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.