The Super Bowl comes each year, and each time it does it marks our place on the map, showing how far we’ve come since the last big game.
Sports provide some sort of equilibrium as I travel. After leaving the US behind more than ten years ago, I still find myself clicking over to ESPN or Deadspin to read the latest news or laugh at some inane gossip about which team or player has been trash talking each other. There is something oddly comforting about the ultimately meaningless spread of statistics that I find myself reading, whether it is in Vietnam or Australia.
The Super Bowl is no different. Like pages in a passport the Super Bowl marks a time and place. A way to measure where I was in my life and the people and adventures I was involved with. This year was was the same song and dance. Seattle vs. Denver. The starting quarterback for Denver is Peyton Manning. Last time he played in a Super Bowl, I was still in Melbourne and was teaching English at a prestigious university. My then girlfriend (now wife) and I were planning a year sabbatical around India and North America.
The last time Seattle played in the Super Bowl I was in Nepal, stuck on the border during a Maoist ordered general strike. After hiring a rickshaw to take us to Lumbini and the birthplace of the Buddha, I can recall waiting not so patiently for a very slow Internet connection to find out who won that game.
This year the Super Bowl was played in February, I was knee deep in work, starting at Vagabond Journey, and sending an application out for an Australian passport and then making of plans to go to Sri Lanka. I was again teaching English at another university which happened to be located in the heart of Melbourne, and this year the city was playing host to a Super Bowl party in Federation Square, which is a sort of a cultural center in the central business district of the city. It is not unusual to see signs up to watch the Super Bowl around pubs or betting locales in Melbourne, but this was my first experience seeing it advertised on such a large scale.
I decided on my break at work to duck over and try to catch a few minutes of the game. I was initially stunned at the size of the event, there was easily several thousand people filling the square. The organizers had built bleachers to go along with ‘Authentic New York” hot dog stands, giant inflatable football helmets, and even cheerleaders dancing in front of the big screen during the commercials. Due to some media restrictions the famous Super Bowl commercials are actually not broadcast during the game in Australia.
My initial thought was, “Holy Shit, people love American stuff.” I instantly felt right at home but at the same time on the complete opposite side of the world. For those curious about the time difference, the game was played at roughly lunchtime on Monday in Melbourne, which translates to Sunday night on the East Coast of the USA.
After mingling with the crowd I came to the conclusion that roughly 90 percent were American/Canadian with a few curious Aussie on-lookers. I always take the piss on my friends by saying that Australians would happily go see competitive hopskotch as long as it was live, but it seemed to me that the time and pacing of the NFL (or American Football or Gridiron as it can be called) tested the stamina of even the most dedicated Australian sports fan. Unless someone had some money on the game (which a lot of Aussies just might) it seemed to be a passing interest for most of the otherwise sports mad country.
The day was overcast and muggy. I resisted the urge to have a beer (although it was a bit past noon and I had two more hours to teach) and instead had a coffee and settled in with a tandoori chicken sandwich. It was a bit into the second quarter and already the game was out of hand, 15-0 in favor of Seattle. An Aussie guy next to me started asking some questions about the rules of the game and some background information on the players. I told him the history of the Manning face. That Peyton Manning, although a great quarterback, has a history of stuffing it up in the big game and making a horrible facial grimace.
Right on cue, Manning throws a perfect pass to the Seattle defense, 22-0. For all intents and purposes the game is already over. I felt like a savant for calling it so perfectly. I bid my new friend adieu and walked back to work.
Over the loudspeaker an Aussie man was urging fans not to leave during halftime.
“We might not have Bruno Mars but we will have a sausage eating contest! And no I will not make the obvious joke that gets me fired!”
I laughed out loud. Even that mild dick joke wouldn’t go down in my small Kentucky town where many people gather at church to watch the big game. There seemed to still be an underlying Aussie spirit in this giant celebration of American sports slaughter.
The symmetry seemed too perfect. Years ago I was an excitable young teacher with plans of going to the subcontinent and Manning mucked up a Super Bowl. Now, the excitement is still here and another trip broods on the horizon, another year and another Super Bowl that Manning fcks up. The traveler marches on.
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