After several weeks of winter and its accompanying dreariness, a bright spot for many folks is the Super Bowl. The big game will be played this evening at MetLife Stadium at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. This will be the first Super Bowl held outdoors in a cold weather climate — football as it was meant to be played, if you ask me.
Jointly hosted by the New York Jets and the New York Giants (to my great consternation and confusion — a story for another day — they share a home stadium), Super Bowl XLVIII will offer up the usual doses of hype, excitement, partying and friendly wagering.
The anticipation leading up to the game is not just for the actual sporting event, of course — the pregame show (that begins at least a week before the game, it seems), the national anthem singer, the halftime show and the commercials draw as many viewers as the game itself. Odds are against a favorite team appearing in the game, so the other distractions help keep it interesting, though they’ve become a bit excessive. The game is more fun with a rooting interest, so I always try to find one, even if it’s a stretch.
Some years, the game is boring. Other years, it’s full of excitement. Sometimes it’s the half-time show that becomes the next day’s water cooler topic, like after Janet Jackson’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction” in 2004. Last year, the 34-minute delay of game due to a power outage was the hot topic — it seemed to change the momentum of the game in favor of the trailing San Francisco 49ers.
All major sporting events involve the gamble of the national anthem ... what sort of result can we expect from the entertainer tasked with that job? Too often, it’s hideous. Performances rarely meet the standard Whitney Houston set with her stunning rendition (during a highly patriotic time) in 1991. While Houston’s version was spectacular, my favorite was the Dixie Chicks’ harmonized version back in 2003. (Check out these and other performances on YouTube.)
The halftime show is another unknown. After many years of safe but has-been performers, organizers have tried to recruit more current stars — it’s difficult to balance the desire to be modern but still appeal to the millions of viewers over the always-targeted age demographic of 25- to 40-year-olds. At the top end of that age group, I am usually left scratching my head after the show or purposely spend halftime refilling the snack supply.
Oftentimes, the anticipation of the commercials outshines the fuss over the game, because Super Bowl ads can be fantastically memorable. Advertisers know the wide audience reached by the game, usually the most-watched television event of the year, and they plan accordingly. Recent ad spots have cost around $4 million for a mere 30 seconds of airtime.
Some of the most memorable Super Bowl ads in history have been sponsored by Anheuser-Busch, such as its Budweiser ads featuring the iconic Clydesdales. Pepsi, Doritos and car manufacturers are other frequent stars of the ad game.
The commercial credited with starting the craze was the 1979 Coca-Cola ad featuring “Mean” Joe Greene. Playing against type, he tossed his game jersey to a young fan who gave him a Coke.
My all-time favorite is still the 1996 commercial featuring a Pepsi worker caught on a security camera as he reached into a convenience store cooler to sneak a Coke, causing a landslide of cans all over the floor. Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart” provided the perfect soundtrack.
Another important element of the Super Bowl is food. Whether at a party with friends or just at home with the family, everyone has their favorite game day snacks. Pizza places have their biggest night of carry-outs and deliveries of the year. Buffalo wings and subs are other popular choices. Some folks prefer chili for their main dish and a few even brave the cold to cook something on the grill. Chips and dips are favorite sides, and it’s key that the menu is full of things that can be eaten in front of the TV without a big mess.
The Super Bowl and its accoutrements are uniquely American traditions, as folks convene in living rooms across the nation to socialize, eat, laugh and cheer together. Whatever the outcome of the game, it’s a great night to be an American and a football fan.
Rebecca Horvath of Johnson City is a wife, mother and community activist.