An Australian Superbowl
The most-watched televised event in America has now come and gone. Taking part in the Superbowl festivities in Australia has been an interesting experience, to say the least.
Working in Melbourne (I'm playing Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys Australia here until March 24) and craving a bit of North American culture – such as it is – I spent the better part of a week rallying the troops to join me for a Superbowl party. At first only a few friends were keen, and a tiny gathering at my place looked imminent. But as game day approached and others started getting interested, it was clear that we’d be best served by moving the party to a nearby drinking establishment. Watching the big game on a big screen, with big sound and a big crowd would be the attraction – even if we couldn’t enjoy the American commercials.
Australians love sports. Athletics are a huge part of their culture, indeed their identity. This should be a shock to no one. Aussies routinely do well in the Summer Olympics and are known world-wide for their Rugby and Cricket playing public. But it appears that American sports are on the upswing here, too. Surprisingly, many of my colleagues know the names of players and teams in the NFL, NBA and MLB, if not so much the NHL. I didn’t think I’d be having daily discussions about the Toronto Raptors here in Melbourne, but I do.
But the Superbowl is no footy game – this is AMERICAN football, and game time is 10am on a Monday. How much of a real interest would there be here? Well, it turns out, quite a lot.
A week before the game, I called three downtown sports bars and each was completely booked out, with entrance fees and standing room only available. I felt fortunate to find a fourth that had room for our group of 12. Aside from us theatre practitioners who have the day off, the bar soon filled up with an interesting crowd. Some walked in wearing NFL jerseys, some in shirts and ties. Some called in sick, some booked the day off specifically to watch the game, and some appeared, well, to put it politely, unlikely to have a job whatsoever.
Oh, Australians love beer, too. And as game time approached, even though it was not yet 11am, buckets of Bud became the standard centerpiece on our tables. Um, I’m pretty sure the “it’s 5 O’clock somewhere” thing started here in Australia.
But for the locals, this outing wasn’t purely an excuse to drink. During the breaks in the action, I was often asked about specific rules, position names and player, as they wanting a better understanding of American football. The three forms of Aussie Rules football were referenced as a comparison, with more than a couple half-tongue-in-cheek comments about how real men don’t need to wear helmets and pads. There’s always that part of the Aussies, too. Makes me smile.
Most of the bar patrons were surprisingly fans of the San Francisco 49ers. Maybe it’s because flights from Australia to North America usually land in Los Angeles, meaning Aussies feel comfortable with California. Maybe it’s because the 49ers are perennial winners and are 6-0 in Superbowls. Personally, I was rooting for the Ravens, who I figured to win in a very close game. (Aren’t I smart?!?!?)
Aside from the outcome of the game, some patrons were equally interested in the innumerable betting options, even tracking via their phones how the odds changed throughout the game. One friend bet (wisely) on Boldin scoring the 1st touchdown of the game, at 10-1 odds. Another bloke bet $5 (unwisely) that Beyonce would trip during her halftime show. This particular guy was also completely loaded by Halftime, but … whatever. It takes all kinds, you know?
(Editor’s note: We interrupt this sports and culture piece to bring you an Arts review.)
Speaking of Beyonce, I was stoked that three of my favorite female vocalists would do their thing on this year’s broadcast. In the Pregame ceremony, Jennifer Hudson was unbelievable, effortlessly wailing overtop of those sweet children from Sandy Hook, CT during America the Beautiful. Beautiful it was.
Unfortunately, Alicia Keys disappointed in her rendition of the National Anthem. I give her credit for playing the piano while singing, but why does she choose to sing every song a tone too high? Her upper notes always sound on the brink – because of this, some are thrilling, but most make me afraid that her larynx might pop out of her neck. Alicia, just drop the key a bit and sing your heart out. You know? We’ll still love you. (Note in the picture below how Alicia is reaching for a note juuuuust out of reach…)
In the 15-minute Halftime show, Beyonce did her thang, and did it very well, proving that she’s still the Superbowl Champ of female Pop Stars. Great looks, great voice, great moves, good songs, interesting production - she’s the total package, amiright?
As for the game itself, I found it totally engaging. In the 1st half, the newest elite quarterback Joe Flacco skillfully led the Ravens on offence, and as they are wont to do on defence, they forced San Francisco into some turnovers. The Ravens raced out to a big 21-6 Halftime lead, leaving many fans in our bar stunned. Their surprise turned to pure shock on the opening play of the 2nd half, as the Ravens ran the kickoff all the way back for a 108-yard touchdown, which tied an all-time NFL record for the longest kickoff return. At 28-6, it was looking like a blowout.
Then came another shock – the power went out at the Superdome. A Superbowl-first 34-minute Power-Outage delay while annoying, was not a distraction and was tolerated well by everyone. More time for beer and wings, amiright?!?!? I mused half-jokingly that the power outage was due to Beyonce’s energetic Halftime show. All stunning to look at, but holy crap – a whole lot of power (and dough!) went into those extras. For example, did you see that massive video screen that rose out of the stage?
Did you see that reflective LCD floor?
How about those numerous burst of fire?
Hey Superdome, “If you like it then you shoulda put a backup generator on it…“ (I know – it doesn’t scan very well, but I still like it.)
But I digress. Um, yeah. Back to the Macho stuff.
When play resumed, the 2nd half went according to the pregame script, as the 49ers came roaring back, led by their heavily tattooed Quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Most fans in our bar leapt to their feet every time the exciting Kaepernick took off for a running play, and yelled in amazement as he drilled one of his fastballs into the arms of a waiting teammate.
He is a thrilling athlete to watch, but in his first Superbowl, Kaepernick made a few costly mistakes. The interception he threw in the 1st half was an awful and costly throw, but equally glaring was his decision to call a timeout in the 3rd Quarter down 28-6, on a 1st and 10 near midfield. Even if he was confused at the play call, taking the snap and running a basic play – heck, even taking a knee – would have been much more preferable to losing a timeout.
While his 4th quarter 20-yard TD run was thrilling to watch, once again he was unable to deal with the pressure of the moment. On the next play, the potential game-tying 2-point conversion attempt, he was unable to read the Ravens blitz and quickly threw the ball away, keeping the Ravens ahead 31-29, a lead which they would not give up. And sure enough, down five points and with no timeouts left, Kaepernick could only watch as the Ravens ran out the clock, preventing the 49ers from getting one last good chance to win the game.
I’m not blaming Kaepernick for the loss – indeed, if a couple passes had not slipped through his receiver’s fingers, or a couple non-penalty calls were made in their favour, he may well have been the Superbowl MVP. But this is Sports – and what makes it so endlessly compelling for me. On any given day, anything can and will happen, and usually things don’t end up happening the way the experts predict. In the end, the Ravens played well enough to win, and although they buckled in the 2nd half, they would not break, holding on to record the upset victory, 34-31. It was a very exciting and interesting game, and a good time was had by all. Even Joe Flacco went home happy, too.
The Aussie mates are good blokes. They love hanging out together, the love just about any sporting endeavor, they love to drink a few pints, they love to place a bet, and are genuinely interested in learning more of the finer points of American sports. They will even down some good ol’ American chicken wings and bottles of Budweiser every once in a while. My next job is to convert them all to Blue Jays fans, which shouldn’t be too hard. With the new and improved Jays line up and Spring Training just around the corner, I don’t think it will be a problem.
Ah, there’s nothing like heading home the bar in the early afternoon on wobbly legs, after hours of good times. Such is life in Melbourne, Australia.