After the fan experience and the corporate experience I had what I like to call the showbiz experience. Nowhere puts on a show quite like America and there is nowhere in America quite like Texas. I am a recent convert to American Football and this was my first live game. It was my good fortune that my first game was the Superbowl. My friend’s family are from Pittsburgh and are die-hard Steeler fans. At the beginning of this season none of the experts had given the Steelers a chance of even making the play-offs let alone the final. The main reason for this was the 4-game ban handed down to their quarterback Ben Roethlisburger for “inappropriate conduct” in a nightclub bathroom during the off-season. However the Steelers reserve quarterbacks Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch did a great job and the Steelers had 3 wins and 1 defeat when Big Ben was available for selection again. From there the Steelers stormed their way through the regular season and clinched play-off qualification after a defeat to the New York Jets. A week later they secured the division title when they beat Carolina 3-27. This meant they had a bye in the first round of the play-offs and went on the beat arch-rivals Baltimore and then face the Jets again in the AFC championship game. This time the Steelers got the better of the Jets and their loudmouth coach Rex Ryan and they and I were booking flights to Dallas/Fort Worth.
I read recently of complaints about the cheapest tickets for the Champions League final at Wembley being £150. As ridiculous as that is it rather pales into insignificance when compared to the Superbowl. I think I am right in saying that the cheapest tickets there were $600 at face value. However there is a whole industry revolving around people then selling on these tickets for 3 or 4 or 5 times the face value. In the weeks leading up to the game you could have bought tickets for around $2500 each from Ebay or Stubhub and as the game grew closer the prices increased. Only a small percentage of the 105,000 tickets available go to the fans of the two teams playing in the Superbowl, the rest go to other teams and corporate sponsors. If you want to go to see your team play in the Superbowl it is going to cost you a lot of money. I can’t be certain but I would imagine that the majority of fans would be priced out of going to the Superbowl and as such the game attracts a different kind of supporter, one with a lot of spare money. The money generated by the Superbowl is phenomenal and not just through the re-sale of tickets. People were buying tickets to watch the game in a tent in the car park outside the stadium for $1000. Before the game we searched for somewhere to park our car and saw prices from $40 rising to $250 as we got closer to the stadium. We then wandered around trying to find a bar for a drink before the game, one place on the other side of a Walmart car park from the stadium was charging a $400 cover fee to enter the bar or $200 to go in a tent, although you could stand outside for free. Maybe the difference in price between this and the Champions League final is that the winners in Wembley will be crowned the Champions of Europe whereas the Superbowl winners are the World Champions.
The area around the Cowboys Stadium was not what I was expecting. Indeed the white futuristic dome looks like it was beamed down from another planet when you approach on the B road from Fort Worth. This is a run-down poor area with an incongruous sports complex in the middle. Opposite the football stadium is the Texas Rangers baseball stadium which is squat and brick-coloured and looks like a baseball stadium. The football stadium is white and gleaming and looks like an extra-terrestrial mushroom. The investment in this area hasn’t yet spread to the surrounding neighbourhoods. But during one weekend in February enough money was spent in a two mile radius of the football stadium to kick-start some serious development in the area. Unfortunately though most of it went on tickets and beer instead of housing and job creation.
A major effect of the Superbowl coming to town is apparently the money to be made in the sex industry. Before the game it was reported that sex workers from other cities and countries were being flown in to Dallas. This made the Superbowl one of the biggest contributors to sex trafficking every year. Maybe this is one reason it also attracts its fair share of lunatics. In Fort Worth the evening before the game and at strategic points all around the stadium on the day of the game were religious protestors, screaming at people through megaphones and parading insulting banners. The banners accused the fans at the game of every kind of “evil” (is being a ‘lounge lizard’ or a ‘temptress’ evil?) you can imagine, and the proselytisers reminded us all we are going to hell for our involvement in the NFL’s end of season finale. Aside from the obvious mental issues the protestors have my abiding thought was about what they were trying to accomplish by this manner of protest. If they are seriously trying to convert people to religion then surely there are better ways to accomplish this than screaming at the ‘fornicators’ with a megaphone. But then I think I have answered my own question there, they aren’t seriously trying to convert people, they just want to shock and draw attention to themselves. And for all they know the fans they accuse are already religious, they just don’t subscribe to their particular twisted brand of religion. Most people I know who aren’t religious were given some kind of a religious upbringing by their parents or the education system they were a part of. To decide that organised religion is not for them required some in-depth thought and some very serious decisions. Seeing the extremes that people are prepared to go in defence of “their” religion only succeeded in reminding me of part of the reason why I made that decision.
