As a baby, growing up in America you quickly realize a few things as religion. Depending on where you grew up it could either be the steel factories in Pittsburgh, or cheese in Wisconsin. It could be the waves of the ocean or the cold blizzard conditions of New England. But no matter where you grew up, if you are an American male you almost certainly grew up knowing the major holidays… Your birthday, Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, the week of the NBA Finals, the World Series & the Super Bowl. And despite some Americans lack of affection towards the NBA or MLB, a vast majority grew up knowing one thing… When the Super Bowl is on everyone watches!
My story, I’m sure parallels so many others in this country. Now 33, I grew up through many different eras of the game. As a child, while not my very first words, I was known to randomly say the words “Terry Bradshaw.” And while I am sure I probably had the slightest of clues who he was, I knew the Pittsburgh Steelers and he was their quarterback. That was the late 70’s and Terry Bradshaw was an icon. Not because he won a lot of games or went to a bunch of Pro Bowls. No. He was an icon because he won THE game. Four of them in fact. Four Super Bowls in the 1970’s and the era of the Steelers and the “Steel Curtain” was running wild. And yes, that is a true story about those being some of my very first words I learned.
Like many kids early in age, we tend to follow what everyone else is cheering for at the time. So as the era’s changed, so did my loyalties. Even though I grew up in the Washington DC area, my mother was the one who raised me and she was very much anti-Redskins. So as the era’s passed, not once did the Redskins become the team du jour. Not even while they were winning multiple Super Bowls.
As the years passed, I went from the Steelers & Cowboys (a joint fanship), which spawned from the Steelers and Terry Bradshaw winning the most and the Cowboys winning the year I was born. Somehow that had symbolic meaning to it for me. So I would regularly be cheering for Terry Bradshaw and Danny White. Mind you, this all as an infant. In America, we start from birth!
It wasn’t until 1986 that I finally settled on the team that I would go on to support to this day. The 25 year journey of loyalty I jumped on as a 9 year old boy living in the Washington DC suburb of Alexandria, VA began very simply. One year after the Chicago Bears rapped and sang their way behind one of the most dominant defenses in history, the New York Giants ran rough-shot through the NFL. Led by a quarterback whom you now see doing color commentary for CBS, Phil Simms at quarterback and a defense led by one of the greatest screwups… err… linebackers that ever lived, Lawrence Taylor. With stars that most people have no clue whom they are today, like wide receiver Phil McConkey and power house tight end Mark Bavaro. Running back Joe Morris. And the defense with Carl Banks, Pepper Johnson and Gary Reasons. That team was the team I fell in love with. And like all children, it was the one that shaped my football fandom for the rest of my being. The Giants won me over with a great season and sealed the deal with a 39-20 demolition of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXI.
As a child, you have two choices. One, you love who your parents love. You cheer for their team. My mom was a die hard 49ers fan. But I’ve always been my own person. My own identity. That left the other choice… Go with the winner as long as that winner wasn’t the Washington Redskins. At least not in my house anyway.
So that is how I became a Giants fan. And while I remember very little of the Super Bowl that year, more highlights I’ve seen over and over again on ESPN Classic this time of the year as they run down all the Super Bowls. I did fall in love and became a loyal supporter of the New York Giants.
In the 1990 season, well that was a different story…
Like most American families, glue to the television with a mix of great gameplay and the tradition which has become known as Super Bowl commercials, now 13 and very much more aware of my team and the situations I was a nervous wreck. So much so that when the infamous play happened, I was in my room with my eyes closed listening because I just couldn’t watch the heartbreak that was almost certain to happen. Yes, that infamous play. “He missed the kick!”, is what came yelling in from our living room. He missed… as everyone knows now, Scott Norwood missed… Wide right.
Overcome with so much elation, I didn’t care about Scott Norwood, the Buffalo Bills who would go on to lose four Super Bowls in a row, or anyone that hated the New York Giants. As a fan, I was in sports heaven.
You see, that is what is special about the Super Bowl. Its a game, that features a much romanticized sport that a majority of people watch on the grandest stage of them all. Its the last game of the season that you spend several months pining over. Its more than the beer that is flowing freely, the wings that have become part of the traditional cliché. Its about being a fan. Not just of your team, but of the game. In America, that is what we are raised on. The NFL, college football, even any other variation of that because we have such a love for the unbridled passion of the violence and action we call football.
After that season, Bill Parcells stepped away. The New York Giants went from being a force to a joke. From first to missing the playoffs. Winning only 8 games that season. And that number in itself was probably a miracle. Like I tell people now when they ask if I’m a loyal Giants fan, “If I was a fan during the Ray Handley era, I’m a fan for life.” Even with the local Washington Redskins winning that season, led by Mark Rypien. Nothing could take my loyalty.
Here is the thing though… I still watched the Super Bowl that season. I and all football fans watch. Our team is gone. We still watch and route for a good game and lots of action and enjoy it. Its tradition. Its a holiday. You might as well put it on every calendar sold in America. Super Bowl Sunday. Sitting, or standing if that’s your thing, in front of TV big or small is mandatory. Talking about the game the next week around the water cooler or wherever it is you gather at work or school is also mandatory. It’s the story. It’s the biggest thing going on and not even the President of the United States can pull away from the TV that day during that game.
On January 4th, 2001 I moved to Raleigh, NC. Once again my team, the New York Giants were on the doorstep to the biggest game. I didn’t know a soul other than the few people I had met at work. Moved to Raleigh was my fiance at the time and was new to everything. So no one could understand why I had to have off the Super Bowl. Raleigh, which at the time and somewhat still is was mostly a college town. Very loyal to their college teams, but the Panthers were new and not successful yet. The NFL and the Super Bowl was a big deal, but they didn’t have to stop everything to watch it. Being a Giants fan and facing a close local team from where I was coming from, the Baltimore Ravens, it was a big deal. Taking off work. I sat alone in my apartment, TV blasting and cheering defiantly even as my team was destroyed by the Ravens. Hurt and upset. The next few weeks at work were not fun. But that once again is what it’s about. Emotion. Live and die with your team. If your team is lucky enough to be in the game, you watch. Not just watch, you live and breathe that game.
The NFL and the Super Bowl has been enshrined in our hearts. As Americans, obviously more than other countries. It is our game. No other country plays it professionally. Sure they watch. But its as casual fans. We watch, but as active participants in an event.
The Super Bowl has had blow outs, close games down the wire and even in to overtime. It’s had commercials, which at times has become more entertaining than the game itself but nonetheless is a part of the “event” that is the Super Bowl. The 1972 Miami Dolphins are the only team to go undefeated throughout the Super Bowl. The drama and fever pitch that led up to Super Bowl XLII was amazing to witness. The New England Patriots came in undefeated led by MVP Tom Brady and Randy Moss. The Patriots were matched up against the Giants. A team the Patriots defeated in the regular season finale. A game the Giants could have folded in and didn’t. That regular season game, the Giants gave everything but came up short. They did however come up with a game plan. A plan that would help them pull off one of the biggest Super Bowl upsets in NFL history and give the New England Patriots a single blemish on their season in the biggest game of them all.
We have seen the country get behind a feel good story in the New Orleans Saints last season. Rebounding from Hurricane Katrina. We have seen everything from Broadway Joe and his predictions to Peyton Manning systematically taking apart a defense. Defenses like Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Chicago that have pretty much won the games on their own. So what can we expect today from the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers? The great thing is… nothing… and everything. The game is about the event. Fans of the teams will live and breathe it. Fans of other teams will sit back and enjoy it in all its splendor. It’s the Super Bowl. It’s an American holiday. That’s my story, what’s yours?