To think of the Super Bowl as merely a championship football game is just plain dumb. In its fifth decade it is solidly entrenched as the premier American cultural event. If you don’t watch the Super Bowl, then you should consider yourself more than out of the mainstream: you are downright un-American. There simply is no demographic group that uniformly ignores it. Virtually everyone in the USA adjusts their schedule on Super Bowl day to accommodate viewing of the game – it is now a national holiday.
Of course, to a very large extent, it is about money. Super bowl has the largest economic impact of any regular human event – twice that of the second ranking one: the summer Olympics. And that probably does not include all the myriad forms of gambling.
People on diets indulge themselves. People addicted to exercise substitute TV watching. Intellectuals watch to observe the cultural phenomenon. People who never watch a football game during the regular season find themselves sucked in by the suction of a massively promoted mass event.
The day before I sat in my car for awhile outside a supermarket. The large parking lot was totally filled. What I observed blew my mind. There was a steady stream of people leaving with overflowing carts. I could see in nearly all of them large amounts of bags of snacks and many cartons of soda and beer. I imagine a scale on which the U.S. population stood. The weight gain on Super Bowl day would dwarf that of the entire Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season. According to Media Life Magazine, while watching last year’s Super Bowl Americans consumed 14,500 tons of chips and 8 million pounds of guacamole. And all that is just the tip of the gluttony iceberg. No surprise that last year there was a 20 percent increase in antacid sales the day after Super Sunday!
Ultimately and culturally, Super Bowl is all about winners and losers, about champions and almost-champions, about the ubiquitous American quest for success – not merely the pursuit of happiness – but the actual achievement of glorified and monetary success. Super Bowl is a cultural phenomenon because nearly all Americans are living through it vicariously. Young and old, women and men, rich and poor are all identifying with one side or the other. When the game is over we each see ourselves either as a member of the winning or losing team. We gave it all we could. Whether we see ourselves as victors or losers probably has more to do with our own lives than with any previous connection with either of the teams and their home cities. We see ourselves as underdogs fighting a losing battle against a cruel world, or as winners that have overcome many obstacles to achieve success. Super Bowl is a personality test.
Some years the game is a disappointment. But not this year. Beyond the certainty of one winner and one loser, was the certainty that for the first time an African-American would be the Super Bowl champion head coach. I think the underdog was the Indianapolis Colts, considering their three straight 12-win seasons. And I’m glad they won. Because I have always seen myself as an underdog. And, yes, it was a great, exciting game.
With nearly 100 million U.S. viewers and another 900 million worldwide, Super Bowl has transcended sports. It has achieved so much success because it has engaged an enormous number of people that are not regular sports nuts. According to a Harris Interactive poll, more than half of U.S. adults (56 percent) watched the Super Bowl last year as much or more for the commercials as for the game itself. That figure is 61 percent for viewers ages 18 to 34, and 48 percent for ages 55 and older. Women are more likely to watch the Super Bowl for the commercials only. And make no mistake about women viewers: Last year ACNielsen reported that 43 percent of viewers among adult viewers ages 18-49 were women. A new survey by the Marketing to Moms Coalition found that 61 percent of moms planned to watch with their husbands, 13 percent with friends, 11 percent with their kids, and 6 percent by themselves.
The bottom line is that the Super Bowl unites Americans better than any other event. It is our national group therapy session, a mighty distraction from all the political and economic insanity all too visible in our everyday lives.
We stuff ourselves with food, drink, dreams and delusions. We postpone bodily functions to watch the terrific commercials on new big-screen TVs that have added to household debt. We have one helluva swell time celebrating self-indulgence – which, after all, is what the USA is all about. Our national motto is In More We Trust, and Super Bowl is the perfect celebration of this philosophy. Super Bowl is not about football. It is about you and me.