. Thank god for medical tape. 

Winner: Cincinnati Bengals

Yes, they technically lost – but let's all remind ourselves that the Cincinnati Bengals weren't even supposed to be there Sunday night.

For one ... they're the Bengals. Two seasons ago, they only won two games. Their last winning season before this one was in 2015. Star quarterback Joe Burrow (25 years old) wasn't even alive the last time the Bengals won a postseason game – not make it to the Super Bowl, but merely win a single game in the playoffs.

But most importantly, even if you thought the Bengals would improve this year with a full year of Joe Burrow, you would've raised quite a few eyebrows if you picked Cincinnati to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl before the season started – or even at the start of the playoffs. This was still a team that won just four games last year, and while the Bengals were predicted to improve and at the very least entertain, they weren't supposed to contend for a title. Much like the Atlanta Hawks in last year's NBA playoffs, they totally outperformed expectations, became America's team for a month and placed themselves impressively ahead of schedule – no longer the team that's next, but the team that's now. 

Sunday was arguably the easy part, playing with house money in the Super Bowl (and coming out respectably, even with the L). Now comes the hard part: expectations. The Bengals aren't sneaking up on anybody next year – and while some teams build on success, others crumble. And ... well, that thing about being the Bengals.

But they've got Joe Burrow, and as long as they can keep him upright and chucking the ball to the likes of Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, that could and should be enough to stay a contender. About that, though ... 

Loser: The Bengals offensive line

Me: We won't see a worse performance this postseason than the Green Bay Packers' special teams unit. 

The Cincinnati Bengals offensive line: Hold my Skyline Chili ... 

In the end, the Bengals sacrificed poor sweet Joe Burrow to the Rams defense seven times during the Super Bowl. SEVEN TIMES! And somehow that wasn't the most he'd been sacked in a single game this postseason, with the Titans pummeling Burrow into the ground nine times back in the divisional round. Maybe they call him "Joe Cool" because he always needs to wear a full body suit of ice packs for four days after every game. 

Again, even though they lost Sunday night, this season should be considered a massive success for Cincinnati. They were within one bad rushing play on third down of tying or even winning the Super Bowl – and they got THAT close all while their star quarterback spent 75 percent of the game either running for his life or sideways crushed into the ground. If they can get even just one capable offensive lineman during the offseason – hell, just start a turnstile; couldn't be any worse – and keep Burrow's knee from further turning into hamburger meat, we may somehow see a repeat Super Bowl from the former Bungles. What a world ... 

Winner: The last two minutes

For a close game – the tightest final score in almost a decade – between two exciting, colorful and Tom Brady-less teams, why was the actual play in the Super Bowl feel so dull? The largest lead of the game was just ten points, and the Bengals and Rams spent the entire second half just a possession apart – yet there was rarely any tension or excitement on the field. Part of the problem was big plays were few and far between, with little momentum building on offensive for either team – maybe because of nervy play, maybe due to the bloated number of ad breaks inherent to the Super Bowl killing the on-field inertia – and the defenses certainly outplaying their counterparts. 

Thankfully, though, by the time we reached the final few minutes, the Super Bowl felt as close and as tense as the score. We had clutch plays, controversial calls, strategy to debate (why didn't the Bengals just let the Rams score on first down on the one-yard line rather than waste time and a timeout? And why that running play on third down!?) and an almost thrilling final drive, just a play or two away from an awesome ending. Instead, it fell short of turning the game memorable. (Again, imagine a world where Joe Burrow's knee wasn't obliterated for that drive ... ) When you're trying to remember Super Bowls in four years – maybe for trivia, maybe just as a fun exercise – you'll have a hard time recalling this one, despite the final stretch's best efforts. 

Loser: The refs

For most of the game, the refs were mostly a non-factor – aka perfect. I didn't even know what the refs looked like by halftime.

So I guess I know what their halftime pep talk was about. 

