Fans take pictures of a Vince Lombardi trophy displayed at the NFL Experience exhibit in San Francisco, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016. The Denver Broncos will play the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Fans take pictures of a Vince Lombardi trophy displayed at the NFL Experience exhibit in San Francisco, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016. The Denver Broncos will play the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Better to play in big game than host

By all accounts, the Super Bowl 50 celebration is off to a rousing start in our fair city. Too bad so little, if any, of the excitement has to do with the game itself.

For that, we can thank the Santa Clara 49ers mostly.

For Niners fans in these parts, the NFL season was over when their quirky but highly successful coach, Jim Harbaugh, was shown the door a year ago. Now they want to see another football game as much as an IRS tax audit. Except for the gamblers and diehards, the Super Bowl isn’t as much about the game as the halftime show, even with Coldplay.

If the Niners and Raiders had been in the playoff chase from start to finish, the Super Bowl buzz would be that much greater, no doubt.

“There would have been more awareness,” host committee CEO Keith Bruce told Balls. “A challenge is to get the Bay Area to pay attention. ‘Hey, the Super Bowl’s coming! The Super Bowl’s coming! The Super Bowl’s coming! …’ So we have been loudly proclaiming that for a year-plus now. They would have been hearing it earlier if the 49ers had been in the playoffs.

“But there’s a lot of Broncos fans here. They’ll change their colors.”

Now let’s dream a little bit. Can you imagine what the atmosphere would be like if the Raiders and Niners were about to butt helmets in the Big One?

“That would he been a problem that I would have welcomed,” said Bruce, smiling at the thought. “Yeah, that would have unprecedented. It would have been like [New York] Giants-Jets in Super Bowl XLVIII. It would have been unbelievably powerful to have the 49ers play in the Super Bowl in their home stadium because it has never been done.”

Hey, there’s always Super Bowl 100, you know.

MORE ST. LOUIE BLUES: Nobody is more p.o.’d about T.O. than Mike Martz, the one-time St. Louis-to-Los Angeles Rams coach.

Martz believes it’s “out-and-out ridiculous” that ex-Niner Terrell Owens is a Hall of Fame finalist over his ex-Rams, Isaac Bruce and Torey Holt, who unlike Owens have Super Bowl rings. He also has issues with longtime Indianapolis Colt Marvin Harrison, another finalist.

“‘Surprised’ isn’t the word,” Martz told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “You can’t print how I felt when T.O. leapfrogged those [Bruce and Holt]. That’s just plain out-and-out ridiculous.”

Truth is, Bruce should have been inducted a while ago. Career numbers aside, he was a monster in Super Bowl XXXIV, where his 73-yard game-winner was among the great clutch plays in history.

Owens put up the numbers to be a first-ballot selection, but he also was a divisive force on the field and in the locker room for much of his career. For that reason, he should have to wait his turn. Ditto Holt, whose only real weakness was that he played with Bruce and Marshall Faulk on the same team.

“If they big-timed it and did all that dumb stuff, [Bruce and Holt] would get in probably earlier,” Martz said. “I think they’ll eventually get in. I don’t think that’s an issue. But it’s tragic that people think of them like that. If Marvin Harrison gets in, how could they not get in?”

KEEP IT SHORT: Seattle Seahawks workhorse Marshawn Lynch will be seen but not heard even at league-sanctioned events this week. Seems Lynch has declined interview requests as usual, and that’s too bad. Balls kinda looked forward to “Yeah,” “Nope” or even “Thank you for asking.”

CALL SIDEWAYS NEXT TIME: CBS and the NFL would like nothing better than a highly competitive game with lots of drama and a touch of controversy. That’s the only explanation for why referee Clete Blakeman was assigned.

As one might recall, Blakeman was the guy who couldn’t toss the coin properly in the recent Green Bay Packers-Arizona Cardinals playoff game. The coin never flipped in the air before the start of overtime, at which point the one-time Nebraska quarterback took it upon himself to try it again, which resulted in more than few questions afterward.

Anyway, it’s a good thing the New England Patriots aren’t in the game. Because Blakeman has a history with them and it isn’t very good.

Four years ago, Blakeman overturned a pass interference call against the Carolina Panthers that would have wiped out a Tom Brady interception. He also was one of two officials who tested the Patriots’ game balls at halftime of the 2015 AFC Championship Game after the Colts lodged a complaint. Each used a different pressure gauge, and Blakeman’s showed lower levels on every one.

Wouldn’t you have just loved to see the look on Brady’s face when he saw this guy on the field before the game?

JUST ASKIN’: So was Brady guilty in Deflategate or wasn’t he? Because some of us are still waiting for the official verdict to come down, you know.

SOMEBODY’S GOTTA DO IT: No pro sports league can do hype the way the NFL does it. That begins with the sportswriters and broadcasters, the lackeys who provide what amounts to free advertising for its products.

So the league spared no expense when it came to the media facilities at Moscone West, where the workroom is roughly the size of Golden Gate Park. It includes private areas where as many as six media can pound away behind curtains.

And if any penhead comes down with writer’s block, he can always regroup at the media lounge, which features snacks, bottled water, soft drinks and a Ping-Pong table, naturally.

NOW HEAR THIS: Maybe you’ve heard, but Super Bowl 50 could be, probably will be, OK, is certain to be Peyton Manning’s final game.

Now somebody needs to inform his little brother Eli, who does that shrug-of-the-shoulders thing of his when asked about the possibility.

“I don’t know if he knows himself or if he’s thought about it,” Eli Manning said with a straight face. “When you get to year 19 and kind of deal with some things going on, it’d be a good way to go out. I don’t know if it is, but because of that possibility, I hope that he can win this game, and it he decides to hang it up, go out on top.”

The only question is whether Peyton will make the announcement before the game, after the game or in a Papa John’s Pizza commercial.

THE LIST: The top 10 players with Bay Area teams in Super Bowl history:

Joe Montana, 49ers: Best ever — period.

Jerry Rice, 49ers: Four games, 33 catches, eight touchdowns.

Ronnie Lott, 49ers: Anchored defense for four championship teams.

Jim Plunkett, Raiders: Four TDs, no interceptions, two wins.

Steve Young 49ers: Had one Super Bowl start, oh, what a performance it was.

Roger Craig, 49ers: A factor in three Super victories.

Art Shell-Gene Upshaw, Raiders: Can’t have one without the other.

Cliff Branch, Raiders: Set the tone in Super Bowl XV with a pair of touchdowns.

Rod Martin, Raiders: Two-time winner had a record three interceptions in one game.

Eric Wright, 49ers: Four-time champion had key interception and forced fumble in Super Bowl XVI.

Got an opinion? A gripe? A compliment? (A compliment?!?) Send them to and you may get your name in the paper one day.

BallsJim HarbaughSan Francisco 49ersSuper Bowl 50

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