Pop Culture

Non-sports fan’s guide to Super Bowl XL

OK, so you aren’t the world’s biggest sports fan. You don’t know a nickel set from a flea flicker, and what exactly is a “tight end” and where can I get pictures of it?

But it doesn’t really matter. Super Bowl Sunday, for all intents and purposes, is a national holiday. It has its own recipes. There is clothing marketed just for the day (team specific, so it changes every year — a stroke of merchandising genius). Entertainers turn out in droves to see and be seen at the big show. Some even perform. And why not? Thirty-three of the last 34 Bowls averaged more than a 40 household rating, according to Nielsen Media Research. If Sunday’s game is competitive, the TV audience could be close to 90 million viewers. Take that “American Idol.”

And don’t forget about the parties. There is always a party. You’ve probably been invited to one. There will be guacamole, chicken wings, seven-layer dip and beer. Lots and lots of beer.

Yes, there also will be football, but even if you don’t really like football, you can still enjoy the show. Here are five reasons why you should watch Super Bowl XL (told you it was big-time — they even use Roman numerals).

5. The game.
In Super Bowl XL (that's Roman numerals for 40, not extra large), the Pittsburgh Steelers take on the Seattle Seahawks in Detroit's Ford Field. Let me be very, very clear — there will be no objectivity here. I live in Seattle. I am a Seahawks fan. Go, Hawks! This is Seattle's first trip to the Super Bowl in the franchise's 30-year existence. This city is starved for a championship. The last pro sports team to win a title were the NBA's SuperSonics in 1979. Unless you count the Seattle Storm's WNBA championship in 2004, which, frankly, nobody does.

The Seahawks had the best record in the NFC this season (13-3) and were powered by a mighty offense, led by the sexiest bald-headed quarterback in the NFL, Matt Hasselbeck (no, he isn't Elisabeth's husband, that's his brother, Tim) and the NFL's Most Valuable Player, running back Shaun Alexander. I like the Hawks' chances.

The Steelers (11-5) earned their ticket to Detroit by beating the NFL's best team, the Indianapolis Colts, and the Denver Broncos in the AFC playoffs. OK, we get it, they're good. The team also has a storied Super Bowl history, winning four NFL titles (1975, '76, '79, '80) before losing Super Bowl XXX in 1996. Yadda, yadda, yadda ... Steel Curtain ... Terry Bradshaw ... Immaculate Reception ... yeah, well, great for them.

Another note of non-objectivity: I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and was raised an Oakland Raiders fan (it would take too long to explain why I am no longer a fan, but let's just say Al Davis is not one of my favorite people). All of my dad's family lives in the Pittsburgh area and are ardent Steelers' fans. I love them all very much, but hate the Steelers. I'll be waiting for my gift basket, cousin Debbie.

These games, more times than not, are one-sided affairs. But every so often, you get a real gem, like New England’s last-minute 20-17 victory over the St. Louis Rams in the 2002 game (that would be Super Bowl XXXVI). Even last year's game, a 24-21 Patriots' win over the Philadelphia Eagles was pretty good (this one was XXXIX).

I'm not making any predictions, but if I were betting, I'd take the explicably underdog Seahawks. Oh yeah, GO HAWKS!

4. The entertainment spectacle that is the halftime show.
After surviving the national nightmare that was Janet Jackson's 2004 “wardrobe malfunction,” the NFL opted for the family friendly Paul McCartney last year. Sir Paul warmed the hearts of America with “Hey Jude,” “Get Back” and “Drive My Car.”

With this year's game in Motown, you'd expect some old-time Detroit R&B. Well, we're getting R&B, and oh yeah, they are old, but they are not from Detroit. This year's halftime concert will be performed by the Rolling Stones. And while the supergroup's “World's Greatest Rock 'N' Roll Band” days are far, far behind them, they still can rock.

The face value of a Super Bowl ticket is $600. The Rolling Stones are charging $100 for a ticket to their shows. Of course, you can't get tickets to either, unless you want to pay scalper prices. Why not just watch the game and the concert at home for free? Oh yeah, the beer will be cheaper too.

3. The commercials.
Madison Avenue ponies up as much as $2.5 million for a 30-second spot during the Super Bowl. If you're going to spend that kind of money, you might as well pull out the stops and run some good commercials. Now I know you're saying: “Good commercials? Isn’t that an oxymoron?” But some of these pieces are darn funny.

After 2004's battle of bad taste, the NFL asked for a kinder, gentler advertising experience in 2005. Fewer gaseous horses and male-enhancement drugs, more All-American corporations and snack food. So we got patriotic tributes to returning troops (Anheuser-Busch), chimps in the workplace (the hilarious CareerBuilder.com ads) and Diddy (back in his P. Diddy days) ridin' in a Pepsi truck. Advertisers happy. Viewers happy. No Senate special subcommittee on the abundance of flatulence in Super Bowl commercials.

Regardless of the company being shilled in the ads, there are always some winners. One of my favorites was "Terry Tate: Office Linebacker," which debuted during the 2003 Super Bowl. Who hasn't wanted to see some office yahoo leveled from time to time? But do you remember what Terry Tate was trying to sell with those bone-crushing hits? Nope, and that tends to be the case for many of these ads (the Tate ads were for Reebok).

2. Play the ABC promotion drinking game.
The networks shelled out billions for the rights to show NFL games. As much as network executives love football, they don’t part with billions just for pleasure. NFL games are week-in, week-out vehicles for the network’s prime-time lineup. And the Super Bowl? Yeeeeee-haaw!!

ABC is not the only network to endlessly shill its programs during games (Fox, CBS, ESPN are equally guilty. NBC will be rejoining their ranks during the 2006 season), but ABC has the Super Bowl this year, so we’ll pick on them. And since there’s a good chance the game itself won’t keep you on the edge of your seat, let’s make this interesting. Much like the ever popular “Hi Bob” game spawned from “The Bob Newhart Show,” we’re going to play the ABC Promotion drinking game.

Computer-generated field banners, which will appear in the background on the field throughout the game, don’t count. Eventually, you won’t even notice them anyway.

When you see actual commercials for shows such as “Grey's Anatomy,” “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives,” open up a cold one. Probably best to stick to mass-produced macrobrews because this is going to be a 3-hour plus game and you're going to see these ads A LOT. Pacing wins the game.

However, each time you hear ABC announcer Al Michaels say “Thursday night, put on your finest and come ‘Dancing with the Stars’ ” or “In ‘The Bachelor’s most dramatic rose ceremony ever,” it's time to hit the hard stuff. One shot per on-air, game-time promo. Make sure you have a designated driver.

1. What else are you going to watch?
Sure, you could go to the movies, and hard-core NFL haters probably will head out to see “King Kong” or “Big Momma's House 2.” But for everyone else, frankly, what else is there to watch? Most networks will opt against airing new episodes of their prime-time shows, not wanting to waste valuable (and expensive) programming on a diverted audience. And since the game is on ABC, you know “Desperate Housewives” will be a repeat.

Besides, don't you want to be able to chat knowingly with your co-workers about those wacky commercials or about Matt Hasselbeck's record-breaking performance? Sure you do. Super Bowl Sunday is an American holiday. Tune in and celebrate.

And remember, bald is beautiful. Go Seahawks!

Denise Hazlick, a former sports editor, will be watching Sunday's game and recalling fondly her many Super Bowl shifts — with a beer in her hand.

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