Almost immediately in the second half, they announced their presence with an unwanted authority, ignoring a pretty obvious facemask penalty on Tee Higgins' big 75-yard touchdown grab to start things off for the Bengals. Worse yet, after keeping their whistles quiet for most of the game, the refs decided to get very persnickety about contact on the Rams' final scoring drive, calling a defensive holding against the Bengals on a key third down that ... didn't seem to involve any actual holding. (The next one, though? Yeah, that's holding. Turns out you can't grab a fistful of padding!) Not that it should've even mattered because there should've been a false start on, uh, well, the entire Rams offensive line. 

But maybe ... the refs were actually winners? You know how Tommy Wiseau's "The Room" is so wondrously incompetent that, in doing everything wrong, it does everything right? That's like the refs Sunday night: They screwed up so much that, in the end, it totally balanced out. Fans on both sides can complain about the calls – oh, and trust me, the Bengals ones are; "rigged" is trending on Twitter and not because fans were impressed by the lighting on the halftime stage – but in the end, they somewhat equalled each other out, one misstep levelling out another one. Plus, calling a facemask at the start of the second half would've murdered one of the few big plays the Super Bowl had to offer. So selfishly: Thanks, refs.

And in the end, congratulations for being so overall inept that a ref show turned into merely a ref cameo!

Winner: Matthew Stafford and Sean McVay

Part of the allure of this year's Super Bowl was the polar opposite teams: one the flashy big-market team of vets, the other a beatdown Midwest bunch of overperforming rookies. And while the latter had nothing to prove, the Rams had EVERYTHING to – most of all their quarterback and head coach. 

After spending years racking up stats in vain in Detroit, this was Matthew Stafford's season to prove that he's not just a numbers guy but a quarterback that can actually win the big game – or just a big game, period. Beating Brady certainly helped make his case, but flopping in the Super Bowl would've undone that immediately. And frankly, he almost DID flop in the Super Bowl, chucking two picks and one particularly egregious one at the end of the first half that was more glorified punt than pass. Instead, thanks to some timely qualilty drives and a stout defense keeping Cincinnati within striking distance, he finally got the final piece of his football resume. 

Quietly under even more pressure was Sean McVay, the seemingly boy genius who took the league by storm five years ago with his fiesty offense, every team in the NFL suddenly looking for their own Sean McVay and plucking guys out of his coaching tree – coordinators, assistants, guys who just delivered the coffee. But after getting pantsed by the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII, only scoring three points – and even that seems like more than I remember – and underperforming ever since, everyone kind of cooled on the wunderkind. Another botched Super Bowl – this time without Jared Goff for his defenders to toss under the bus – and the book on McVay would read more about a trendy guy rather than a true great. 

Together, Stafford and McVay answered the questions their critics asked. The only question remaining: Are both coming back? Somehow the latter is a bigger question mark than the former, who's only 34 – but a hard-earned 34. Detroit Lions football will do that to a man.

Loser: Whoever at NBC did this

Jhene Aiko and Mickey Guyton totally killed their respective pregame songs, while whoever was in charge of NBC's broadcast totally killed their employment status. 

Not during Black History Month!

Winner: The halftime show

I think this succintly sums up the halftime show: When multiple generations are fighting over who gets to claim dibs on appreciating your performance, you've done good. 

Unlike last year's solid outing from The Weeknd – low on overall hits but heavy on visual pop – the tag team of Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige and Kendrick Lamar kept the theatrics to a minimum but the hits at full volume, busting out a setlist of all-killer no-filler mega-bops with few surprises but a ton of overwhelming favorites. (And honestly, if you're looking for B-sides at the Super Bowl halftime show, what are you doing?) I could nitpick – namely the set design was so interesting and dynamic that I wish I got a better look at everything going on; perhaps it would've been more fitting for a comparatively smaller stage like the Grammys – but between the seamless mashup of stars, the eager hometown crowd setting an ecstatic scene and the iconic setlist of party hits, the Super Bowl's first true hip-hop halftime show set a high bar for all the ones to follow. And there definitely SHOULD be many, many more to follow – sooner rather than later.

