There is no better day for sports in the world than Super Bowl Sunday. That includes the World Cup Final.
I’m not talking about how many people watch. By that standard, the World Cup Final beats any three Super Bowls put together. But there’s more to a great day than the event around which it is built. It’s all the goodies that have accumulated around the event that ultimately makes the day.
The Super Bowl has everything you could want in a day built around a game that children can play. No day has more meat on its metaphorical bones.
A big part of it has to do with when the Super Bowl is played.
The Super Bowl is played on the first Sunday in February. Before the NFL settled on that day for its biggest game, it was known for absolutely nothing. Among all the Sundays of the year, the first one in February was like the year’s mail-room clerk — anonymous, unrecognized, unappreciated; a day as dull as a public reading of the tax code.
There is so much nothing happening that the NFL can take a full two weeks to build up for one football game, knowing that the media has nothing else to talk about. There is no more perfect a day for it.
Then there’s the name: the Super Bowl. If it were called the NFL Championship Game and didn’t bother to separate one from another with Roman numerals, it wouldn’t be nearly as popular with the great masses of non-fans.
Sporting events become great when they attract the attention of those who normally don’t watch sports. That’s why the Olympics are great. It’s what makes March Madness so much fun. It’s why the World Cup is so magnificent.
And it’s why the Super Bowl is the greatest sporting event of them all. In its home territory, it has more things for more people than even the World Cup on its home turf.
Does the World Cup have the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen or The Who playing at halftime? Does the World Cup have a huge group of fans who tune in for no reason other than to watch the commercials? Oh, sorry, the World Cup doesn’t even have commercials.
The World Cup may be riveting as a soccer match, but as an event, it falls way short.
The Super Bowl is more a secular holy day than a football game. For many, it begins in church and a minister who is sure to mention the game. For most, it proceeds to a party.
It has all the trappings of a religious event: special garments worn by the faithful, magic incantations delivered in a chant, familiar rituals: The coin toss, the kickoff, the two-minute warning, the halftime show, the second half, the instant replay delay, the trophy presentation.
We don’t know who’s going to win, but we know how it will all proceed. And in that familiarity is the comfort that comes from knowing we are repeating an observance that our fathers and mothers celebrated before us. It connects generations.
A Super Bowl party isn’t just a bowl of chips, a tub of onion dip and a six-pack. People spend weeks planning their festivities. Food sites and magazines and television news shows are full of recipes and dietary advice. And this is another reason the audience is so universal: You can have a great time without even actually watching the game.
This is why the Super Bowl cuts across all social boundaries, the one event whose fans do not divide along boundaries of religion, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or political affiliation. It is the one day in which the tea bagger can sit down with the ACLU member and both can thoroughly enjoy each other and the game.
And unlike other American sports championships, the Super Bowl is over before your kids’ bedtime.
I have no idea how it got to be the greatest one-day event in the world. It started out as a game nobody was very much interested in and it was played in a half-empty stadium. Joe Namath’s historic win in Super Bowl III gave the game a boost, but there’s nothing that’s ever happened in the Super Bowl that would merit the attention it gets.
And that’s the greatness of it. The game grew beyond anyone’s wildest dreams pretty much on its own. It was the perfect diversion at the perfect time of year in the perfect sport and a perfect excuse for a party.
On the first Sunday in February, it’s magic.