On Sunday, I sat down in front of the TV to watch the Super Bowl. Admittedly, this was an odd move for a non-American. Although the big game is broadcast worldwide, American football has never really been all that successful a cultural export. Outside the U.S., Monday morning’s banter around the water cooler will scarcely feature any of the events in New Orleans; maybe there will be some mention of the power outage, but it’ll just be schadenfreude.
The Super Bowl is a quintessentially American event. Watching it abroad is not all that appealing, to be honest. Rarely do people get together to watch it, so you miss out on the chicken wings and the Sunday boozing. Then, you don’t get any of the famous commercials, which are the reason many tune in and what make the countless interruptions bearable in the first place. Instead, what I got here on the Latin American ESPN was talk about the matchup between “los cuarenta y nueves” and “los cuervos,” which just sounds ridiculous, sandwiched between the endless repetition of a laundry detergent ad meant for the Argentinean market.
Bereft of the greasy food and the advertizing extravaganza, what remained was the game itself, which is often the least comprehensible part of a Super Bowl for someone who is not from the United States. I’m privileged to have learned all about American football from my junior year roommate, who played in high school and college. The strategic interplay of such highly specialized athletes is not something readily appreciable to the untrained eye. For the uninitiated, the clashing helmets on the field might look like little else than a series of concussions in the making. Thus, there’s a high barrier to entry before a non-American can be enthralled by feats like Jacoby Jones’s 108-yard punt return, which speaks both of Jones’s and his team’s prowess.
Beyond the grit, the Super Bowl featured various other lines of drama, all of which added to the spectacle. Two brothers Harbaugh faced each other on opposing sides as their parents watched — who would win? Would they hug after the game? Would Ray Lewis end his career in glory? How would Beyonce perform after lip-syncing at the inauguration? While these questions were all answered bombastically on Sunday with America watching in record numbers, I can only imagine that most of the rest of the world just had a normal weekend.
Ashley Fetters at the Atlantic gets it right in saying the much of the world regards the Super Bowl “the same way many Americans regard mounties, Vegemite, and the vuvuzela.” It’s a pastiche of modern-day Americana, an amalgam of impressive athleticism, fatty finger food, escalating consumerism, true grit, testosterone, Beyonce, bruises and glory all in one. The Super Bowl is just America being America, and it’s really fine if the rest of the world doesn’t get it. Just don’t call us crazy when we go nuts over the World Cup.