Reportage / 30 January 2019

What’s So Super about the Super Bowl?

On Sunday, February 3, Super Bowl LIII, the championship game of the United States’ National Football League, will be played in Atlanta and broadcast to around 100 million viewers.

My first American football game turned out to be Super Bowl LI (the Roman numeral LI stands for the 51st edition of the game), the annual finale of a minority sport in which teams from only one country take part. The New England Patriots of Boston are the favourites against the Atlanta Falcons. 

We attend a public viewing of the game – with kids – at a Methodist church. There are posters on the wall next to the TV set: ‘Jesus is our Saviour’ and ‘His name is Jesus’. They provide this information as reassurance; Christians always harbour a little doubt about their dogmas. 

For supper, there are greasy little meatballs with pretzel sticks. The boss (the priest? the custodian?) is genuinely friendly. Does he sense I’m an unbaptised atheist, a virgin, so to speak? Will I have to join his sect after the final whistle? Worried, I remember an American acronym: TANSTAAFL! ‘There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch!’

I’m sure I’ll never convert to the American religion of Football, with its impenetrable set of rules. True, this violent sport offers some tactical finesse, but no sooner do things get moving than they come roaring to a stop. Pretty soon, Atlanta has a pretty good lead. ‘The advertisements are so bad’, says my older child, ‘they’re all about fighting ... R-rated advertisements’! 

The half-time intermission has its own name. It’s called the “Alfa Romeo Halftime”, but nobody laughs at this. Lady Gaga is performing. There was some speculation that she’d criticise the president, but she turns in a well-behaved show: ‘We’re here to make you feel good tonight!’ There are 41,000 tweets per minute – we are informed – with the word ‘Gaga’ in them, a Gaga world record! 

My younger boy falls asleep. In the third quarter, my weary older boy observes: ‘I don’t think anybody can make it all the way through a game this long ... or not very many people, anyway ‘... 

The Methodists let us go without giving us a sermon or asking for a contribution. No one forces me to join the church. The boss tells me I’m welcome anytime. (A guy like that can just tell you’re a virgin!)

Back home, I nod off several times during the Patriots’ historic comeback. They win 34-28 in overtime. ‘Absolutely stunning’! Not to me. Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, or Barcelona always win in the end, too. 

My friend Alex K., who lived for a long time in Boston, comments in an email: ‘I thought the truly American sports (football and baseball) were really boring until I learned that you can’t view these games like a European soccer match, where there’s constant action. You need to have a book or a newspaper, something to eat, maybe you play with the kids a little, fold the laundry, and on the side, you watch the game. The seconds of actual play are insignificant compared to the time outs, breaks, and commercials’. 

Translated by Geoffrey C. Howes

Excerpted from Martin Amanshauser, Die Amerikafalle. Oder: Wie ich lernte, die Weltmacht zu lieben (The America Trap, or How I Learned to Love the Superpower.) Vienna: Kremayr & Scheriau, 2018.


Martin Amanshauser

is an Austrian author, travel writer and translator. His latest book is called Typisch Welt, 111 Geschichten zum weiter Reisen (2016).