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Insights: Sports

America's Party After 35 years, the Super Bowl isn't just a football game but a national holiday
Dave Anderson
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Spacey, Jan/Feb 02

Of course you love the Super Bowl, but have you ever stopped to wonder why?

It's not so much pro football's big game as it is a national holiday, held in the midst of winter when most of the population is indoors. Super Bowl Sunday should be listed on calendars as Party Day -- drinks and munchies and cigars for everybody.

The September 11 terrorist attacks prompted the National Football League to seek "special event status" in requesting federal security at this year's party in the Louisiana Superdome, but to join the party, you don't need a ticket to the game or need to go to where it's being played. Just plan a party at your home or at someone else's home. Or go to a restaurant or a bar. Or anywhere with a TV set.

Hey, Sunday is another reason why you love the Super Bowl. Most people are free to party on Super Bowl Sunday, especially when they know weeks ahead exactly when and where the game will be played. The dates and locations of Super Bowl Sunday are set in stone, or at least in artificial turf, through February 5, 2006, Ford Field, Detroit.

During the season, pro football thrives on tailgate parties at all its stadiums. Super Bowl Sunday is simply a coast-to-coast extension of all those tailgate parties.

As popular as other sports are, there's no World Series Sunday or NBA Tuesday or Stanley Cup Saturday, because nobody knows when the decisive game will be played. Yes, you can plan ahead for the fixed dates of the Kentucky Derby, Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500, college basketball's title game and college football's biggest bowl game, the final round of the Masters and the U.S. Open, and the title matches in the U.S. Open tennis championships, but all the hoopla of the Super Bowl isn't present at those events.

The TV numbers prove the Super Bowl's popularity. Of the top 15 all-time programs, eight are Super Bowls. Of the top 10 all-time sports programs, nine are Super Bowls. No wonder TV advertisers premiere their new commercials that Sunday; the 30-second price on Fox has been projected at about $2.2 million for this year's game, the same rate that CBS got last year.

The game itself is always a sellout. Even with all tickets now selling for $400, nearly 72,000 will attend this season's showdown at the Superdome; thousands more will be in New Orleans. When the Chicago Bears won Super Bowl XX there in 1986, some 30,000 Bears fans roamed Bourbon Street without a game ticket. Some arrived without an airline ticket or a hotel room; they slept, if they slept, on the railroad trains that brought them to and fro. Some people without a ticket go to the game but never go into the stadium.

"I go to the Super Bowl every year," one middle-aged male fan confesses. "I get two six-packs, find somebody in the parking lot hooked up to a 19-inch TV, and watch the game there."

For others, the game is a backdrop for mixing up close and personal with hundreds of NFL players (each can purchase two tickets). Some are hired to entertain corporate guests, many are there just to party. And then there are the rich and famous in the stands.

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