The Super Bowl, American Football and why it matters

Super Bowl XLVIII is the biggest sporting event of the year in the United States, but the sport of American Football remains a mystery to many around the world. Rappler's sports editor Ryan Songalia takes a stab at demystifying the sport for the rest of the world

 

SUPER BOWL COUNTDOWN. Peyton Manning (left) and Russell Wilson (right) will try to lead their teams to the sport's ultimate prize. File Photos by AFP

MANILA, Philippines – If you’re a human being in America aged 8 to 75, it’s a safe bet that much of your Sunday night will be devoted to watching the Super Bowl, the winner-take-all championship game that punctuates the National Football League’s season.

And if you’re just a regular person in any place outside of the continental United States, chances are you’re scratching your head wondering why this event is made such a big deal of. 

You’re probably also wondering why some companies would budget $4 million to run a 30 second commercial during the game, or why someone would pay $2,600 to watch a single game in a freezing outdoor stadium in January.

Fil-Am sportswriter Dennis Guillermo summarizes it’s cross-cultural implications best: “The Super Bowl and football is very much part of the fabric of American culture the way basketball is to Filipinos. It’s as much about getting the family together on Sunday to watch games and going out to tailgate parties as it is about the actual sport itself.”

Super Bowl XLVIII, which will pit the Seattle Seahawks against the Denver Broncos at Metlife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. this Sunday (Monday morning in the Philippines), will air live in the Philippines on TV5, beginning at 7:30 a.m.

In many ways, the Super Bowl itself is an embodiment of America itself. It encompasses all of the aggression, the excess and the commercialism that is the United States in a sixty-minute sporting event. Three-hundred pound linemen trying to injure their opponents on each play; 6-foot wide receivers sprinting downfield at the speed of a track star; squat, beefed up running backs bursting through a line of defenders for a 40-yard gain.

Throw in the hottest pop stars performing at halftime and a fireworks display and you have the ultimate celebration of Americana in one prime-time package.

For the previous 20 weeks or so men in America had remained glued to their couch or bar stool on Sundays watching games from around the league, with cases of beer on the cooler and chicken wings to sustain them nutritionally. Every year around the end of January or beginning of February, the rest of the world joins them. Hardcore fans are then counted on to give their NFL-fan-for-a-day friends a refresher course to the real fans’ annoyance. 

So, to save your dedicated friend the trouble later on, and to hopefully enhance your own viewing pleasure, here is a primer on the sporting event and spectacle that is the Super Bowl.

The Commercials

The last four Super Bowls have been the 4 most viewed American programs over that period of time, and this year’s game is expected to break the 2012 game’s 111.3 million viewership record.

All the more reason for advertisers to unload their entire marketing budget for 2014 into an ad during the Super Bowl. This is the opportunity for Madison Avenue to make their statement that their brands are the tops in the market.

So, if you don’t like sports but want to watch Arnold Schwarzenegger playing table tennis or Don Cheadle and a llama crashing a beer party, this is the event for you. 

STEALING THE SHOW. Timberlake and "Ms. Jackson" had people forgetting who even played in the Super Bowl. Photo by Rhona Wise/EPA

Halftime Show

Your friends may not be talking about the game at the water cooler, but they probably will reference the halftime show the next day. Remember where you were when Justin Timberlake revealed Janet Jackson’s boob live in 2004, or when Beyonce tore down the house last year and reunited with Destiny’s Child? You would if you had been watching the Super Bowl.

This year features Bruno Mars and Red Hot Chili Peppers, which guarantees that something memorable will happen.

The Rules

Now to the basics. First off, while the name of the league says football, it has nothing to do with the world’s most popular game, but is rather American Football, which bears little resemblance to football, or soccer. The game is played with a pointed oval-shaped ball, similar to (yes Wyatt) Arnold from Hey Arnold’s head.

The ball is shaped that way to throw for maximum distance, which is one of two ways a ball can be advanced. The other is by running it. Both teams are allowed a maximum of 11 players on the field at any time, and the game is moved along by possessions. Each possession gets a maximum of four downs, by which time the offensive team must advance ten yards from the line of scrimmage to get a fresh set of downs or must kick a punt to put their team at a disadvantage to begin their own possession.

Points can be scored in a variety of ways. Most common of ways is via the touchdown, which is achieved when one teams crosses the threshold of the other’s goal area (located at opposite ends of the field) and counts for 6 points. The second most common is the field goal, which is worth 3 points. A field goal is set up in the way of a regular play, but with a kicker aiming to put the ball between the uprights behind the end zone.

After a touchdown, a team may opt for either the extra point, which is like an easy, close-range field goal, or the two-point conversion, which can be accomplished by scoring a touchdown on a do-or-die goal zone scenario. 

The quarterback is the focal part of any offense. A quarterback must have grace under fire, because they’re under fire. Constantly. And by under-fire, I mean that 300 pound linebackers are constantly heaving at themselves with the intent of knocking them out of the game.

The elite, those who can stare danger in the eye and convert on the most unlikely of plays, those who possess the leadership qualities needed to win at the top level, can achieve a level of celebrity unparalleled in sports. Just see Tom Brady, who married super model Gisele Bundchen.

And, even if you don’t possess those qualities, it’s OK. Even Tony Romo got to date Jessica Simpson. 

LONE STAR STUD. Tony Romo may not be among the most celebrated NFL quarterbacks and will probably never play in the Super Bowl, but he did date Jessica Simpson. Photo by Larry W. Smith/EPA

To see greatness at the quarterback position, search YouTube for Joe Montana’s The Catch, John Elway’s The Drive or just plain old Broncos QB Peyton Manning this year. 

The Game

After 16 grueling regular season games, the endless practice sessions followed by playoffs, the last two teams have earned the right to walk with their heads held high at the Super Bowl.

The Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos were the two teams most pegged to make it to the Big Game. Both teams had identical 13-3 records.

Seattle is led by second-year quarterback Russell Wilson, who has thrown for 26 touchdowns in each of his first. His primary weapon is wide-receiver Doug Baldwin Jr., a Filipino-American who was tied for the team-lead in receiving touchdowns with 5. Their best offensive weapon may be Marshawn Lynch, who was third in the league with 1,590 running yards and fifth in touchdowns with 11.

Their defense allowed a league-low 14.4 points per game, but without their formidable “12th Man,” which is the nickname given to their notoriously loud hometown fan base, we will see if offenses are as frazzled.

GREATNESS IN ACTION. Peyton Manning will look to add to his credentials as one of the greatest quarterbacks in history. Photo by Bob Pearson/EPA

While this is the young Seahawks’ first time into the Super Bowl, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is all-too familiar with the Winter Classic. Manning, 37, is one of the game’s greatest players ever, having won four MVP awards and led the Colts to a Super Bowl victory. 

After breaking nearly every important statistical record this past year, Manning is the most dominant offensive player in the league currently. This game stands the best chance at settling an age-old debate: Does great offense beat great defense, or vice versa?

The league’s best offense going against the best defense on the game’s biggest stage, with big name musical acts performing and funny commercials? This might be the perfect opportunity to check out the Super Bowl. – Rappler.com

Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and a contributor to The Ring magazine. He can be reached at ryan@ryansongalia.com. An archive of his work can be found at ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.