Football as a Social Affair: Super Bowl Styles

steelers-rally-downtown

via Post-Gazette/Lake Fong photo

I’m not a big fan of viewing football games with other people. Or perhaps more accurately, I need to have complete trust in their viewing methods. But even for me, the Super Bowl is different. I’m happy to watch it as the sort of central point of a social occasion.

There is, of course, a huge proviso—the Steelers can’t be in the game. If they are, it’s right back to square one.

I have watched two Super Bowls. The first was the 2008 Super Bowl. I didn’t really care about the Steelers then, and thought football in general was at best incomprehensible. However, I had enough community spirit to accept the invitation. It was perhaps this which sowed the seeds for my later solitary viewing styles.The party guests fell into three categories. First were the keen Steelers fans (including the host, although not at that point the hostess, except insofar as she wanted to see him happy.) The second category were those who didn’t care in the least about the game. They were there for the company, the commercials, the food, and/or a host of other motivations. Then there was category three, which pretty much contained only me.

I didn’t exactly care about the outcome of the game, except that a vague sense of civic solidarity made me want to see the Steelers win. Furthermore, I was rather distracted, as I had to work out the grades for about 120 students, and they needed to be submitted during the following week.

However, since I was there to watch the game, I watched it, and worked on the grading during the commercials and half time show. So naturally I found those who were there to chat to be annoying when they continued to do so during the game. In fact, I discovered that they were the most likely to be quiet while the commercials were on, which mystified me at the time.

But to my surprise I found the REALLY irritating people to be some of the so-called fans. There was one woman in particular who spent the entire game, or at least the portion of it when the offense was on the field, in moaning on and on about Ben Roethlisberger, what an idiot he was, how he needed to throw the ball away, or throw it sooner, or even occasionally hold it longer. In short, it didn’t much matter what he did. In fact, it didn’t matter that much what the outcome of the particular play was. If it was successful, it almost seemed as if it was a disappointment to her, and she often remarked he was lucky not to be picked off, or sacked, or that the receiver made a good play.

For the record, I used the word “moaning” to describe her commentary, but in tone it was more like Pittsburgh Dad—that sort of almost in-your-face aggressive tone of voice that excoriates your nerves if you can’t laugh at it. I have no idea what she had against Ben Roethlisberger, but he seemed to be the touchstone for all the ire she felt against the team, and perhaps that’s all it was.

When I became an actual fan, during the latter end of the following season (yes, the five-game losing streak. Go figure…) I mostly didn’t have anyone else with whom to watch games, as my sons had moved away and my husband maintained a steadfast disinterest. So it wasn’t until a year later or so I discovered how truly annoying the wrong sort of fans could be.

I won’t relate the whole story, other than to say that for some reason I was laboring under the (incorrect) assumption that I couldn’t record and watch the game at home. It was a Monday night, and I had to run rehearsal. So afterwards I headed to a nearby sports bar, which was seriously overcrowded and full of smokers. I noticed, however, that the Dunkin’ Donuts across the street had a television. So I bought a coffee and a gingerbread donut and sat down to enjoy the remainder of the Steelers/Bengals game, in what was initially blissful solitude.

At least it was until a very nice gentleman settled on the other end of my couch just as halftime was ending. He proceeded to engage me in conversations about, oh, helmet design, books I had never heard of by long dead sportswriters, the unsatisfactory lives of some of the all-time great baseball players, and the mysterious disappearance of his cell phone.

All of which I handled the way my momma taught me – politely but distantly. Inside, of course, I wanted to yell “In case you haven’t noticed, I am attempting to watch the sporting contest laid so enticingly before us, and it would really enhance my enjoyment of it if you would confine your conversation to the commercials.” Or words to that effect. But life is seldom a series of unmixed blessings, and after all the Steelers had a 13-point lead, so I was able to be philosophical.

