WHEN DID the Super Bowl become an excuse to sell junk to beer drinkers?
I'm not talking about beer itself, for it goes without saying that plenty of cold suds are a necessary lubricant for the 12 or so hours you'll be spending in front of the wide-screen on Sunday.
No, it's all the other stuff they're palming off on beer-loving football fans.
For example, the Krups BeerTender.
It's a countertop keg dispenser that chills beer to precisely 37.4 degrees. The $150 unit is being promoted as a "Super Bowl essential."
I count at least three reasons it's the opposite of "essential":
1. It serves only five-liter kegs, which means you'll be tapping a new one during every timeout.
2. It works only with pressurized kegs of Heineken, Heineken Light and Newcastle Brown Ale. I do not need to tell you that on the occasion of America's greatest sports event, you ought not to be drinking imported beer.
3. Ice. A $3 bag from the 7-Eleven will do the trick just fine.
You can't blame a company for trying, I guess. Not when the NFL itself is doing the spadework. Check out the overpriced paraphernalia the hucksters are selling to beer drinkers at NFLShop.com:
* Tampa Bay Buccaneers Ceramic Coaster Set of 4: $24.99.
These coasters might protect your coffee table, but they won't soak up moisture, no matter whose logo is on them. My advice: Spend your dollars on a couple of six-packs at your local bar instead, and grab a handful of free cardboard coasters on your way out the door.
* St. Louis Rams Portable Bar: $499.99.
On the downside, you just paid 500 bucks for an umbrella, four barstools and a metal frame with plastic shelves. On the upside, it's on wheels, which makes it remarkably easy to drag to the curb when your miserable team finishes the season at 2-14.
* Philadelphia Eagles 5-quart beer pail: $29.99.
You read that right: 30 bucks for a metal bucket that you'll be using to clean paint brushes by the summer. To be fair, the NFL does boast it is "designed with a convenient handle."
* Oakland Raiders Tailgate Table with net: $139.99.
Why a net? You don't see a lot of tailgaters playing pingpong on windy football stadium parking lots. And this table is too short, too narrow and too low for the game.
Its dimensions are ideal, however, for beer pong.
By selling it with a useless nylon net, the NFL can claim plausible deniability when Mothers Against Drunk Driving comes around to accuse the league of encouraging excessive drinking with its officially licensed beer pong tables.
* Washington Redskins Pilsner Set: $44.99.
I was trying to imagine who'd shell out this much dough for two beer glasses - even if, as the NFL cheerfully notes, "You can gulp down a drink with a friend during the big game . . . "
Then I came across this online product review from some sucker who bought a pair: "My fiancé and I are having an NFL-themed wedding and are going to use these glasses for our toast." Which goes a long way toward explaining how the NFL can rack up more than $3 billion in worldwide merchandise sales every year. Beer drinkers love football and the Super Bowl is an excuse to go all-in.
Speaking of which, I just received a news release for yet another product promoted as a beer drinkers' "essential" for Super Bowl Sunday.
"Inspired to score your own touchdown after the game?" the promo asks. "This helmet will keep you protected in the sack.
"Get closer to the end zone," it promises, "with LifeStyles SKYN Condoms."