Clueless Immigrant’s survival guide to the Super Bowl

by awindram

[tweetmeme source=”awindram” only_single=false] IN HIS PREVIOUS LIFE Clueless Immigrant never had to worry himself about the Super Bowl. It was a strange, foreign sporting event of a strange, foreign game that held little appeal for him. On a few occasions, however, he did attempt watching it.  Normally some channel in the UK would show the game, but with the time difference and Clueless’s lack of knowledge he would normally be fast asleep before the end of the first quarter. For Clueless, the Super Bowl was just an oddity. It was something, a bit like eating a durian, that you tried for the experience and in order to learn a little about another culture, but it wasn’t something you enjoyed or would willingly try again. But now that Clueless is in the States, the Super Bowl, like American cultural Imperialism, is inescapable. Clueless is by no means an expert at football, if he’s honest it’s his least favourite of the major North American sports, so with that in mind here’s his non-experty , non-fact-based survival guide for the Super Bowl:

What is the Super Bowl?
A stupid question if being asked by an American, not so stupid if it’s being asked by a clueless foreigner. The Super Bowl is a one-off game to determine the NFL champion. The NFL is divided into two conferences, the NFL and the AFL. It’s the two teams that won their respective conferences that contest the Super Bowl. From an English perspective, it might help if you think of the Super Bowl as the Premiership title and the FA Cup rolled into one. Also conference, as far as I can gather in this instance, does not refer to a gathering of vacuum cleaning salesman stuck in a Marriott in downtown Reno.

Why is it called the Super Bowl?
Americans like prefacing everything with “super”. Something can’t just be fun or exciting, it has to be super fun, or super exciting. With that in mind, Lamar Hunt coined the term Super Bowl because he thought the game was going to be super fun and super exciting. As an interesting sidenote, Lamar Hunt’s written correspondence consisted entirely of emoticons, glitter and the acronym ROTFL. Controversially, however, the NFL has discussed the possibility of renaming the Super Bowl to the Awesome Bowl in a rebranding exercise.

Can I simply ignore it and pretend it isn’t happening?
Almost certainly not. There’s a very good chance you may be  invited to a Super Bowl party. You could try saying that you don’t really follow football or have a clue what’s going on. With many people this won’t wash. “Come on,” they’ll say, “it’s like the Christmas of sports. You can’t be all alone on Super Bowl.”
You could try pointing out that if the Super Bowl is the Christmas of sports then you think that makes you, in this very convoluted and imperfect sporting analogy, non-Christian and would you invite your Jewish or Muslim friends over for Christmas? “My football god,” you could say, “is a little different to yours and accordingly different footballing holidays are sacred to me.” Or you could be less of an arse, and say “thank you for the invite – sounds delightful.”