After ignoring our way through the crazy people we joined the back of the queue to get in to security check area at the stadium. The whole process took about an hour. This hour though involved being herded between metal barriers before we reached a security tent were everyone was scanned and patted down. If this had been a football (soccer) game in Europe there would have no way that those planning the logistics would have allowed fans from opposing teams, many of them who been drinking (or ‘tailgating’) all day, to queue in the same lines between metal barriers for what took some people two and a half hours. There would have been countless fights and arguments and the whole thing would have been a nightmare. Here though nothing happened, people talked, joked, complained about the weather, the mud and the queue and treated each other with respect and courtesy. It is worth repeating, this would never have happened at a football game in England. Once we entered the stadium we began the ascend to the rafters on the escalators, which kept giving tantalising glimpses of the playing field and the stands already nearly full of fans. Once we found our seats we could take in the whole view. First thought was, ‘It is enormous…’. Actually enormous doesn’t really do it justice. The video screen suspended from the ceiling is 60 feet long and has a sharper picture than the television in your house. 105,000 people in one huge Colosseum (from the latin colosseus, meaning gigantic) is an overwhelming sight.
The Roman analogy to the NFL is one made often and is partially appropriate. American football is an often violent and often beautiful spectacle that is wildly popular. That is where the comparisons with the last days of Rome stop though. This is no vicious manifestation of a dying empire turning on itself. Instead it is a sporting contest that has already regulated out many dangerous aspects with more changes to come. Controversy over helmet to helmet hits has raged this year along with reports of the brain damage suffered by NFL players. Further regulation and changes to the game seem necessary in order to reduce these kind of injuries. Parents who let their kids play american football have to ask themselves some very serious questions.
Our seats may have been high but our view was good. From our birds-eye vantage point we saw Xtina get the words to the national anthem wrong, a video of fighter jets flying over the closed roof of the stadium, the Steelers first half collapse to 10-21 thanks to some poor decisions from Big Ben that led to turnovers and points for the Packers and a half time show from the Black-Eyed Peas featuring Slash, Usher and 1,000 dancers and some malfunctioning stage lights. I don’t like the Black-Eyed Peas but the show was impressive and it was kind of odd when it finished and the house lights came on and we remembered we were at a football game. One the Steelers had been pretty poor in so far. American football is notorious for stopping and starting, in this way it seems made for television and the advertisers. The Superbowl commercials are a big attraction and lots of people look forward to seeing what new and amusing ways the marketers have discovered to make us buy things we don’t need. For the people in the stadium though during the ad breaks we got the chance to see the famous people who were also at the game. Meaning we were treated to A-Rod being fed popcorn by Cameron Diaz, Kid Rock flashing peace signs, George and Barbara Bush smiling, Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore play-fighting, Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart waving and Condoleezza Rice wondering what she was doing there.
My friend had always told me that the Steelers always seem to win in difficult circumstances, coming back from losing positions to win with the last play of the game. So I was expecting a second-half comeback to savour. They started well and after 4 minutes of the second half, a touchdown from Rashard Mendenhall brought them to within 4 points of Green Bay. The fourth quarter started badly for Pittsburgh though, they were in a good position on the Green Bay 33-yard line when Mendenhall fumbled, Green Bay recovered and 8 plays later scored again. The Steelers next drive brought them another touchdown, and when they went for and converted the two extra points I thought they were going to win the game. This is overlooking the quarterback performance from Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers that some are calling the best ever in a Superbowl. He got them back down the field again on the next drive which finished with a fieldgoal just before the two minute warning. If the Steelers were going to come back this was their last chance. Again poor passing and great Green Bay defence saw to it that they wouldn’t and the game finished 25-31 and we joined to queue to leave the stadium.
Throughout all this I was again struck by the good-naturedness of the fans. People support their team and let the others support theirs. One side wins and the other loses, nobody takes it personally, people have a few beers and enjoy the game. Then they go home without feeling the need to punch someone in the face. The contrast with England is stark. It took at least 30 minutes to get out of the stadium. Once we were outside there was a bottleneck created by a row of parked SUVs and people were being funnelled between the cars and then onto a narrow bridge. The potential was there for some pushing to start at the back and for the people at the front to get hurt in the crush. It was only due to the civility of the crowd that serious injuries were avoided. We walked the couple miles to the car, passing the lights of the Texas Rangers baseball stadium one the way. From there we joined the surprisingly fast-moving freeway and drove to our temporary Texas home.
Read some other posts in this Sport and Travel series: