FEB 5 — You’ve got to hand it to the Americans: they know how to put on a show.
In the sporting world, there’s no bigger show than the Superbowl, the annual finale of the American football season, which is rather endearingly (or irritatingly, depending on your disposition) dubbed as the “world championship” even though it’s only ever contested between teams from the US.
This year’s version was played on Sunday evening (or Sunday night my time, or Monday morning your time) between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens, with a neat illustration of the “bigger, bolder, better” nature of the event provided by the half-time entertainment.
In the UK, no doubt we’d have rolled out “Sir” Paul McCartney for yet another tired rendition of “Hey Jude”; as this was Stateside, Superbowl provided the somewhat more watchable talents of Beyonce, complete with a surprise reunion of Destiny’s Child. Now that, my friends, is entertainment.
Another indication of the game’s international appeal is the fact that I am a Brit who watched the game in Spain with a Canadian (my friend Mike) and am now writing about it for a predominantly Malaysian audience. That just wouldn’t happen for many sporting events; Superbowl is an almost uniquely global phenomenon, rivalled in that nature only perhaps by the World Cup final, which only takes place once every four years.
The expected twist to this year’s event — there always has to be an expected twist — was that the head coaches of the two teams were brothers Jim (49ers) and John (Ravens) Harbaugh, something that has never previously happened in the championship game of any sport, according to the breathless American commentators. And with their flair for the easy pun, the American media therefore christened the game as the “Harbowl.” Boom boom.
The unexpected twist — there always has to be an unexpected twist — came just after the extravagant half-time show, when the game was delayed for 35 minutes as the stadium in New Orleans was plunged into semi-darkness by a power cut.
Being American, the host audience naturally assumed it was a terrorist attack; being British, I naturally assumed it was the work of a dodgy Malaysian bookie (apologies); being celebrity-struck, the media naturally assumed it was the result of an overloaded system after Beyonce’s pyrotechnics. Whatever the reason — and we’ll surely find out soon enough — the stadium technicians were able to do their thing and eventually got the game back up and running.
And quite a game it became. Until the power outage, everything was going Baltimore’s way. They held a 22-point lead after scoring three passing touchdowns and another with a 108-yard kick-off return — a Superbowl record, we were informed approximately 217 times — while San Francisco contrived to pull off virtually every imaginable mistake to leave their carefully designed gameplan in tatters.
When the lights went out, though, something clicked in the 49ers’ collective head. They came back a different team, repeatedly roaring downfield with a sense of controlled excitement that had previously been completely absent from their play.
Superbowl, in recent years anyhow, has always managed to conjure up improbably exciting finishes, and this year’s showpiece was no different as brothers Jim and John pitted their wits in search of the much-coveted Superbowl ring (literally, a ring — an enormous ring, of course) that is presented to each winning player and coach.
In the blink of an eye, San Francisco scored once, twice, thrice... and all of a sudden only two points separated the sides as we headed into the final few minutes of play.
Eventually, the 49ers came within five yards of the game-winning touchdown with less than two minutes left on the clock, but could progress no further.
Brother Joe provided some clever strategic manoeuvring to win the tactical battle against brother Jim, whose team had no time for further scoring opportunities, and the game was over. The siblings engaged in an awkward halfway line embrace and Baltimore Ravens were pronounced world champions.
Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco was named the game’s Most Valuable Player even though he wasn’t the game’s most valuable player (there’s an unwritten rule that the winning quarterback simply must be named MVP, irrespective of his influence on the game) and Baltimore’s players and staff — led by the evangelising and now retired veteran Ray Lewis — indulged in the curious American ritual of praising the mighty Lord Jesus Christ for their victory (quite what the 49ers had done to upset God is unclear).
And that was it. The Big Show was over for another year, but we can be sure it will come back next year, bigger, flashier and glitzier than ever before. And that’s because — whatever you think of the trashiness and hype of American culture — when it comes to theatrical sporting drama, Superbowl is supreme.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.