One final note: All halftime shows should feature Dr. Dre endearingly pretending he's actually mixing the audio onstage on the world's largest soundboard. 

Loser: 50 Cent

50 Cent was inevitably going to be a less exciting surprise guest than, say, Hologram Tupac (or Actually Alive Tupac). But his performance of "In Da Club" was fun and an enjoyable throwback, fitting in line with the rest of the halftime show's hit parade. 

He didn't have a great Super Bowl because he did bad. He didn't have a great Super Bowl because I think he's still probably trying to get proper blood circulation again after hanging upside down like an increasingly dizzy Dracula.  

Still less awkward than Adam Levine taking his shirt off!

Winner: Celebrities getting paid

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Salma Hayek, Guy Fieri, Idris Elba, Doja Cat, Gal Gadot voicing a COVID-19 test (we live in the strangest times), Steve Buscemi, Serena Williams, Eugene Levy, somehow Lindsay Lohan in the year 2022, Rebecca from "Ted Lasso," Ted Lasso from "Ted Lasso": If you were famous, you were in a Super Bowl ad this year. I guess we know where all the ad money went for this year's bunch of Super Bowl spots ... 

Loser: Writers getting paid

So you used all of your Super Bowl ad budget on getting a big name celebrity – now what? Apparently what you DON'T do is hire a writer to get those famous people to say anything funny or interesting.

The Chevy Silverado ad featuring Meadow and A.J. Soprano (and directed by David Chase himself) seemed to embody the entire problem, with somebody apparently pitching "Remember 'The Sopranos"?" at a brainstorming meeting ... and then that was the end of the pitch. 

But hey, at least I got to listen to the greatest opening credits song in television history so maybe it wasn't so bad after all. 

Winner: Nostalgia

Do you like recognizing things? Well do I have the Super Bowl commercial trend for you! Dr. Evil was pulled out of cryosleep to sell electric cars. (Because ... EVs are evil? The concept was confused.) Meanwhile, the stars of "Scrubs" reunited to dance around (and, as was the trent, make no jokes), the good RocketMortgage ad featured a He-Man punchline, the dark cult comedy "The Cable Guy" somehow made a return, and even Amazon's big entertainment trailer was for a new "Lord of the Rings" playing hard off of viewers' nostalgic feelings for the smash-hit movies. Even Baby Bob the talking E-Trade baby from the early 200s got to return, apparently after living in exile in the woods like "Dexter."

Remember when a talking baby was so popular that he got his own CBS sitcom? It was a simpler time – which no wonder why we're all leaning into nostalgia. But whatever, call me when they bring back the Bud frogs.

Loser: "The Endgame"

I'm not going to get precious about "The Blacklist," a very silly TV show that is somehow airing new episodes as we speak ... but this new NBC show that they're selling VERY hard is basically just "The Blacklist" but with Inara Serra instead of Ultron, right? And that spent 95 percent of its production budget on a blue dress?

You just know this ad thinks it's SOOO clever for that chess board floor shot. But considering how dumb this show will likely be, maybe it's actually checkers.

Winner: Barbie RocketMortgage ad

I want to go back in time and tell 10-year-old Matt that the future Super Bowl commercial he'll relate to the most is a mortgage ad featuring Barbie with jokes about the housing market and the star of a Quibi. That's how Past Me's brain explodes (mainly because of the word "Quibi"). 

Loser: Tech nonsense

The only thing to inspire more annoyed groans than that Semaje Perine third-down run call by the Bengals on the final drive? All the of the crypto ads throughout the Super Bowl.

