Superbowl Sunday

The beginning of the otherwise uneventful month of February is marked by two events: the Good Wife’s birthday and the Superbowl. Once every seven years, they even coincide – as they’ve managed to do this year.

I’ve actually been following the events of the NFL Superbowl for slightly longer than I’ve been following my wife, and a lot longer than I’ve been following her on Facebook. The love affair – with the spectacle of big beefy men in armour beating the living daylights out of each other in the name of sport – goes back to the days when Channel 4 first came to Brighton. I didn’t miss an annual feast of American kitsch until we moved to France.

Until the quite recent advent of satellite here at The Dog’s Meadow, I had to rely on the kindness of comparative strangers for my yearly fix. One year, my team, the Green Bay Packers, appeared in their first ‘world championship’ (as the Americans typically like to dub something that only really plays out in the United States) since the golden age of the man who would give his name to the Superbowl trophy, Vince Lombardi. I swallowed my pride and went cap in hand with a blank video to the couple that lived behind a high hedge. She was our daughter’s teacher at école maternelle and he was her slightly sour husband. They were showing the final on Canal + and I’ve kept the video as a record of that momentous three hours.

The fact that the BBC broadcasts the event these days is indicative, I think, of our endless fascination for all things American. On one hand, the relentless commercial overkill seems to typify everything excessive and crass about American culture. On the other hand, it’s a glorious sporting spectacle brought to a worldwide audience with the same kind of technical panache that brought us Hollywood. It’s a modern-day gladiatorial contest, if not quite to the death. Had I been born a Roman, I would have been there cheering wildly in the Coliseum, happy to receive my ‘bread and circuses’ in exchange for the social status quo.

This year’s spectacle is somewhat extraordinary. Both teams, the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens, are coached by two brothers: John and Jim Harbough. Needless to say, it’s already being dubbed the Harboughbowl. For all the hype, though, it is an incredible notion: two sibling rivals guiding their respective teams through the obstacle course of fate, luck and circumstances to arrive at the same destination. The fact that it’s the Superdome in New Orleans where, not so long ago, the dispossessed sheltered from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, also makes this year’s show ‘quite remarkable’. You couldn’t script it!

I shall be root-root-rooting for the team from San Francisco. Until the Green Bay Packers came along with their seductive public ownership and green and yellow strip, the 49ers were my no.1 team on the basis of a few minutes of idle viewing on a hotel television during my first trip to New York. A lean quarterback, the glamorous creative lynchpin of an American Football team, with the legendary boy’s own name of Joe Montana, threw ‘a bomb’ deep downfield to his wide receiver – and I was intrigued and soon hooked from that moment on.

Their previous appearance was back in 1995. It was our last winter before moving to France, and my understanding wife persuaded me to fly to New York so I could watch the game with my best friend in his basement apartment on the grounds that he is a diehard fan of the 49ers and that it might be my last opportunity, now that I was a new father, to do anything quite so frivolous. Troubled by such a sacrifice and being a wannadoo journalist, I phoned GQ Magazine to suggest that I might contribute an article based on an authentic American Superbowl experience. Anyone who has ever tried to phone an editor and sell themselves will know that it’s a daunting experience for the mere mortal. I attempted to explain why quarterly gentlemen might be interested in my proposition and the editor asked me the withering question: Do I know you? Rather than respond spryly with something like, You may not know me now, but you certainly will do, I wilted like a deflated balloon and said something limp like, Probably not.

I didn’t get my commission and it gave me a phobia of phoning editors, but it didn’t stop me going. The snow nearly did. We took off from Manchester airport maybe half an hour before the incoming blizzards grounded the fleet of airplanes. On the other side of the Atlantic, I landed in the middle of a spell of brilliant winter: it was as cold as a a butcher’s storeroom, but the city’s steel and glass twinkled for four or five days under a blue cloudless sky.![](upload://7a22FYfY14ABK3d3NyPNWqIrNOL.jpg)

The match itself was fairly uneventful. The 49ers duly vanquished the San Diego Chargers. But that wasn’t really the point. I was able to watch the game in real time on a genuine American TV, drinking American beer with a pal who was able to offer an ex-pat’s insights into the game itself and the state of the nation. We took in all the pre- and post-match analysis and, without succumbing to hamburgers or frankfurters, the occasion added up to a fairly authentic American experience.

