Tonight’s American Ritual
Just in case you missed my preview of tonight’s Super Bowl for The Independent on Sunday – the online version is buried beneath an article about prostitution – here it is:
Tagged in: NFL
If you have never watched American football, tonight’s Super Bowl will be as incomprehensible a spectacle as an Aztec sacrifice would have been to the Conquistadors.
The game will be played in an air-conditioned stadium with a roof, in warm and mid-western Arlington, Texas (home ground of the Dallas Cowboys). From the roof are suspended the world’s biggest HD video screens, each 60 yards long, so that the crowd in the stadium can see what’s happening in close-up and watch the replays, essential to understanding the intricately choreographed brawl.
Although the rules change every year to make the game safer or more exciting for television (the latest change is a ban on hitting an opposing player helmet-first), the basics are simple.
The aim is to take the ball to the end zone of the 100-yard-long field. The team with the ball are allowed four attempts to advance 10 yards. Play stops every time the ball carrier is brought to the ground. If a team gains 10 yards, they start again with another four attempts. If they fail to gain 10 yards in three attempts, they usually use their fourth to kick the ball as far down field as they can.
There are two basic kinds of play: a run or a pass. For a pass, the quarterback, the leader of the offense, usually throws the one permitted forward pass. Look out for running back James Stark and wide receiver Antwaan Randle El (above).
By coincidence, today’s evenly matched teams, the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers, have a history in the game’s rust-belt origins and are the only remaining working-class names in the league. The team from Green Bay, a port on Lake Michigan, was founded 92 years ago, sponsored by a meat packing company. But today’s game would be as unrecognisable to the meat packers of inter-war Wisconsin as it would be to most Brits.
The players – 45 on each side since the introduction of unlimited substitutions – are in action for a few seconds at a time. Sixty minutes of playing time will take three-and-a-half hours in real time.
The half-time show, meanwhile, has become a grisly index of music-industry has-beenery, today featuring the Black Eyed Peas.
Ridiculous? Of course. But what a spectacle.
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