I'll at least give credit to the commercial for CoinBase, a cleverly daring minute-long bit that just featured a QR code bouncing around the TV frame like an old-school screen saver. But the fun of the mystery – and mainly the fun of rooting for the QR code to hit the corner – wore off quickly when you scanned it, realized you were tricking into a crypto website and threw your phone out the nearest window out of fear and rage. And that ad faired the BEST of the bunch. Discovering the LeBron James ad was for was somehow more alarming than the creepy Deep Fake Deaged LeBron James co-starring with him, and while Arnold Schwarzenegger avoided the world's distain by doing a BMW ad rather than crypto as many feared, Larry David unfortunately wasn't so lucky, the humor of the spot dying a sad death once viewers realized it was another crypto ad. "Don't be like Larry," the ad preaches. Indeed: Don't be like him – and don't hock crypto. 

He still faired better than Facebook, whose ad about a rejected Chuck E. Cheese animatronic rocker only got more depressing when it revealed it was about the metaverse, a sad future where nobody exists in reality and lives in comically oversized visor-goggles. (Even other companies recognize this, with ads increasingly poking fun at metaverses, Mars travel for the rich and the like.)

Maybe this post will look as silly as Katie Couric and Bryan Gumbel on "Today" wondering what is internet – but right now, crypto and the metaverse seem like a thing being forced on people by the tech world rather than something people actually want, a bubble just waiting to burst. Which made these ads for the future seem more like a warning from the past: 

Oh well, it could've been worse: At least there weren't any commercials for NFTs!

Winner: RoboDog

Finally some technology I can appreciate!

To whoever designed the adorable CG robo-dog for this Kia spot: How dare you. First of all, YOU ALMOST KILLED ROBO-DOG! Don't you dare even HINT at pulling a "Marley & Me" on Super Bowl Sunday! Second, I want one. I already have four dogs – but I will make room in my household for adorable, precious, big-eyed Spot.0. Sure, he'll almost certainly be my cause of death when the robot apocalypse begins – but worth it. Third, I suddenly feel maximum regret for abandoning my Poo-Chi all those years ago.

That's a lot of conflicting emotions from a car ad – so congrats for that, because most of Sunday's Super Bowl commercials only elicited boredom.

Loser: McDonald's

Mickey D's actually aired a moderately amusing commercial during the Super Bowl – a shame they cast their final big cameo apperance with Kanye, currently in the midst of an extended public breakdown that's unnerving, exhausting and embarrassing even by the standards of Kanye's impressive history of unnerving, exhausting and embarrassing public breakdowns. 

Even worse, the Hellmann's mayo ad with Pete Davidson was better. I'm sure we're T-minus ten minutes away from Kanye demanding Hellmann's pull their ad or he'll boycott them for Miracle Whip. 

Winner: Cutwater Spirits

I feel seen. Thank you, Cutwater Spirits. You're still around 72nd on my list of preferred drink choices, somewhere between hop water and pure backwoods moonshine ... but thank you. 

Loser: The ads, in general

I'm calling it: The days of the ad breaks being the best part of the Super Bowl are done.

Most of the ads were met with vaguely amused silence – like the kind of polite chuckle a church service homily joke receives – or, if it was for crypto, audible groans. And that's if they weren't already spoiled days or even weeks in advance. Even the best and most exciting commercial reveals of the day – the movie trailers – were either revealed early, in the case of Jordan Peele's "Nope" dropped hours earlier, or wildly truncated in the hopes of dragging you online away from the game and online, in case of the new "Doctor Strange." 

At this point, the expensive and much-ballyhooed ad breaks are more reputation than real entertainment, and I'm growingly more than fine missing them for a bathroom break or casual trip around the snack table. Call me when they bring back the Quiznos singing rodent ... thing. 

Winner: Everyone

Yes, the advertisements were disappointing. And sure, the game itself was a 58-minute snore that murdered at least half of the ACLs on the field, topped with two minutes of panic. Plus, Hologram Tupac never made an appearance. And Los Angeles won, which is great because their tortured city has suffered a whole year and a half without a championship and SURELY they won't be smug about it despite the fact that most of these people just became Rams fans in the past (*checks watch*) 17 hours. 

All of that doesn't matter because Tom Brady was nowhere near the field for any of it – and won't be for the rest of our lives. We all won the Super Bowl this year. 

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.