Scot Stene | Staff Writer
Once again the NFL season culminated in a uniquely American event: the Super Bowl. Between the commercials, the halftime show, the game, and the stories within the game, so many Americans tune in each year that no matter how you feel about football, you have to admit that somehow the NFL has created an annual cultural touchstone. What that says about the American culture I will leave to the Sociologists on campus. (If you are in a Sociology class, consider asking that question for some easy participation points.)
The fact is, over 108 million people tuned in to watch the game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens. That’s more than one third of the country doing pretty much the same thing, at the same time. While that is down from last year, it’s still an astonishing figure. So why do so many Americans tune in each year? Because it’s fun!
There are always story lines that take place within the story of the game that make it all feel more significant somehow. This year’s game was no different. One of these stories was the “Battle of the Brothers” between John and Jim Harbaugh. For the last two seasons, NFL pundits have pontificated on the possibility of this match-up, even giving last season’s regular season game between the two the playoff treatment. Early in this game it looked like the older brother would do what all older brothers do; beat up their younger brothers. The Ravens jumped out to an early lead, and appeared to be in control of the game. As we would be reminded, however, the Super Bowl always has surprises, and little brothers eventually hit back.
Another story within the story was that it would be the final game of the Raven great Ray Lewis’ career. For 17 seasons he has terrorized opposing offenses, winning one Super Bowl, a Super Bowl MVP, two Defensive Player of the Year awards, and 13 Pro Bowl appearances. After having surgery to repair a torn triceps in October, he missed the rest of the regular season, but was able to return in time for the playoffs. When the postseason began, Lewis announced that this would be his last season playing in the NFL. This seemed to motivate the Baltimore Ravens, who had backed into the playoffs by losing four of their last five games. After the announcement, the team went on a tear that culminated in their win over the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game, and guaranteeing a final Super Bowl appearance for their longtime leader.
This year’s game also featured a few Minnesota storylines. Former Vikings, Bryant McKinney of the Ravens and Randy Moss of the 49ers, played in the game, marking the first appearance for McKinney and the second for Moss. Another former Viking and a Minnesota native, Matt Birk, made his Super bowl debut, and his teammate, Terrell Suggs, is also a Minnesota native. In fact, Suggs once played center for Minnesota Sports legend Joe Mauer in youth football, while Birk attended the same High School.
One of the biggest draws of Super Bowl Sunday is the commercials. Companies pay big bucks to get in front of that many people – $3.5 million per 30 seconds this year, according to CBS – and each of them wants to stand out in the crowd. The combination often results in creative and entertaining spots, but also a few duds. This year had some interesting long-form advertisements. For example, although the two minute Dodge Ram ad said more about the industrialization and commercialization of the American food system, and what we may have lost in the process, then it did about the greatness of Dodge trucks, it still left us feeling okay about the good old American Farmer, and Dodge trucks by association.
One of the most popular commercials this year was Budweiser’s annual Clydesdale spot. Who among us didn’t tear up when that horse ran back to his daddy? The KIA spot with the elaborate explanation of where babies come from was a personal favorite, as well as the Volkswagen ad featuring the shout-out to “da lan a Ten Tousand lakes… da Go-Fa state.”
Another big draw for Super Bowl Sunday that is not related to sports is the Halftime Show. Always a big part of the spectacle the NFL puts on for its championship game; this year’s show featured a performance from the esteemed Beyoncé Knowles, with a special appearance from her former partners in crime, Destiny’s Child. Beyoncé stomped around an elaborate stage, executing fierce dance steps while surrounded by leagues of dancers and singing, not lip-syncing, a medley of her various hits.
The performance, while not on the level of Prince jamming on an electric guitar singing “Purple Rain” in the rain, lived up to the hype of past shows. The staging included lasers, lights, pyrotechnics, and even a giant screen that lifted from the stage floor for a nifty sequence of Beyoncé dancing with…Beyoncé. A lot of money is spent on these things, and every cent showed on the stage. It all must have consumed a massive amount of power. Maybe too much…
In one of the weirdest moments in Super Bowl history, the game was halted in the second half for 38 minutes due to a power outage in the stadium. Officials at the time had no explanation for why the power suddenly went out in half of the Superdome, even cutting power to the broadcast booth, leading to several awkward seconds of a silent video feed of a darkened stadium. Many Americans probably feared the worst, but it turned out to be an “abnormality” in the system that triggered it to shut down, and then restart on the back-up system. Many theories abound as to the cause of the incident, but I prefer to think of it like this: Beyoncé’s performance was so amazing, she knocked the lights out.
With all of that going on, it’s no wonder so many Americans were watching. And I didn’t even mention the game; which actually turned out to be pretty good in the end. All in all, it was another successful event for the NFL and their broadcast partners, this time at CBS. No matter how you feel about it, it says something about America.