During my journalistic career, I have covered several Super Bowls. The one I remember most, however, occurred when I was in elementary school. On Jan. 12, 1969, I was in the stands at the Orange Bowl beside my dad when the New York Jets faced the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl 3. I was so excited that I made my own program the week before by cutting players’ pictures out of the newspaper. The Jets, of the upstart American Football League, were 18-point underdogs to Don Shula’s NFL champs. A few nights before the game, Jets’ quarterback, Joe Namath, perhaps while inebriated, guaranteed a win. And win they did, 16-7. The Beatles were not invited to do the halftime show. That was left to the Florida A&M University marching band. The tickets? That day they cost $12 each.
Fruit tastes better when it’s forbidden. That was clear to any Canadian teen growing up in the 1980s, when MTV seemed so much cooler than MuchMusic, and we couldn’t watch the slick ads that aired during the Super Bowl broadcasts in the United States because YouTube hadn’t been invented yet. So in late January, 1998, a few months after my wife and I had moved to New York City for her job, there was an extra thrill of anticipation when we settled in to watch Brett Favre’s Packers vs. John Elway’s Broncos in Super Bowl 32, and submit ourselves to a cavalcade of U.S. commercialism. Pepsi ran a couple of slick ads trumpeting its new blue can (it seemed like a big deal at the time); there was M&Ms, looking for a spokesperson for the new millennium (it seemed like a big deal at the time); and Budweiser ran a six-part comedy-drama, spread across the game, about a murderous ferret trying to kill the beer brand’s iconic spokesfrogs. (They were definitely a big deal at the time.) And then, suddenly, there were Bob and Doug McKenzie, in a spot for Molson Ice, skydiving without a parachute to save a bottle of beer. The ad was cheeky, a little cheap, and kinda cheesy. Just like the country I’d left behind.
In the Times Before (the World Wide Web), tuning into the Super Bowl from across the Atlantic wasn’t as simple as ordering DAZN or Sunday Ticket. Rights-holder Channel 4 did a sterling job of bringing Brits up to date with the gridiron goings-on, but the combination of a five-hour time difference and a 10 p.m. “lights out” edict at boarding school proved every bit as suffocating as the Chicago Bears’ 46 defence. The NFL’s championship game only really became super after moving to London and regaining autonomy over my sleep cycle. Every year, a motley crew would descend on the Sports Café on Haymarket, just up from Trafalgar Square, to see the crowning of the NFL’s newest champion. As one of the few venues willing to stay open late enough to show the big game, it welcomed an eclectic mix of patrons. The last time Tampa Bay made the Super Bowl, for instance, in January of 2003, I watched in the company of former Tottenham Hotspur winger Darren Anderton as the Bucs throttled Oakland 48-21. But you didn’t have to be a professional athlete to realize that Super Bowl 37 was a dud. Moving to Canada and Toronto has revealed the home-spun side of Super Bowl celebrations. Super Bowl 42 in 2008 was supposed to be such an occasion, as Tom Brady and the Patriots were set to put the finishing touches on their 19-0 perfect season. My Pats-loving friend and host had even dispatched his then-girlfriend south of the border to pick up some chicken wings from Buffalo’s famed Anchor Bar, to add some authenticity to the celebrations. But he didn’t reckon on the New York Giants, and in the end, the only ones winging it were Eli Manning and David Tyree.
One year into my job at The Globe and Mail in 2012, I covered Super Bowl 46 in Indianapolis. Deep in Colts country, the Giants were facing the Patriots. I recall a reporter quipping to New York QB Eli Manning “if you win, will you finally get the top bunk from [former Indianapolis QB] Peyton?” Indy fans hollered outside the Giants hotel nightly “wake up Eli!” There was a media party at the Indianapolis Speedway with race cars hanging from the ceiling and models dressed in grandiose costumes to represent NFL cities. One had a Statue of Liberty on her head. I went to the largest news conference of my career – Madonna’s. I interviewed Snoop Dogg at a celebrity football game at an indoor beach party. After Manning orchestrated a fourth-quarter comeback to beat Tom Brady’s Patriots, reporters crowded around various players from both teams, in a massive, hectic post-game interview space downstairs in the stadium. Suddenly the chaos morphed to a bizarre silence and all heads swiveled in one direction. In the biggest room-stealing moment I’ve ever witnessed, Gisele Bundchen walked in to console Brady, her husband, and the famous couple locked in an embrace as the whole room gawked. I remember thinking poor Eli, he’s still being upstaged.