But then two things happened in the fourth quarter—the Bengals began scoring again, and a number of people gathered round the television. One of them was That Guy. You know, the one that says after every single play that doesn’t actually result in a touchdown for the Steelers “Every since Mike Tomlin took over this team, they can’t put games away.”

I didn’t know a great deal at that point, but I did know I adored Mike Tomlin, and so this was exceedingly trying and difficult to ignore.

There was more, much more, and none of it bore any resemblance to incisive commentary or helpful remarks. My inner James Harrison kept trying to rise up and go for a helmet to helmet hit, but once again I would hear my mother’s voice – “A soft answer…” Wait, what am I saying? My mother does not suffer fools gladly, and she might well have decked the guy. She once took out after a full-grown elk with a shovel when it attempted to eat her petunias.

All was well that night in the end, as the Steelers eventually won. And, as this was 2010, as we all know they eventually headed to the Super Bowl.

I watched that Super Bowl with some close friends at their house. The group was again divided, but into those who REALLY cared about the outcome and those who hoped they would win but weren’t all that into football. The latter contingent had been well trained by the former, however, and they knew not to interfere with the serious watchers during the actual game part of the game (as opposed to the commercials, etc.)

As a part of Group One I discovered afresh how exhausting it is to care a great deal about the outcome of a game. Before I became a fan I never knew how it was that football could break your heart. But at least I had a mutual support group to help ease the pain. This made me understand that the right sort of companions at a game can actually be better than watching it alone. Which is why I’m going to try to make a few trips to DC to watch games at The Weiner’s Circle with Ivan, Homer, and whoever else appears in the coming season.

As for this year’s Super Bowl, I won’t be watching it. I’m visiting my daughter and son-in-law in Wales, where the game will begin at 23:30. (That’s 11:30 at night for those of you unaccustomed to 24-hour timekeeping.) Since I’m flying out the following day I can’t get into staying up until the wee hours of the night to watch a game whose outcome doesn’t interest me very much.

I expect it is a character flaw, but I’ve never really gotten into watching games not involving the Steelers. I do it on rare occasions, and have to confess it is very relaxing to not care in the least who wins. If I were back in Pittsburgh I would gladly watch it with friends over a refreshing beverage and a platter of Five Layer Dip or some such. I might even chat from time to time. Next year, though, don’t count on it. I’ll be watching the Super Bowl with hand-selected Steeler fans, if you know what I mean…

As Ike Taylor might sing under his breath, “Pittsburgh’s Goin’ to the Super Bowl…”

4 comments

  • Great read. I don’t believe I ever read the words: “She once took out after a full-grown elk with a shovel when it attempted to eat her petunias” before. Marvelous.

    Rox and Little Darlin’ watch football constantly and almost always alone except for two critters named Rory the Yorkshire Terrorist and Mardi Gras. We always care about the outcome, even if we have to make up a reason. I’m still working on a reason for SB50. We trust no one to behave during a Steelers game and therefore it is no time to be social.

    We’re here just outside Apalachicola, FL on the beautiful Gulf Coast. While there’s a SB party at the campground, I suspect we’ll watch it in the Behemoth. I’m sure we’ll have better food and beer and be able to actually watch the game. I’ll let y’all know the details on Tuesday when I post.

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    • I forgot to mention my constant viewing companion, Cato the Birman cat. He can be trusted not to make ignorant remarks, and is invaluable for providing stress relief during anxious moments.

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  • Woke up on the morning of an AFC championship, I believe, against the Ravens without power.
    Chose what I believed was the lesser of two evils to watch.
    My brother in laws, who yells interception on nearly every pass play. Or my Cowboys fan friend. Little did I know the house would be filled with Seahawks fans.
    I chose wrong, but learned the same lesson, pick your viewing partners wisely.
    Did your mom bag that elk?

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    • Nope. It saw my mother coming with that look in her eye. The one that could drop an unruly child in the front pew from about 30 feet (the approximate distance between the organ bench and the pew in which we had to sit so she could keep her eye on us.) The elk headed for the hills. A few petunias weren’t worth the risk, apparently.

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