This year, I shall be enjoying my wife’s birthday in real time and, like every other year, recording the match to view in leisure time. With a remote control, you can skip all the incessant advertising breaks (filled in on the BBC with idle chatter). If you zap past the pompous half-time show, you can boil the match down to little more than the actual hour or so of genuine playing time. This way, if you’ve avoided all the blaring headlines, you can distil the essence of concentrated excitement.

This year, althought I don’t give a fig whether Beyoncé sings or lip-synchs the anthem, I do sincerely hope that Jim’s side beats brother John’s, that the team in red and gold beats the more defensively minded team in purple and black, that the new quarterback with the tattooed arms rifles the ball to his phalanx of receivers for at least four touchdowns, and that a San Francisco victory brings special cheer to my friend, watching the game in his same basement apartment just around the corner from a shop that sells cup-cakes to trendy New Yorkers.

Hoots, Abigail. Thank you so much for your kind words. I cooked a good meal, I'm happy to report, and Debs really enjoyed her birthday celebrations. I shall pass on your well-wishes. Murky buckets.

It was something entirely different, but, it reminded them just how easy it is to piss on someone's parade.

Indeed, Zoe (snicker, snicker) - a timely reminder of the vast amount of electricity consumed and often wasted by power-crazy (arf, arf) Americans.

pity about the power outage... lol.

It was tough, David, wasn't it? But they gave it their very best shot and it was only the Ravens' goal-line stand that stopped them. Ultimately it was the turnovers in the first half that did for the Niners, because their offense was more potent throughout. Never mind, a Montana, Young and Rice probably only come once in a lifetime.

Norman, thanks for the tip about Ad Age Media Buzz, I'll take a look a little later. I agree with your assessment of the current Six Nations, but I'm not convinced that England can beat Ireland in Dublin. It will be very interesting.

I, too, am a 49ers fan (I have been since the early 1980s...) so this year I stayed up to watch the Superbowl (thanks BBC!), though was obviously disappointed at the result... You could argue that we/they could - like France, against Italy - have nicked it in the last few plays of the game, but - like in Rome, for les Bleus - it was not to be. Was there a foul on SF's last play of the game that should have been called back? Well, that debate will probably go on for years. Finding yourselves 22 points down (albeit with virtually all of the second half of the game to play) probably didn't help things either - though the 49ers had a damn good try! But in the end, the Ravens were always going to be difficult to beat - especially as, in getting to the Superbowl, they'd already seen off two teams who'd won more regular-season games than they - and in those teams' back yards. (Yes, I know, SF went to Atlanta and did the same.) Perhaps the 3 years more head-coaching experience that the older Harbaugh brother has had with his team was a factor, too.

It's not the first, and probably won't be the last, time that a female star performing at America's (well, they claim: the world's... and, let's face it) largest male-dominated sports event becomes the most-talked about thing since, er, sliced bread - remember Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction?

And the TV ads - not shown on this side of the pond of course - well, they have become a huge talking point too (as you mention @Norman). Even the NFL has it's own ads page, where you can watch (or not) and rate (or not...) your favourite !

Here are some more silly , er Superbowl-related, numbers (not just ad-related):

All that said, I too am a rugby fan. True there may not be ads during games - yet? - but (@Don) there are flames and explosions to be seen in the 'modern' game. Well, not 'in' the game, but certainly before the start, e.g. when the teams run on the field... And what a wild (?) opening weekend of the Six Nations campaign that was! Great for fans of the game - the world over, I'd hazard a guess.

NFL at the Olympic stadium? I wouldn't be at all surprised @Brian M. There will be 2 regular-season games in London next season, both will be 'home' games for the Jacksonville Jaguars, unfortunately not one of the top NFL teams at the moment. But (part of) the reason for that: money. There's pots of it in the American game. Not least because of those ads!

PS @Celeste: call me picky, but - 90 minutes? It was more like 30 on my TV! :-) And not all of the lights, or all of the cameras. Usually (regular-season games) half time is more like 15 mins - it's only during the Superbowl that they extend it...

Mark, Celeste and other fans of NFL take a look today on Ad Age Media Buzz, some interesting trivia on there you might find interesting.

