OK, the story. It’s not the year I went to the Super Bowl Party and was greeted by a gaggle of chanting monks, although that one’s not bad. Or the year where the entertainment included a woman posing with a snake draped around her neck, and I looked around the room hoping that Hunter Thompson was there to see. Or the year of the Miami riots when the NFL couldn’t bring itself to cancel the party even as the city burned because, I don’t know, the rioters would win.
Everyone knows the story of Bears quarterback Jim McMahon mooning the hovering news chopper at practice, which is hard to top. He also urinated in a doorway and ate oysters with a man in a bear suit, but, hey, it was New Orleans. Another year in New Orleans, I went in search of the Meaning of the Game and found myself at Rev. Cicero Zombie’s Voodoo Shop on Bourbon Street and met Priestess Miriam Chamani, who refused to reveal the winner because, she said, “it is unwise to jump between the two life forces” — and who could argue.[pullquote] In 1978, at the Broncos’ first Super Bowl, the pregame entertainment was dogs in wide collars catching Frisbees. At halftime, they rolled out the Tyler Junior College Marching Band, the Apache Belles and the music group Harmony and Understanding.[/pullquote]
Still, my favorite story may be apocryphal, but it should be true, because it’s the perfect Super Bowl story. It’s the night before the game and the coach is meeting with his team. And to show the players just how great the stakes are, he spreads out 96,000 one-dollar bills on a table — one for each dollar a Super Bowl win would bring to each player. And the team goes out the next day and, of course, kicks some Super Bowl butt.
It’s perfect not because professional athletes are any more greedy than the rest of us. It’s perfect because the whole point of the Super Bowl is the unabashed celebration of excess — and that’s just on Media Day.
The other midwinter holidays are supposed to be about something. Lincoln, Washington, MLK. And if you toss in a three-day ALL MERCHANDISE MUST GO!!!! sale, well, you just hope Abe doesn’t mind. But Super Bowl Sunday is about nothing more than jaw-dropping excess. Every number associated with the game is meant to suggest new and absurd levels of unchecked consumption. This may be the age of income inequality, but nearly everyone seems to play along.
The National Chicken Council reveals that we will eat approximately 1.25 billion chicken wings on Sunday. I read in the Sacramento Bee that we’ll eat 120 million pounds of guacamole, which, someone took the time to calculate, equals enough mashed avocado to cover a football field 46 feet deep. Scalped tickets are going for $6,500. A thirty-second commercial costs $4.5 million. I did the math on this one. That’s $150,000 a second, or $600,000 in the time it took me to type this sentence. Ecuador is spending $3.8 million on a tourist ad. Yes, Ecuador. No, I don’t get it either.
This has been a terrible year for the NFL. Former Patriots star Aaron Hernandez is on trial right now for murder. There was the devastating Ray Rice elevator punch and then NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s embarrassingly pulled punch. Domestic violence, child abuse, concussions. But none of that will matter Sunday when more than 110 million people are expected to watch the Patriots and the Seahawks.
I don’t know exactly when the Super Bowl became the Super Bowl as we know it today. I’d guess it was around the time when the commercials became more highly anticipated than the game, maybe in the year of the flatulent Budweiser horses. It might have been when Michael Jackson was the halftime entertainment, and the Ultimate Game became the Ultimate Event. I know how it happened, though. It was when the outraged stories about Super Bowl hype became just one more way the NFL shamelessly hyped the game.
It’s hard to remember, but it was not ever thus. Or at least not this much thus. In January of 1978, at the Broncos’ first Super Bowl, the pregame entertainment was dogs in wide collars catching Frisbees. At halftime, they rolled out the Tyler Junior College Marching Band, the Apache Belles and the music group Harmony and Understanding.
This year it’s Katy Perry, and more people will probably watch her than watch the game, and the game will probably set records as the most-watched TV show in history. There’s a story going around that the NFL, which doesn’t pay its halftime entertainment, actually tried to charge Perry for what is basically a 12-minute ad. That’s pretty much a perfect Super Bowl story, too.
And then there’s the story of the pulled GoDaddy Super Bowl commercial. Commercials are leaked these days, of course, so they can appear first on social media or the morning news shows. You can binge-watch them now. GoDaddy, the Website builder which trades in outrageous ads, offered up one about a lost puppy — a send-up of the Budweiser ad — making its way home to its joyful family. And here’s the punchline: The reason the family is excited is that it had set up a Website through GoDaddy and successfully sold the dog. People were outraged because … puppies. And so GoDaddy pulled the ad. Or maybe GoDaddy anticipated the outrage and pulled the ad because it had figured out a way to get two ads for the price of one.
In a neat coincidence, NBC happens to be pitching a piece that will air on its six-hour pregame show in which puppies — yes, puppies — will make Super Bowl predictions. What else? Let’s just hope no animals were harmed by the hype.[ Photo by C.C. Chapman.]