The Superbowl. The United States’ most important athletic event and almost a national holiday. Don’t know anything about American football or even don´t care about it? It doesn’t matter; everyone is in front of a TV on Superbowl Sunday. The ratings prove it: Over 110 million Estadounidenses watched at least part of it last year, and I can only see those numbers going up after Sunday’s nail-biter end.
But still, all the buzz about the game is mainly focused in the USA. Even though globalization has taken it all over the world, only a number of people that follow international sports actually know what’s going on.
I’m an Argentine. I’ve watched a bit of American football. I don’t know that much about it, but I think I could hold a conversation with someone as long as it doesn’t get too technical. And my best argument: I played Madden ’06 in my PlayStation 2 back in the day when I could buy a game for AR$ 15. Oh the way I crushed defenses with LaDanian Tomlinson and the Chargers–I get nostalgic just by thinking about it.
So, with that vast knowledge, I decided to attend a US expat bar and see firsthand how people celebrate this national party. I met with a friend and headed to Palermo (Or little US). The first option was Sugar, but as soon as I arrived, a 2-meter-tall by 2-meter-wide man told me I couldn’t get in, as the place at full capacity:
So I headed to Magdalena’s Party with dwindling hope, as I could see from half a block away there were people talking outside the bar and it was probably full too. Luckily, there was no bouncer there, so I got in with a good half an hour left and got ready to get soaked with Superbowl culture (and sweat, the place was FULL).
After a quick scan of the room I could already see the different groups every major sport get-together has:
-The hard core that actually wants to watch the game and be loud about it took the center and best spot.
-The middle-aged ones who were also into the game but wanted to lay low got together in a far corner table with a good view.
-The two-gendered groups, where half of them knew what was going around and the other just wanted to get drunk took the long tables. Everyone else, people who came for a fun Sunday night, just stood where there was room, beer in hand and chatting while the game took place.
But if there was something everyone had in common, it was alcohol. I cannot begin to describe the amount of drinks Magdalena’s served on Sunday night. No one was empty handed before, during or after kickoff, and I mean no one. The waiters probably had more rushing yards than Seattle Seahawks’ star running back Marshawn Lynch, and they didn’t fumble once.
If I had to compare my Superbowl experience with last year’s World Cup Final, I’d say that’s the first difference. People drink before an (Argentina) football game too, but during it, at least in my experience, Argentines get so into it that they forget about their drinks. Maybe we’ll have a drink or two, but when the ball’s rolling, there’s nothing else. Just to be clear, I’m not saying there’s a right way to watch a game, I’m just comparing how Argentines and US people watch the most important sports events.
A spectator I bothered named Kurt thinks alcohol plays a huge role in football culture: “You have to consider than more than 60% of the people watching the Superbowl tonight don’t even know how the game is played, they do it just for the party. Alcohol is part of the culture of watching football. I’ve never watched football without a glass of beer; they’re one in the same. You watch football, you drink a beer”. He looked kind of tipsy, so I just went with it and asked him how drunk he was: “I started drinking at 4 (P.M), so, on scale to 1 to 10, about an 8”. I believe he was a little drunker, about a 12 I’d say.
Another person watching the game named Tyler also said alcohol has a lot to do with football: “I think they should make it a national holiday, or at least move it to Saturday because so many people are hungover. In America, the Monday following the Superbowl they have the most people call in sick to work”
One reason that Superbowl watchers might have a drinking culture is the game’s dynamic. A whole American football game takes four hours to watch, but only sixty of those 240 minutes are actually played. The rest is huddle, timeout and play calling time. Hell, I’d drink too. I also asked fans about what they had to say about this, and got different responses. I also asked fans what they had to say about this.
Kurt thinks people from the US have a different conception of watching sports: “It’s typical among American sports. Baseball is really slow, Basketball has a lot of breaks as well, so maybe is the way Americans choose to watch their sports, more of a pastime, more relaxing thing than a football match, which is a constant 45 minutes” . But, he also thinks that it has its dynamic, in its own way: “Well, I think when two 300-pound men crash each other it’s pretty dynamic too”
Tyler thinks it’s pretty dynamic: “I like it the way it is, I think is dynamic enough. I wouldn’t change the game”
Let’s go back to the game. It had a slow start. There was no scoring during the first quarter and nothing really happened besides an interception from the Seahawks’ defense in their own end-zone after a long Patriots drive. The room reacted accordingly. Filled with a buzz of random chatter, it only reacted when Jeremy Lane intercepted the pass and broke his wrist ten seconds later.