What do I do at one of these Super Bowl parties?
Have a bit of fun, but on your own terms. The key is to know who to spend time with during the course of the game. Now you may be a footballing ignoramus, but you almost certainly have sports (or other things) that are important to you. Show a little respect and don’t ingratiate yourself among the true sports aficionados at the party. Remember the key point to all this is you having fun, and that can be a bit tricky around true sports fans. As a novice to the game, the comments of the true fan will probably go over your head, and your basic questions will probably irritate the life out of them. Just think: if this was an event that was important to you would you want a condescending English guy prattling on all the way through? Probably not. I’ve had it the other way round with American’s prattling on during an English World Cup match and it’s annoying. Instead, you need to stake out the group at the party not so mad about the sport. This group is usually easy to find as they’re the ones not talking about football but instead are discussing their all-time favourite Super Bowl commercials.
Once you’ve located this group, you need to hone in on their leader. Explain that you haven’t a clue about football (actually, it’s best if you say you “haven’t the foggiest about this American football malarky” in a bad Hugh Grant impression. They fall for that shit all the time). Get them to explain to the rules of the game to you. If you’ve chosen well, the person explaining to you will hopefully not know much beyond the basics of the game themselves, but assuming you’re in a position of such complete  and utterignorance will valiantly try and explain it to you. If you’ve chosen really well, they’ll explain it to you as if they were an elementary school teacher and you were in first grade (best bet for this is usually to try and find an actual elementary school teacher). In slow, halting English they’ll explain the finer points of the game.
“You need to score a Touchdown. Can you say touchdown? Good! A touchdown is a bit like a goal in, what you call, rugby. That’s what they call it when you score in rugby? A goal?”
You may want to add in a few comments during the course of the game.
“Oh, I see, what’s it’s like ruby, but with a forward pass rule.”
“So why does an official keep throwing a hankie down on the ground at the end of each play?”
“So what’s a cheesehead?” Best if you draw out your pronunciation of cheesehead so it sounds like cheeeesehead. Sounds more amusing and like a swear if you do. “Are you a cheeeesehead?”
Yes, this is potentially a little cruel, but remember you’re watching a football game so you’re going to have to make your own entertainment. As the game progresses, you want to make your questions far more complicated.
“So who are these Mike, Will and Sam characters i keep hearing about?”
“What’s a War Daddy?”
Another approach is to make increasingly inane observations or jokes.
“Well, I’m not surprised that the Jets didn’t make the Super Bowl. Nothing about them in West Side Story suggested they’d be any good at football.”
“Is it just me, but when Aaron Rodgers had a mustache didn’t he have the look of a young Donald Sutherland to him?”

Will I have to be quiet during commercials?
Almost certainly. This is the price you paid for sitting amongst the non-sports fans. You’re inane thoughts and clueless behaviour may be fine during the game, but will not be tolerated during the commercial breaks. For those who don’t know, the commercial breaks during the Super Bowl are eagerly anticipated by many as brands and advertising agencies go out of their way to make inventive and amusing commercials. Are the commercials actually funny and inventive? No. If you want funny and inventive watch Community on NBC every Thursday.

Any other tips?
Yes, if you find it difficult finding a group to ingratiate yourself in, then you can make the Super Bowl Party your own private drinking game.
2 fingers for every time someone says Cheeseheads.
2 fingers for every time someone at the party mentions Janet Jackson’s nipples.
2 fingers for every time the play stops and the TV cuts to a commercial break.
2 fingers for every time someone references soccer to you.
Down a whole bottle if you can manage to engage with someone about cricket for a whole 5 minutes without them changing the subject.
2 fingers for every time there’s an uproarious laugh at a commercial that you personally thought was as funny as Larry the cable guy.
2 fingers for every time you shout British soccer platitudes at the screen (get it in the mixer, football’s the winner and the referee’s a wanker, being prime candidates).

In summary (and to steal a format from the Guardian’s G2 magazine.)
Do Say: Why that was fantastic. Thank you for letting me share this quintessential American experience with you.
Don’t say: The only worthwhile thing about the Super Bowl is that it teaches snotty-nosed American children Roman numerals.

For a more fact-based bluffer’s guide to this year’s Super Bowl which mentions all that technical stuff I omitted, like which teams are playing, the Rumpus has a good preview here.


For what it’s worth you can follow Clueless Immirant on twitter and on tumblr.

For what it’s worth, after writing this I’ve come across an article in the Atlantic pointing out that the story about Lamar Hunt coining the term Super Bowl is just that, a nice story but nothing more. Article here for anyone interested.

It’s been brought to my attention (gee, some of you are quick to bite) that the conference is not called the AFL but the AFC as it was renamed the AFC when it merged with the NFL (though the NFL didn’t rename itself the NFC. Or did it? I haven’t got the foggiest, and frankly don’t care). Erm, so there you go. Just to check though, none of you were using this post to learn anything about football, right? Getting your football facts from me would clearly be moronic, wouldn’t it? I’m off to flagellate myself for this heinous crime.