Sunday, February 7, 2010

Culture: Watching the Superbowl

TORONTO, ONTARIO - I didn't watch the Superbowl today, as the New Orleans Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 in Miami, a significant upset that was closer than the final score indicated. After all, I don't own a television. In 2004, in some sense watching the Superbowl was not optional--I was living in suburban Boston, and the local New England Patriots were returning to the Superbowl for the second time in three years. Furthermore, my neighbors included a German couple that had never watched a Superbowl before, and wanted to experience a classic American event.

I am hardly an expert in football, but I watched enough games growing up that I have a grasp on the rules. Explaining to someone not familiar with the game the meaning of a penalty for a "false start" by the offense or a "delay of game" is not hard to do. Others, like "offensive pass interference" or "illegal use of the hands" or even "holding" can be more challenging to explain. With twenty penalties called over the course of the game, they expressed the most frustration with these interruptions, no matter if I explained the reasoning well or not.

Items of strategy could also be hard to explain--the possibility of a onside kick, for example, was completely inscrutable to my friends. The idea of getting out of bounds to stop the clock (or remaining in bounds to run down the clock) was something they picked up on very quickly, though.

The real point of the experience, of course, was not so much to watch and understand the game as it was to have a party. A key part of the party was the snacks. If memory serves, we had nachos at the end of the first quarter, pizza rolls at halftime (probably the only time I have had them my entire adult life), wings and dip at the end of the third quarter, and chili after the game was over. We watched the commercials, but none--even including nine from Budweiser--was especially memorable. Amazingly, we managed to miss the infamous Janet Jackson "wardrobe malfunction" at halftime--I think I was preparing food and everyone else had wandered off for one reason or another.

This was one of the few Superbowls to that point in which the game was actually worth watching. After a scoreless first quarter, the Patriots led 14-10 at halftime, followed by a scoreless third quarter, and finally a wild fourth quarter in which 37 points were scored. With 1:08 left in the game, the score was tied 29-29, and New England gained possession of the ball. New England quarterback Tom Brady, who would be named Most Valuable Player, somehow moved his team down the field. In the final seconds, Adam Vinateri kicked a game-winning field goal, just like he had two years before.

My German friends had not only seen an excellent game and eaten a supply of American junk food, they were treated to all the cars in the neighborhood honking their horns in celebration. The local team had won the Superbowl!

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