« Umberto Eco on ComputersAmong The Biogeeks Of San Diego »
01.27.2003

Live from the Superbowl

I watched the Superbowl tonight, for the first time since I was a kid. Not out of snobbishness, it's just that I didn't grow up in a football house. My mother, who has little patience for the English language, could never get past the name or the incessant time-outs. "They don't kick it with their foot, so why is it called 'foot' 'ball'? And what are they doing, hitting that man like that? They should call it 'pile of meat'".

The last time I watched a Superbowl was in the fifth grade, when I volunteered to write the game up for the school paper. It was probably a reckless thing to do, since I had no understanding or interest in the rules, and had to deduce everything from empirical observation. I guess the allure of seeing my name in print was too much to resist (now I have the Web), so I plonked myself down for almost an entire quarter.

Football is hard going when you are ten and can't drink beer, and have no one around to explain things to you.

I made it through about thirty minutes (the game clock said seven), and then went back to reading about the Loch Ness Monster. I was a big fan of the Loch Ness Monster, much more than of football. I made sure to catch the news before bed to find out the score, and the next day submitted a jaunty paragraph of historical fiction, describing the heart-stopping excitement of the contest. I didn't know how to describe plays or use words like 'down' and 'conversion', so I went with more of a human-interest angle (roar of the crowd, nail-biting suspense) and spent some time describing the halftime show. The teacher in charge of the school paper loved it, which taught me a bad and extremely useful lesson about the role of BS in student writing. Soon I was falsifying science fair projects and writing book reports about imaginary books. Now I write for the Internet.

I got to watch tonight's game all the way through, eating platters of nachos with the better half, and listening to an increasingly incoherent John Madden trying to fill dead air as the Oakland team sank deeper and deeper into the mire. Whatever medication John Madden is on needs to be given to him at a higher dosage, because it wears off by the third quarter and he begins to report from a dimension beyond time and space. Al Michaels, the other sportscaster, held a pen in his hand for much of the game, and you could tell how bad things were by how he played with it as Madden talked. By the fourth quarter he had that thing spinning like a propeller.

The musical acts were fun to watch, even if the actual game itself wasn't (Oakland, dammit, what happened?) Celine Dion started things off with a pre-game "God Bless America", and as she hit her final note, the camera pulled back to reveal a huge wall of fireworks engulfing the stage. For one blissful moment I thought Celine Dion had blown herself up, in a kind of masterful finale. Then I saw the overflying fighter jets, and thought it might be another affaire canadienne, thanks to our fighter pilots and their little red pills. But when the smoke cleared, she was still standing right there, unscathed as the Terminator, flapping her eyelashes at the crowd.

They had Shania Twain on during the halftime show. She came out dressed in a Barbarella outfit, clearly intending to prove that no other Canadian android could match her, fiery explosions or no. Her robotic masters actually had her segue from a tired old hit into a new song form her album, "Up!", medley style, finessing the rule about one song per act in the halftime show, but they forgot to make her lip-synch. For her own finale, Shania climbed on a little crane platform and had herself lifted high above the crowd, which again raised my hopes that she might go out with a bang, and take some of her fans out with her. But if it happened, they didn't show it.

Thankfully, the next act on the stage was No Doubt, with the lovely Gwen Stefani, followed by a surprisingly spry Sting, looking young. Sting let Gwen sing along to a song he wrote back in his salad days. It undid a lot of the damage.

And the game itself? It was a real nail-biter, a classic for the ages. First one team had the ball, and then the other. You could hear the roar of the crowd, and the suspense kept you on the edge of your seat. Hell of a halftime show. You really should have seen it.

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