It’s finally here. The game we’ve all been waiting for. The single greatest spectacle in American sports. The triumphant culmination of the NFL’s long and grueling season.

The Super Bowl.

A game of excess — that will overwhelm you. A game of hype — that will annoy you. A game of blowouts — that will bore you.

The Super Bowl.

Focus on it for a second. Because like that second, the Super Bowl is fleeting. It builds and builds, slowly growing in the back of your mind during the regular season. By playoff time it looms large, a blazing star hanging above the football consciousness, radiating with championship glory. In these, the final days before its arrival, it smothers, overtly invading all forms of media and entertainment. Sunday it will appear and vanish in an instant, leaving behind that terrible wake of excess and commercialism that is Americana. Three measly hours, and it will be gone. Three hours of spectacle and — oh yeah — a football game.

And what about the game? We live in a time when the game is overshadowed by the hype surrounding it. I should be enraged, or at least annoyed. But I’m not. Truth of the matter is the Super Bowl is a bad game. I wouldn’t miss it for the world, yet it is usually one of the least interesting games of the year. Super Bowl XXXVI will be no different.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the New England Patriots are a great story. There’s Bill Belichick, who took a team that Pete Carroll reduced to almost nothing, rebuilt it, and led it to the Super Bowl. There’s Antowain Smith, who reinvented himself in the Patriots backfield after being forced out of Buffalo.

There’s Tom Brady, who had every backup’s dream season, establishing himself as the starter and leading his team to playoff glory.

Then there’s Drew Bledsoe, the benched starter who checked his ego for the good of his team. The Patriots are nothing if not inspiring. They are the ultimate underdog. They are the team nobody counted on that overcame the odds to make their Super Bowl dreams come true.

Or at least their dreams of getting there. Because unlike many of their counterparts (See: Rams, 1999), this inspirational underdog will not emerge the happy victor. The Rams are just too good.

This is not David vs. Goliath. This is David vs. Goliath, his twin brother and three nasty Rottweilers. In the Rams, the Patriots face an offensive juggernaut the likes of which the NFL has never seen before. The Rams score points like nobody’s business. They have Kurt Warner (two-time NFL MVP), Marshall Faulk (NFL MVP) and a wide-receiving corps that may be the fastest ever.

So you can’t stop them from scoring. Beat them in a shootout, you say? Not this year. During the off-season, Mike Martz went out and assembled, with the help of newly hired defensive coordinator Lovie Smith, the third-best defense in the NFL.

So the Patriots’ offense, not the league’s most impressive, will also be overmatched. Intangibles? The game is in the Superdome, an AstroTurf palace much like the one the Rams play in at home. Past history? Well, the two teams met on Nov. 18, and the Rams won 24-17. The Patriots came close, but they were playing at home, in extremely cold temperatures.

Super Bowl history? That doesn’t look good for the Patriots, either. New England has appeared in the Super Bowl twice, both times in the Superdome. Total score? Bears/Packers 81, Patriots 31. Ouch.

The last time the Super Bowl saw a mismatch of this proportion (and there have been a lot of mismatches) John Elway and the Broncos got waxed by Joe Montana and the 49ers, 55-10. That game was also in New Orleans. Coincidence? I think not.

So I’ve pretty much asserted that the Patriots are going to lose. Dare I make a prediction about the score? I’ll be frank. I dislike the Rams. Immensely. I think Kurt Warner needs to keep his post-game speeches to himself and Mike Martz needs to stop thinking he’s God’s gift to football. That said, I’ve been wrong about almost every game I’ve picked thus far in the playoffs. So picking against the Patriots can only help them.

The Verdict: Rams 56, Patriots 13