In case you’ve been on another planet, Sunday is the Super Bowl. I think this is number 43 (XLIII) but don’t quote me as I’m not great with Roman numerals. The NFL began using them to make the Super Bowl seem more “dignified.” This year’s game is in Tampa Bay, which is the strip club capital of the world. How’s that for dignified?

As it happens I was at Super Bowl I, which was played at the Coliseum (L.A. not Rome). Frankly, it was boring. The Coliseum can hold 100,000 and only 60,000 showed up. Even the name, Super Bowl, was ridiculed by some, calling it the Tidy Bowl. (I didn’t get the connection then, either.)

One problem with that first Super Bowl was the disparity in talent. It was not long after the merger between the AFL, which began in 1960, and the NFL, which started in 1920. All that seemed to change, however, in Super Bowl III when Joe Namath’s Jets defeated Johnny Unitas’ Colts in one of the greatest upsets in sports history (not counting when my Hamilton High School B basketball team defeated Westchester for the Western League title, but who lives in the past).

The Super Bowl is such an obsession in America that if you’re a guy and you’re not interested you’re considered either a Communist or gay or both. (Women, for some reason, are cut a little more slack.) I can almost picture the late Sen. Joe McCarthy holding a piece of paper, “I have here a list of the names of people, at the highest levels of our government, who did not watch the Super Bowl! It’s un-American!” After ruining countless lives, Joe was censured by the Senate, and drank himself to death. If you don’t remember Joe McCarthy, picture Rush Limbaugh, but with a darker complexion.

Not only is the Super Bowl game popular (100,000,000 viewers and nearly that many parties) but so are the commercials. No recession there. Commercials can cost up to $3 million a spot.

Some are quite brilliant but then again, at those prices, they’d better be. In fact, many times the commercials are more interesting than the games. Not last year, however, when the New York Giants rallied to beat the then undefeated New England Patriots in one of the most exciting games I’ve ever seen. (This one was even more memorable than the commercials.)

The ads are so popular they’re replayed over and over on the Internet. I’d say that’s insane except that I watch them myself. Then again, the marketing world is so different these days. It’s hard to imagine but there was a time when you bought something at a department store the bag didn’t advertise the store for all the world to see. And no one wore a T-shirt with the manufacturer’s name across the chest and back. I remember thinking that it was absurd. That was right before I started wearing them.

Perhaps another ingredient to the success of the Super Bowl is the wagering. In 2008 over $10 billion was bet by over 200 million people worldwide. No wonder so many people seem to have more than just a “rooting” interest.

In Las Vegas you can bet on such obscure action as which team will be called for a penalty first; will the first score be a safety, field goal or touchdown; and will the combined scores be more or less than the points Lebron James scores. (The Cavs play the Pistons on Sunday.) Vegas even takes action on who will win the coin flip.

This year’s game is between the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are the heavy favorites against the Arizona Cardinals. Perhaps one of the reasons the Cardinals are the underdogs is that they haven’t won a championship since 1947 when they were the Chicago Cardinals.

That may seem like a long time ago unless you’re a Cubs fan. They haven’t won a World Series since 1908.

I’m rooting for the Cardinals because I’ve always liked the style of their quarterback, Kurt Warner. He’s pure action.

He also may wind up in the Hall of Fame, which is even more remarkable considering not that long ago he was stocking cans in a grocery store.

My only complaint about Kurt is that, after the game he always gives credit to God. Somehow he makes it sound as though God has nothing better to do than root on a football game like some bookie needing to cover the spread.

The best (or worst) thing about the Super Bowl is the parties. They can be like a combination of New Years and Mardis Gras. If you’re really into the game, with all the noise you can’t concentrate. But everybody quiets down for the commercials. At $3 million a pop, I suppose they better.

When he isn’t betting on coin flips, Jack can be reached at Jackneworth@yahoo.com.

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