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No Super Bowl wager between Newsom and Missouri governor. Instead, a poke at DeSantis

Gov. Gavin Newsom talks on the field before an NFL football game between the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers.
Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks from the field before a 2019 San Francisco 49ers game in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

Gov. Gavin Newsom flew to Las Vegas on Friday to cheer for the San Francisco 49ers over the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVIII — and used the game as an opportunity to throw a subtle jab at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Though Newsom has engaged in friendly wagers with governors of the opposing team's state in the past, this year he and Missouri's Republican Gov. Mike Parson are teaming up to benefit charity. The pair plan to sign Super Bowl merchandise and memorabilia and donate it to the Special Olympics, Newsom's office said.

Newsom's chosen charity marks a poke at DeSantis, his political rival. Newsom often accuses DeSantis of being a “bully” and has publicly criticized the Republican governor’s effort to prevent the Special Olympics from requiring vaccine mandates for at-risk athletes during the pandemic. Newsom said his late mother worked with the Special Olympics.

The governor's office announced Newsom's departure in a news release full of game puns, saying he would "purdy soon touchdown in Nevada to usher in another Super Bowl." Brock Purdy is the quarterback for the 49ers; R&B artist Usher is headlining the halftime show.

A former mayor of San Francisco, Newsom predicted that his hometown team will emerge victorious on Sunday after losing to the Chiefs on the big stage in 2020. That year, Newsom and Parson exchanged gifts.

Read more: Bad blood: Newsom calls GOP conspiracies about Taylor Swift 'sad and pathetic'

Erin Mellon, a spokesperson for Newsom, said the governor secured his ticket through friends with whom he's attending the game but did not name names. California sets a limit on the value of gifts given to state and local officials from certain sources, though exceptions apply for family and, in some instances, friends.

Newsom attended the NFC championship game last month in Santa Clara, where he was photographed talking to legendary 49ers receiver Jerry Rice on the sidelines as the team beat the Detroit Lions in a 34-31 nail-biter.

This time around, Taylor Swift tops the list of celebrities expected in the stands (or suites). Newsom defended Swift and her boyfriend, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, in an MSNBC interview that aired over the weekend, calling GOP criticism “sad and pathetic."

"The Republicans that are looking down and past Taylor Swift do so at their own peril," Newsom said to host Jonathan Capehart. "What is her sin? What is her sin? She wants more people to vote."

Read more: Taylor Swift has driven some far-right pundits to do the unthinkable: Cheer for San Francisco

Kelce, who has appeared in Pfizer advertisements encouraging Americans to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and Swift, who endorsed Joe Biden in 2020 and often encourages her fans to register to vote, have become the target of criticism from Donald Trump loyalists and the subject of a series of unproved and outlandish claims ahead of the presidential election. The conspiracy theories have even driven some conservatives to root for San Francisco, despite usually vilifying the city as an acrid emblem of progressivism run amok.

Neither President Biden nor Trump is scheduled to attend the game.

Newsom's attendance at NFL games has stirred controversy before. He and former Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti were photographed in 2022 without face masks at an NFC championship game between the 49ers and the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood.

Now that American society has largely reverted to pre-pandemic behavior, that shouldn't be an issue Sunday in Las Vegas.

Staff writers Noah Bierman and Seema Mehta contributed to this report.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.