After that, the mood returned to calm. The screen took a background place and from where I was standing, I heard different conversations. One about House of Cards and how awesome it is, and other one that involved an Argentine girl who didn’t know anything about American football and a guy trying to make her root for his team–we’re all the same when it comes to scouting foreign fans. I was far from the hardcore fan area. The conversation must’ve been about the game there, as those guys never looked away from the screen.
That, I think, is the second difference. If there’s something that Argentines pride ourselves on, it’s our football. We love to show how passionate we are about it to everyone. We’ll scream our hearts out, sing, and yell at the TV, trying to make the ball go in with our screaming. Any moment is ideal to burst out chants and let the world know we are there. Last year’s World Cup was the perfect example. If you watched the world cup, you probably heard fans chanting the now famous song “Brasil decime que se siente”. It was all over, and even Nike acknowledged it.
US fans have their own calmer, supporting style. They do not show it that much unless something happens. Probably because the game takes a long time to develop and the timeouts can draw the attention out of the game. The second quarter had the excitement the first one didn’t.
Two touchdowns a side made the room burst with cheering and high-fives flew all around. I couldn’t actually tell who people were rooting for, as everyone seemed happy when someone scored.
As soon as halftime arrived I ran outside the bar, the heat was unbearable and my back was killing me. I sound like an 80 year old–I should take a look at my habits.
I didn’t watch the half-time show. My craving for air and a chair were definitely bigger than it, and as the coverage was Latin American, the famous commercials were not on.
I started talking to people about why such an important game for them didn’t spread around the world, and their thoughts about it.
Kurt believes that it hasn’t gotten very popular due to the violence it involves: “Probably because it’s too violent. It’s primitive almost. A bunch of big guys taking each other every six seconds”
Brie from Colorado agrees, but also thinks it has something to do with power: “We’re just a little bit more aggressive. It’s a power complex and football is pretty aggressive. Also as it’s a thing that is only ours, we know we’re going to win, because we need to be number one at everything. It’s the need to be on top.”
Actually, Argentina has its own American football League. It’s called Federación Argentina de Football Americano . Of course, the development this league has doesn’t even begin to compare with the US, but now you know if you ever feel nostalgic and want throw the old pig skin again, you can get drafted into one of the six teams that compete for the “Australbowl” every year.
The Polar Bears looks like a fun team to play for.
When the second half started I was fresh enough, so I went in ready to watch. The Seahawks came out sharper, and outscored the Patriots 24-14 at the end of the quarter. Not much more happened during those fifteen minutes, and the drinks kept flowing, I leaned against a wall to give my old back some comfort and said goodbye to my friend who decided that half a game was enough for one night.
There was a slight mood change when the last quarter began. Fans were a little more nervous and a greater number of people turned away from their conversations to watch the game. I myself was talking to someone who told me to shut up all of a sudden when the game got to a turning point.
When the two minute warning came up no seat was taken and for the first time, everyone was watching the nail-biting game. Both halves of the bar went from extreme happiness to absolute sadness (and the other way around) in two plays after Russell Wilson’s 30-yard complete pass and ensuing interception, in what’s now being called the worst decision in football history.
With only twenty seconds to go, a Seahawks linebacker was called offside, which resulted in a five-yard penalty that allowed Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady to take a knee and finish the game.
Again, high-fives flew all around and happy Patriots fans congratulated themselves for a new Superbowl ring, their sixth in fourteen years. Seahawks and not Patriots fans’ disappointment was visible, as apparently everybody who’s not from New England/Boston doesn’t care about Tom Brady’s team at all.
Right after the end everyone started to leave, it was past midnight on a Sunday night, and even though Superbowl Monday is the US’ “National Hangover Day,” most people chose to leave right away and try to get half of a good night sleep, as their co-workers probably don’t know that.
While heading home, I arrived at the conclusion that I definitely like the event people make of the game. I can’t think a better Sunday than getting together with friends or family to have a pre-game barbecue, followed by the actual game and everything around it. But, if I had to change something, it’d be the dynamic and length of it. Those four hours stripped me of every bit of energy I had remaining, and as soon as I got home I crashed like I hadn’t slept in a month.
I wouldn’t change my football for anything, but I can see why people from the US like theirs. American football is not just about the game. It’s much more than that. And while sometimes I just wanted to grab the TV and shake it so something happened, watching those perfectly trained players crash each other like their life depended on it, and the strategy and planning that involved every play makes American football, and especially the Superbowl, an appealing event for everyone to watch.