Still a long road

Twenty-two weeks before the Super Bowl, 32 NFL teams had a shot. By the end of the first week of games, some were heading down a long road toward elimination.

The NFL finally, after three weeks of playoffs, narrowed the field from 32 down to the two finalists for the Lombardi Trophy that will be awarded after Super Bowl 50.

In terms of American presidential politics, we’ve been going through the regular season for a little longer than the NFL regular season, from the declaration of the candidacy of Donald Trump last summer to the fight over whether Trump would be in last Thursday’s Fox News debate; from the surge of Bernie Sanders to the battling Hillary Clinton making her way around Iowa the past several days.

And tomorrow, the playoffs begin in earnest. Iowans will hold their caucuses.

It’s not a primary. It’s not a day where people head to the polls and cast a ballot and go home to eat dinner and wait for the results to roll in.

It’s an hours-long process, involving on-the-spot campaigning to get those who show up to declare their backing for a candidate.

On the Democrat side, the choices are not wide ranging, but on the Republican side, there are plenty of potential winners and losers.

But, much like the NFL playoffs, the winners of the first round often aren’t the winners of the right to head to the Super Bowl.

Four years ago, Sen. Rick Santorum won Iowa for the GOP (which wasn’t known for 16 days because of an error in tabulation). And the convoluted grass-roots event resulted in a savvy Ron Paul campaign winning the most delegates to the Republican National Convention.

Neither man mattered in the convention, really, with the country by then making Mitt Romney the GOP’s choice.

So, the caucuses in Iowa, more than 900 community meetings, will begin the arduous process of deciding who will be heading on to the GOP and Democrat conventions as the favorites to enter the presidential general election in the fall.

And some winners will be declared and, despite the commentary and the national pundits and the coffee-table discussions that will take place, the caucuses will be followed shortly by primaries and other states that use the caucus system. Notably, the New Hampshire primaries will be held Feb. 9. And the caucus winners just might not matter.

But America’s real Super Bowl for 2016 won’t be the one played in California on Feb. 7.

It will be the one conducted across the nation in tens of thousands of precincts on Nov. 8.

And, much like the soon-to-conclude NFL season, there’s a long way to go, a lot of bumps and bruises and hard work. between the first playoffs and the final vote count.