Why Do We “Like” The Superbowl Again?


While we pick up the pieces of that 43-8 shellacking at the Superbowl, we have to ask ourselves – why do we Americans like this sport again?

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The Superbowl, by all accounts, was a disaster. The commercials were mediocre and the game was a lopsided mess. Bruno Mars might have been the best part about the show (or at least the 70s-esque outfits), but overall, if it wasn’t for Twitter’s consistent, snarky comedy, the NFL would rather never bring up this big game again. Audiences, save for Seahawk fans of course, headed home drunk and hungover, wondering what that was all about. With the inexplicable complaints about the “national anthem” being sung in other languages, the commentary raging over the interracial Cheerios commercial, and white people uncomfortably pleased with Richard Sherman’s injury after some past innocuous comments (along with just a shitty game), we may want to ask ourselves why, exactly, do we love football?

I’m a football fan, and even I’ll admit that football is… kinda boring. It’s a game of moment-to-moment action, followed by long periods of stagnation and formation. The commentary is almost always awful, and week-long discussions over the latest football drama is just inane. It’s a complex but silly game where twenty-two people hit each other at full speed (at the risk of permanent and fatalistic injuries) over the strangest shaped ball in all of sports. At its worse, you get exactly what we got – two pure weeks of nonsensical hype, only leading up to a worthless finale.

I hate it. My team (the Tennessee Titans) was terrible this year, and I’ll only be glancing sparingly at the off-season developments. It’s growing more and more uncomfortable to see young men in their physical prime destroy themselves in the name of toughness, knowing full well they are pumping themselves full of illicit medication and will eventually end up medically ignored by the very organization that gave them purpose. Football fans, especially those from Philadelphia, are just the worst. And yet, come September, I’ll be there on Thursday, watching the opening kickoff.

The truth is that football is a lazy man’s game. Not the players – who are indeed exquisite Adonises at their physical peak. No, it’s the lazy man’s game to watch, follow, and enjoy.

Think about it. Football games are once a week, with a singular game on Mondays and Thursdays. You don’t really have to watch the entire game – the last quarter will do. ESPN and the NFL Network (along with every other network and newspaper and blog throughout the country) will fill you in on all the highlights and details, so you don’t have to worry about missing anything. The endless commentary allows you to not think for yourself, such that non-issues become issues (Richard Sherman) and issues become non-issues (concussions). You drink beer and eat shitty food during the game so you can engage in water cooler talk, like you just finished your “stories” – and if the NFL knows anything, it knows “stories”.

Football is a nerd’s sport. It’s a game more about states and numbers and icons that we refer to as “players” – you know, actual human beings. Crowds talk tough about the players with the audacity to judge who is and who isn’t tough – as they sit on their couches all day with Cheetos dust on their fingers. Like D&D, it’s a perfect, all-day time waster on a Sunday – I mean, what else are you going to do? Go to church? Indeed, there is more in common between geeks and sports fans than we like to think – both, after all, can be categorized stereotypically as neckbeards, obsessed with numbers and a fantasy they could only WISH to be a part of. There’s a reason why fantasy football took so well and became so popular – football is built on treating its players as cards to be moved around at will to maximize offensive and defensive capabilities. It’s the very nature of the game.

I have long, long stated that football was ostensibly an RPG in the guise of a sport. Eventually, Kotaku finally agreed. Football functions in some ways like a cross between Civilization and Final Fantasy Tactics. It’s no wonder the sport took so well to its fantasy counterpart, letting its participants have an entire week to perfect their rosters of real, living people so they can get points and win a non-existent contest to better their lives. Or something. Every website that participates in fantasy football has their own entire systems set up and designed to maximize participation. They even have fantasy football writers, which is a thing now? In August, by the way, there will be no less than three magazines on newsstands dedicated to nothing BUT the upcoming fantasy season. This is horrifying.

Many people ignore football right up until the big game. Let’s be clear. Even the most diehard football fans know how utterly overwhelming the Superbowl has become, with its million-dollar commercials and endless marketing/advertising gimmicks. The Superbowl is a mess, frankly, and we all wade through it, cringing at the hits and sexist commercials, appropriating the more progressive ones (or, at least the melodramatic ones) as some sort of progress. Deep down inside, we all know it’s bullshit – words and images and feelings designed to sell a soulless product. Don Draper would be having a field day. This also goes for those who, ironically or not, switch over to Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl, which contains its own sense of soullessness at the expense of cute animals you will never, ever adopt. At this point, the Puppy Bowl is as beholden to is advertisers as the real game – no matter how adorable Fido is. Think about it like this – the Puppy Bowl wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the Superbowl. Also, the Puppy Bowl is a visual mess.

In all this nonsense, in all this violence and corporate synergy and ironic commentary and dismissal, why, exactly, do why watch the Superbowl? Why do even watch football?

Because it’s easy.

There was a time where football was considered by EVERYONE to be just a bunch of men hitting each other. Hell, it still is. But a few people, like John Madden, before he went senile, managed to explain to the world the strategy and concept of football in simplistic, easy-to-understand terms. Football got smart (it was always smart, really, but the public realized it). There’s a specific reason for every player, formation, play, rule, action and reaction, all of which creates its own miniature story one play at a time – giving viewers twenty seconds to sip their drink and eat that nacho (for the lazy), or note that stat and account for that player (for the nerdy). Maybe someone will whine after the game, or do something stupid during it, which we’ll Tweet about and gossip over like something out of One Life to Live (or pro-wrestling – which is more analogous to American football than we’d like to admit). After all that, we get a few days to NOT TALK ABOUT IT. We unwind, we relax, we do other stuff. Then Sunday comes, and we’re right back at it. Easy.

The Superbowl in particular gives us two whole weeks before its debut, which allows us to gobble up all the info we can without being overwhelmed. We choose sides and create yet another excuse to party and get drunk, and we gather together to kinda watch the final, best teams “RPG” it out. But that’s really it, isn’t it? In the end, as cruel and inane as the sport is, its really an excuse to come together, in hate or in love – a non-official holiday of cheers and snark, of dedicated appreciation or ironic detachment. The Superbowl, in its own, sad way, is our time, and in all the superficiality, we truly can make the Superbowl our own. Unlike Christmas or Valentine’s Day, where we’re forced to engage in its sentiments no matter what, the Superbowl is freeing. It gives us an opportunity to hate or love, to engage or disengage. It’s an event that we can deal with in our own, special ways, all of them valid. No matter what happens to the NFL in the future, the Superbowl will be there, and we, like obedient children, will respond. We’ll have fun on that Superbowl Sunday, with our own unique plans – which, whether the NFL agrees with it or not, truly makes the day special.

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  1. #1 by Nina on February 4, 2014 - 10:48 am

    Interesting analysis of football. Personally, I was never a sports kid growing up. I very recently got into baseball, and only follow hockey (I’m Canadian, after all) online when I check scores and standings. I wanted to get into football, but just couldn’t, at least not this season. My best friend however took to it like a duck takes to water, chose to follow the Seahawks in August, and had herself a fun Sunday. I do however follow Olympic events quite religiously, which I know is terrible because the Olympics are the worst, but that’s another story…

    Out of curiosity, do you feel this way about all professional team sports? Are there sports you are down with?

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