Mark I am glad you have retained a few marbles anyway.

Ireland just changed Captain and won, France just changed Captain and lost, England played (to me) an almost unknown team and were hugely impressive, Italy are now a good side (most players from non-Italian sides, and afew with convoluted ancestral rights to play). I didn't watch the Ireland-Wales game, so I can't coment on it although both teams last season were re-building and that doesn't happen overnight.

Scotland I felt played quite well, but like Australia these days look too heavy to me, and lack a yard of pace.

Hard to look past England from the opening stanza, but it will be intersting as always.

B-b-b-but Norman, I love rugby, too. I always watch Six Nations games if I can help it and was so chuffed for the Italians that they beat the mighty France. I used to play as a schoolboy, but was a total coward and didn't like getting muddy either. Celeste, the game of hurling is absolutely mad. The Catholic boys who lived further down our street used to play it in the back entry, while we would be playing football. It looks one of the most dangerous games I've ever witnessed. Aussi Rules football just never made it for me. It seems too anarchic and those men in the white coats who do semaphore gestures at the goalposts when some kind of scoring event happens just make me break up. There was a good Australian film about Aussie rules football made in the 70s I think, but can't remember what it was called.

Bruce, thanks for your kind comments. Sorry to hear that you support the Steelers. Too defence-orientated for me. And I don't like Ben Rothlisburgher, or however you spell it. Nasty woman-beater. He and Michael Vick, the dog fighter, should be horse-whipped and banished from the game.

Just finished watching my recording of the match. A great one, too. The 49ers came within a whisker, but it wasn't to be. Grrrrrrrrrr. I don't like the Baltimore Ravens. Ray Lewis should be re-tried for murder, horse-whipped, banished from the land et cetera et cetera. I'd certainly take his Superbowl rings off him.

...and to think there is an idea about using the London Olympic stadium for NFL games at a time when worldwide rugby is one of the fastest growing sports. I played in one of the then two teams in Lima in the 1970s a very few times, now the Peruvian teams playing in the Chilean league because they have been too few thus far are thinking about setting up their own league. Throughout Latin America it is taking off. The Chinese have teams, so do the Koreans, after years of American football being popular in Japan rugby is nearly as popular. There are plenty of teams in Canada and quite a goodly number in the USA. Why even cricket is taking off there too. For those of you young enough, watch this space and look forward to the World Cup being really global and perhaps the Six Nations a dozen or so...

Official Superbowl fare has morphed from hamburgers and hot dogs to pizza and buffalo wings (spicy chicken wings). Its just too cold to barbecue this time of year in most of the states. The US news last week was focused on the chicken wing shortage, blamed on inflated feed prices. Much wailing and gnashing heading into a Superbowl weekend. Somewhat of a national crisis according to the talking heads.

My facebook page is full of commentary about yesterday's game. It is said that it was a good game with a cliffhanger ending, but the most comments were the pros and cons of the Beyonce half time show. I haven't bothered with the game since 2004 when I drove to Toulouse to watch a big screen presentation in an Irish pub, in the middle of the night. It was an over the top spectacle of patriotic nationalism - with flames and explosions as a backdrop for the stars and stripes at every station break. I believe we were still in the midst of imposing dumbocracy on Iraq at the time. What better time to peddle barbarity, eh?

Ex-player (London Irish although I'm not Irish), mad lover of Aussie Rules, (you'd have to be mad to play it!) St. Kilda Supporter if anyone is interested, but my heart belongs to Rugby.

Great game by Italy, poor game by France, wrong choice of Captain. Papé is a great player but hasn't a clue what captaincy is about. Stick with Dusautoir who is a great Captain.

Today I started operation to become a French National. This is now MY country and I love it!

I can only agree with Norman.

Hey, step out from behind the armour plating and watch Rugby for crying out loud - plus no continual play hold-ups for the TV and ground commercials.

I have not a clue. Six Nations Rugby is on now, so Superbowl when the post mortem of Italy whacking France is not on people's lips because of the national embarassment. That will do for me.


I'm almost ashamed to admit that you know more about this year's game than I do and I'm an American. Then again, I grew up in Pittsburgh so if the Steelers aren't in it, who cares?

Enjoy the game.