The first Super Bowl I ever saw (on TV, of course) was SB IV, played in 1970 by the Minnesota Vikings and the Kansas City Chiefs. The Vikings were prohibitive 12- 1/2 point favorites but the Chiefs upset them 23-7 thanks to the genius of Hank Stram. I clearly remember watching that game as KC negated the fierce pass rush of the Vikings Purple People Eaters while their own defensive front line dominated the undersized Viking OL.
What I also remember is that the Super Bowl in those days was not such a big deal.
In fact, the same could be said about pro football circa 1970. It was big but nowhere near as big as it is today. Baseball then was truly America’s sport, commanding at least as many followers as pro football. For one thing, the sporting audience was almost exclusively male and this was even more true of football fans. Baseball was for families but football was for men.Televised games concentrated exclusively on what was happening on the field; there was nothing to engage the interests of the fairer sex. In time , some women got interested in the game because of their husbands/ male friends but female viewership only took off when Super Bowl ads became an art form sometime in the nineties. That is when women and even children found something that they could watch even if the game itself was of no interest. Today, women make up more than a third of the audience for an NFL game.
I also think the timing of the Super Bowl was fortuitous. After the excitement of Christmas and the New Year, there is a long bleak period until Easter. With most of the country locked indoors by winter weather, there is nothing much happening and people need something to excite them. The manufactured sentimentality of Valentine’s Day just doesn’t fit the bill. Enter the Super Bowl … a time to party, get together with friends and have fun. What could be finer?!! Is it any wonder that Super Bowl Sunday is like a secular holiday, one that all kinds of people participate in ?
In a very perceptive article in the Sunday Times, David Carr writes that events like the Super Bowl, the Oscars and the Grammies are what bring us together. With an increasingly diverse population, divided not just by ethnicity, but by politics ( red states, blue states), residence ( city dwellers, suburbia, the hinterland), economic status( haves and have-nots and everything in between ) and vocation ( white-collar, blue collar) we do not have as much in common as we used to. Church is not a unifying factor because we are more diverse now, and anyway religion has become mostly a private observance; organized religion is on the decline. One also has to factor in the increased mobility, often dictated by the need to find a job. There are few stable, set neighborhoods where everybody knows everybody. In any case, working the long hours that most of us do, we have very little time for socialization. Free time is spent with the family or in solitary pursuits like web surfing, playing video games or watching TV. Which of us has not experienced being in a social gathering where everyone present was locked in his own private world , glued to his or her laptop ? We just don’t talk to each other as much as we used to.
As Carr puts it “At this time of atomization, in which we all wind up in the hobbit holes of our special interests, big live TV fulfills a need we have to have something , anything, in common.” We have “ a deep hunger for the common experience ” because we need to have things that we can talk about, discuss.
Carr makes a compelling case when he points out that , even as network ratings have fallen 29% over the last decade, the Grammy awards show has gained 6 million viewers, NFL games average 20.3 million viewers and 34 of the 35 most watched events were NFL games. The Super Bowl, sports in general, the Oscars and the Grammies were always subjects of conversation but they have assumed increasing importance as things that interest us all , even as other areas of our lives diverge.
This may seem sad as we hark back to earlier times when there were more things that we had in common with each other, and social discourse was not dominated by sports and TV. However, this is what is happening all over the world. In other countries, the sport being discussed may be soccer or cricket rather than ” football”, the TV shows being discussed may be different but… sports and TV are the main topics of conversation. In an increasingly diverse world, people everywhere are reducing their social contacts as they withdraw into their private worlds. It is inevitable and there is nothing we can do about it .
Well , actually there is something we can do on a personal , individual level.
We can try to reach out more to people we like, that we think are compatible . We can try to get together with them and really talk with them about things that interest us, not about sports and TV, about what is important to us and not about celebrities. Retired people are the ones who can best do this since they have the time and they have experienced more of life. Those in retirement communities have an even greater advantage since they are among people similarly inclined or situated. Tomorrow, we close on our house in one such community and this will be one of my objectives.
You can do it too; no need to wait till you retire.