Connor Barth may be in just the right position to watch Sunday’s Super Bowl.
After all, the former Hoggard High School and University of North Carolina football standout was a kicker for both of this year’s Super Bowl teams — the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers — during his 10-year NFL career.
And because his favorite team, the Buffalo Bills, won’t hold the Vince Lombardi Trophy on Sunday, the pressure is off. (“If the Bills had won, we would definitely be there,” he said.)
Now, the local real estate broker/developer — and spokesperson for the locally made Blue Shark Vodka — can sit back and enjoy the game.
It’s been a weird year for football, like everything else. Despite challenges, Barth thinks the NFL did a good job handling the problems of playing during a pandemic.
“There are so many moving parts,” he said. “I think it went about as well as could be expected.”
He even started practicing kicking again this spring, thinking more players might be needed for the season. Certainly COVID-19 protocols opened up the door for unexpected additions: in one case, the Denver Broncos had all four of its quarterbacks sit out a game when one contracted the virus and the others considered close contacts (Denver went with a practice squad wide receiver under center).
And, well, part of Barth’s career was spent in the Mile High City.
“But from what I’ve heard from people, it’s just been kind of a grueling process,” he said. Friends reported frequent quarantines and isolation, and almost constant coronavirus testing.
Instead he remains content to look back on some of his career highlights, like earning the highest field goal percentage in Buccaneers franchise history.
Ranking food towns
Of all the cities he’s played in (which also include Chicago and Miami), Barth said you can’t beat the Windy City in terms of food. (“It’s just amazing.”)
But between this year’s Super Bowl towns, “it’s gotta be Tampa,” he said. “It has such a rich culture.”
While Barth gives credit to Kansas City’s well-known barbecue scene, he said he wasn’t there long enough to fully explore.
“And I was still young, 22, 23 when I was there,” he said.
In Tampa, though, he fondly remembers Bern’s Steak House (famous for its food, extensive wine cellar, and a separate dessert room where meals can linger), and lots of other restaurants and Cuban sandwich spots.
“Really, you can book a room at the Epicurean Hotel on Howard (Ave.) and just walk to a bunch of great restaurants.”
Super Bowl cocktails
If Kansas City was a cocktail, Barth’s guess would be an Old Fashioned — or something bourbon based that would go well with the Missouri climate and hearty fare.
“For Tampa, I would say a martini,” he said.
It’s something classic and cool that pairs well with a lot of what the Florida city has to offer.
Of course, Blue Shark Vodka has another suggestion for Super Bowl sipping. They’ve developed a Touchdown Tea recipe, Barth said.
“It’s a take on Southern tea,” he said.
If you’d like to make your own this weekend, mix 3 ounces of Blue Shark Vodka with 3 ounces of unsweetened tea. Add an ounce of orange liqueur and a quarter ounce of lemon juice. Garnish with a slice of lemon.
When he’s watching on Sunday, though, Barth will most likely have a Bloody Mary.
“That is a tradition my Dad and I started, even when I was playing,” he said. They’d set up an extensive Bloody Mary bar with lots of extra add-ons, like pepperoni sticks, pickled okra and cheese-stuffed olives.
What’s on the menu?
As far as food, an ideal Super Bowl LV menu would include some burnt-ends barbecue for Kansas City and a spicy chili in honor of Tampa Bay. Plus a hefty serving of his mother’s macaroni and cheese.
“She makes the best in the world,” he said.
More ahead with Blue Shark Vodka
Barth came to his position with the Wrightsville Beach-based vodka naturally. He tried it while out with a friend at King Neptune Restaurant on Lumina Ave.
“I’m a vodka guy, and I loved it,” he said.
Now, he’s helping Blue Shark expand its presence in other parts of the country. That includes working with the Tampa-based J.C. Newman Cigar Company to create a special line of Blue Shark hand-rolled cigars.
Barth has been a big part of the process, selecting the torpedo style cigars (they resemble sharks) made in a light color (that looks a bit like beach sand) with specially designed Blue Shark bands.
“It’s been fun. But, really, it’s all about getting people to give Blue Shark a try,” he said.
So, who will win the big game?
While Barth admits there’s a lot of room for uncertainty, he said it’s hard to bet against Tom Brady.
Yes, the Tampa Bay quarterback with six Super Bowl rings and a four-time Bowl MVP as part of the New England Patriots’ dynasty.
“I say Tampa by three points,” he said.