Americans Come Together… For Super Bowl

'I' On Culture by Leonard Wechsler


We have just finished one of the great sharing episodes of this great democracy. The primaries? No. The Super Bowl, of course. More people watch the “big game” than vote for either party’s candidate in the big November election. And compared to the primaries? Well, you know that answer, too. Of course, the results of this one are very satisfying to an old New Yorker.

The Super Bowl tradition has become ingrained by now. I am old enough to remember it before it was even called that. It was the AFL-NFL World Championship Game before Joe Namath of the New York Jets beat the Baltimore Colts in the third one. Now, it is a day where everything else comes to rest while a huge portion of the male population (and a growing part of the female) stops everything and pigs out during games.

“Pigs out” is a good phrase. I heard reports that about 1.2 billion chicken wings were consumed during the game, as well as millions of pizzas. The fancy candy companies may live for Valentine’s Day, but all the junk food companies, rib and wing places, and pizza delivery places focus on Super Bowl Sunday. On the other hand, the restaurant we ate in shortly before the game to celebrate a family birthday was essentially cleared out as we left at 6 p.m. to make it home in time for the game.

Everything comes to a stop that day. Coverage began at noon, with nonstop examinations of every possible twist and turn before the 6:30 game. What’s going on with Tom Brady and Giselle? Has Victor Cruz ever sprained anything when he does his celebration salsas? Should players be boastful and predict victory even though every sportscaster in America has done so and a large portion of us join in pools guessing the final score of the game?

Super Bowl day has become such an ingrained institution that it even inspired controversy years ago at the height of the feminist movement. The leadership all claimed that Super Bowl Sunday was the day when more women suffered domestic violence than on any other day. It did take a couple of years to do the research, and it was discovered that the opposite was true. There was actually less domestic violence that day.

Any ardent fan could have told them that. Most American men are too busy watching the screen, scarfing down enough cholesterol to kill off the blue whale population, drinking beer and heading for the bathroom, all while talking to their buddies, to even notice that women are around.

A few years later, some stores began to have Super Bowl sales with late hours, figuring women could slip out and buy what they liked without their men even noticing it. That disappeared as more women are now watching the game as well.

It is a time to come together. Expensive advertisements are concocted for the top-selling products in the country to be shown during the game — ads that are often so good they are actually shown off in advance. The reason for the great commercials is that the game is perhaps the only time during the year that advertisers can reach really large numbers of the public. But they pay handsomely for that: Even very short ads can run millions.

Now that we have so many channels and non-television sources of entertainment, the top-rated shows are generally thrilled to have a rating of 20 (whatever that actually means, since the rating system is deliberately complex). The last episode of M*A*S*H 30 years ago had one of over 60. The Super Bowl is so big that the regular channels just put on repeats. Why bother wasting something original?

So we all gathered around our sets, larger than the ones of past years (and let us note that the weeks just before the Super Bowl are also among the best for sales of very large-screen TVs) and shared an experience. For some, it’s a time of celebration, for others a time to mourn. There will be more mourners since those who lost bets, which include those who tried to guess the exact scores, will be down some cash.

So, happy about the ending or not, we can celebrate our coming together, even if it actually is for at least some of us the second most important public event of the year.