In essence, the Super Bowl is the Grand Final of the National Football League (NFL). The champions of the American Football Conference (AFC) play the champions of the National Football Conference (NFC) at a neutral site for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
It’s the biggest annual sporting event in the United States and will attract a television viewing audience of more than 100 million Americans.
This year’s game will be played in MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, across the Hudson River from New York City. This is the first Super Bowl played outdoors in a cold weather city and, after much concern, it appears that the forecast is for clear skies and temperatures of 4 degrees.
The Denver Broncos, with a record of 13-3, play the Seattle Seahawks, also 13-3. This is Denver’s seventh appearance – the Broncos have won two – and Seattle’s second appearance after losing in 2006.
What’s with the Roman numerals?
First of all, let’s get this Roman numeral business out of the way. To begin with, the NFL season runs over the New Year, so although this is the 2013 season, the Super Bowl is played in 2014. To avoid confusion, the powers-that-be decided long ago to simply name the games rather than use years. However, they also decided to take the pompous route – a la the Rocky films – and use Roman numerals. That was all well and good for the first 20 years, but now as we venture into “XXX’s” and “L’s” things are getting much more confusing.
In the beginning
The first Super Bowl was played in 1967 and although it was called “The AFL-NFL World Championship Game”, it has been retroactively named Super Bowl I. The game came about because of the merger of the established NFL and an upstart league called the American Football League (AFL). The name Super Bowl was coined by the late billionaire Lamar Hunt, who was inspired by a child’s toy, a bouncing rubber ball called a “Super Ball”.
Unlike the NRL Grand Final in Sydney or the AFL Grand Final in Melbourne, the Super Bowl is played in a different city every year. The process of selecting a site can be highly political, but essentially the city has to have an NFL team nearby, enough hotel rooms and – in years past – a mild climate or a domed stadium. Miami and New Orleans have hosted the Super Bowl more than any other cities, but the NFL also likes to reward franchises and cities for building new venues. That’s why the game has gone to places like Detroit and Minneapolis, and why the 2016 game will be played in the brand new Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, just south of San Francisco.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have won the most Super Bowls, six, while the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys have each won five. Of the NFL’s 32 teams, only four have never played in a Super Bowl: Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars.
The half-time entertainment originally consisted of marching bands, jazz musicians and corny singing groups like Up With People. The year 1991’s show by New Kids On The Block was probably the first step towards turning the half-time show into a major showbiz event. In the past 20 years, headline acts have included U2, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Prince (my favourite), Beyonce, the Rolling Stones, and, of course, 2004’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction” featuring Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake. This year it’s Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Since this is normally the most watched television program of the year in the US, corporations often make Super Bowl Sunday a focus of their advertising campaigns. This year’s commercial time reportedly costs as much as $4 million per 30 seconds. Most of the pre-game buzz this year surrounds a Bud Light commercial featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger, a SodaStream ad with Scarlett Johansson and comedian Stephen Colbert talking about pistachios. Famous ads of the past include the Bud Light “Bud Bowl” featuring animated beer bottles, a McDonald’s basketball shootout involving Larry Bird and Michael Jordan and Apple Computer’s famous 1984 “Big Brother” spot, directed by Ridley Scott.
This year’s teams
This is a dream matchup between the team with the best offense and the team with the best defense. The Denver Broncos’ offense averaged 457 yards per game and 340 yards passing per game. The Seattle Seahawks’ defense, on the other hand, allowed just 274 yards per game and only 172 yards passing per game. Simply, if Denver can move the ball on Seattle, they should win. If Seattle can stop them — and obviously score some points themselves — they should win.
Stars to watch
The quarterbacks are crucial to their teams’ success and none is bigger than Denver’s superstar Peyton Manning (#18), who was just named this season’s NFL Most Valuable Player for the fifth time. Manning won the Super Bowl with Indianapolis in 2007 and, after undergoing a neck operation two years ago, signed with the Broncos. Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch (#24) is a powerful running back who doesn’t like to talk to the media, while Richard Sherman (#25) is a defensive back who loves to talk … to anyone. Sherman created some controversy two weeks ago (see video below) when he turned a post-game interview into a WWE-style rant where he called one of his opponents “mediocre”.
Three tips for watching
1: Like any sport, it’s much easier watching with someone who understands the game and can answer your questions, no matter how silly they might be.
2: The game goes for a long time (four hours) but don’t whinge about it, use it to your advantage. Timeouts and ad breaks provide you with a chance to converse, make a toilet run, stock up on food and drink or check your Twitter account.
3: Yes, mainstream American beers can be watery and bland. Opt for a Mexican beer like Tecate instead. Trust me, it’s just as authentically American.