Can’t figure out American football? Neither can Brenda Benedict. But the half-time shows, advertisements and trivia of her maiden Super Bowl kept her entertained.
I guess like the durian, American football is an acquired taste. Several foreign transplants I’ve come to know in DC have shared that initially they couldn’t fathom the fanfare surrounding the game either. However, over time, some grew to comprehend and enjoy it, and some continue to enjoy the sideshows.
For now, I’d say I belong to the latter group. If I had to play Taboo and wound up drawing “Super Bowl”, these are probably going to be the clues I’d proffer: half-time show, Budweiser ads, Nipplegate and Tom Brady.
In fact, Mr Giselle Bundchen was very much in the news in the run-up to last Sunday’s finals with people wryly remarking on his “balls.” Lest I raise the hackles of the easily excitable Morality Brigade back home, this is in reference to the allegation that Brady’s team, the New England Patriots (who incidentally won the Super Bowl), may have deliberately underinflated the footballs they used in two previous NFL matches, to gain an unfair advantage.
In true American style, the scandal was quickly christened “Deflategate” – the suffix “gate” in deference to the apparent mother of all scandals, Watergate.
In the days leading up to the final, my husband tried to simplify the game for me: citing the Super Bowl as the equivalent of the soccer World Cup (only that all teams are from the United States), his explanation somehow made me surmise that it’s something like our belon acah but with a buah kana-shaped ball and a LOT of body contact. He gave up and I googled “How to Play American Football.”
BBC Sport had also produced a timely cheat sheet for ignoramuses entitled, “How To Bluff Your Way Through The Super Bowl.” It included a handy list of terms one could bandy about if watching with a crowd. Some of them were textbook such as offence and defence (to be pronounced “dee-fence” for street cred) and others required a bit more comprehension such as “cover three defence” and “pocket passer.”
So last Sunday, I tucked into some chicken wings and tater tots and watched the live stream of the game on my laptop at home. This also enabled me to easily google unclear terms or bits of interesting trivia for quicker insight into this whole sporting tradition.
As with any big soccer final, the broadcast began way before the actual kick-off, with pundits discussing strategy and the aforementioned Deflategate. And the game itself, from what I could understand of it, was nail-biting and a pretty close call when you consider the final score of the New England Patriots’ 28 to the Seattle Seahawks’ 24.
However, I remained more drawn to the advertisements and the half-time show. In fact, much had been said about the skyrocketing price of ad spots: this year, advertisers coughed up US$4.5mil (RM16.2mil) for a 30-second spot. Not surprising when you consider a Forbes report from last year that, “several studies have proven that 50% of the Super Bowl audience tunes in just to watch the ads.”
Budweiser has somehow garnered a following for their cute ads featuring their trademark Clydesdales and other members of the animal kingdom. My favourite has always been of the donkey that dreamed of running with the Clydesdales. This year’s ad featured a golden retriever pup that’s parted and then reunited with his Clydesdale buddy. All to a mournful version of The Proclaimers’ I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles). Not surprisingly, the ad has reportedly topped voter polls again.
Then there was the sobering Weightwatchers’ ad that ran a dizzying array of shots of various fast food options and brands ending with a simple statement, “It’s Time To Take Back Control” – alluding to the fact that overeating is very much an issue here.
By then, I had already eaten my dinner, but apparently, Super Bowl Sunday is the second biggest day of food consumption in the United States after Thanksgiving. In fact, there was a report that stated, “The National Chicken Council projected 1.25 billion chicken wings would be consumed on Sunday while numbers from the Snack Food Association included 11.2 million pounds of potato chips, 8.2 million pounds of tortilla chips and 3.8 million pounds of popcorn.”
Finally, no Super Bowl is complete without its traditional 15-minute half-time show, which adds to its total time of almost 3.5 hours. As an interesting aside, it was one particular half-time show that apparently inspired the creation of YouTube. It was that infamous performance by Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake in 2004 that ended in Jackson’s unfortunate “wardrobe malfunction” that in the tradition of “-gates” was named, Nipplegate.
According to YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim, who missed that particular halftime show and couldn’t find videos of it online, this incident was one of the reasons he, Steve Chen and Chad Hurley created the video sharing website that is now so firmly entrenched in our lives.
Amidst dancing sharks and a giant robot lion, Katy Perry performed a selection of her hits at this year’s half-time show, with Lenny Kravitz making a support appearance for I Kissed A Girl. My – and apparently the roaring crowd’s – favourite part of the show though was when Missy Elliot came onstage to perform her two hits, Get Your Freak On and Work It. Perry closed the show in a profusion of pyrotechnics and fireworks to you guessed it, Firework.
In all, watching the Super Bowl in almost its entirety, gave me an initial insight into a game that has hallowed status here in the United States. Clearly from my perspective, I still have a long way to go before this sport can fully engage me. At least, I won’t be so lost when someone mentions certain teams or players and I know what a pocket passer is.
Now let me go watch a replay of that Budweiser ad on YouTube.
¦ Brenda Benedict is a Malaysian living in Washington DC. Cute animal videos floor her.