Politics & Policy

Festival of Football

It's Super Bowl Sunday.

Are you ready for some football?

If not, then you had best get ready. Buckle your chin strap and get your game face on, hoss. This is Super Bowl Sunday. Time for the ultimate game.

Actually, a Dallas Cowboys running back once deflated that particular pomposity when he asked a reporter, “Hey, man, if this is the ultimate game, how come they’re playing it again next year?”

When they first started playing the game, XXXVII years ago, they couldn’t even fill the stadium. Now it is not merely the game of the season–it is the television event of the year. Millions of people, most of whom do not know much, if anything, about football will be watching. While most of the viewers are not fans, especially, of either team, many will care deeply about the outcome, because nothing draws gambling action like the Super Bowl. This year, the line is Carolina plus 7 but the trendy wager is on the over/under which is 38. For those who do not have the William Bennett vice, this means that you can bet that the combined scores of both teams will be either over–or under–38. This is a fairly low number but, then, Carolina and New England are both pretty stout defensive teams. I like the under.

If that bet strikes you as too conventional, there are any number of other Super Bowl “propositions.” You can bet who will score first, who will get the first turnover, who will lead at the half and, if you just can’t help yourself, who will win the coin toss.

There are other Super Bowl attractions for the viewer who doesn’t really know much about football and thinks “draw plays” and “trap blocks” are things kindergartners do at recess. The ads are the most expensive buy in television so the people who make them go all out. The soda pop and beer companies, lavish the kind of production values–and money–on their ads that would have been sufficient to bankroll a Broadway show not that long ago. Back when we all felt rich–four or five years ago–the dot-coms spent millions to run commercials during the Super Bowl and worked hard to make sure the ads were so hip no one could possibly understand them. Which pretty much sums up the age.

The ads are what many people at many Super Bowl parties are most interested in and there is a lot of suspense about which star will appear in what ad and how creative, funny, or risqué the ads will be. There will be focus groups evaluating and rating the ads and more jobs and careers are riding on their scores than on the outcome of the game. The losing Super Bowl coach or quarterback will almost certainly not be fired. But the account executive or creative director whose ad bombs could easily find himself on the street.

If wagering and checking the ads is not distraction enough, there are also the pre-game and halftime shows. This year’s voluptuous babe–someone name Beyonce–will be singing the national anthem during the game. Janet Jackson will be doing the halftime. Both are guaranteed to be way over the top.

There is a usually a flyover by a formation of fighter planes and various other military ceremonies, but so far, no recreation of the battle of Gettysburg.

Among Super Bowl urban legends, there is the one about how the centers that treat cases of domestic abuse report a sharp increase in business on Super Bowl Sunday. This is supposed to support the portrait of the testosterone gorged male, pushed over the edge by violent aura of football.

Another is the story of how the sewage system of some community was overloaded when everyone flushed at once, during a timeout. This came, presumably, while one of those expensive ads was running.

It is undeniably true that thousands of acres of corn and tomatoes have been harvested to make boxcar loads of salsa and chips to be eaten during the Super Bowl and washed down by millions of gallons of beer. Also, that–short of a calamity like 9/11–no other event in this Balkanized society will constitute a shared American experience. Not the State of the Union speech–certainly and mercifully–and the final episode of Friends. Super Bowl is our pagan festival. A gaudy, vulgar, excessive, wonderful celebration that is to the United States what May Day was to the Commies. Hard to be an American and not find it irresistible.

P.S: Those Super Bowl viewers who can’t tell one Jackson from another and don’t get carried away watching ads, will be curious to see if the light, fast, front four of the Carolina defense can put some pressure on Tom Brady. On this, many think, hangs the outcome of the game they’ll be playing between the jugglers and the midget acts. Could even be interesting.

Geoffrey Norman writes on sports for NRO and other publications.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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