It seems like every man, woman and child in America watches the Super Bowl, no?
The championship game for the National Football League has become a national holiday. Edition XLVIII, as the NFL has come to list each game, features the Denver Broncos vs. the Seattle Seahawks this Sunday, in MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
Peyton Manning barking “Omaha” before threading passes into tiny spaces vs. Russell Wilson surveying the landscape before scooting between defenders for another first down.
Lose your breath in anticipation, yet?
Around the world, I figure, there is a somewhat lower level of excitement and great potential for bewilderment.
Oh, folks can watch if they choose. NFL.com reports that the game has been broadcast to 230 countries in 34 languages, including English.
That means in many lands, in many customs, people will be figuratively scratching their heads over American football. It is not the easiest game to comprehend if you haven’t been born talking about tackles, turnovers and touchdowns.
There is a rhyme and plenty of reasons behind those short bursts of action between longer dead time.
The world is in need of a football primer. I know this as fact, because my friend Rachel, also known as lundygirl and author of a WordPress blog I like very much, Could Do Worse, told me so.
Rachel and her husband, Steve, will stay up late in London to watch the Super Bowl this Sunday. With the five-hour time difference, that means it will be 11:30 p.m. London time before the BBC beams the opening kickoff.
Bruno Mars and Red Hot Chili Peppers will not start their odd halftime mashup of pop and rock until after 1 a.m. in London.
A winner will not be decided until after 3 a.m. on the other side of the pond.
I hope I have not convinced you to give up before the start, Rachel.
Without further ado, here, from a New York Jets fan in Syracuse, N.Y., comes an international guide to better enjoying the 48th Super Bowl. Feel free to read on in Philly or Phoenix, too, if you’re not a regular football fan.
I sure could have used something like this when I attempted to watch cricket on TV in Bermuda. Hello, world.
We know. We borrowed the name from the most popular sport in the world.
In American, we call your football soccer, to avoid confusion.
In our football, feet are still important, but in a different way. The ball is kicked, by players called place-kickers and punters. Those players are special, because when they are called on the field, they are joined by fellow players that are called the special team.
And the feet are needed to run up and down the field with much speed and daring.
Your football is round, which is very handy for the manner in which it is handled by the feet. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Shoot. Caught or knocked aside by the goalie. Repeat. Repeat. Goal. Repeat. Game over.
Round creates sure bounces and geometric strategy.
Our football is oblong.
When it does hit the ground, its bounces are unpredictable.
Most of our strategy revolves around keeping the football from hitting the ground.
There are two ways to score points.
A player can carry the ball across the goal line. That is called a touchdown. It counts as six points. Sometimes a player runs across the goal line while on his feet. Many times a player dives across the goal line with defenders draped along his body, attempting to keep him from stretching his arms out and placing the ball over the line. In either case, a touchdown signals a wild celebration by the players on the team that scored.
The place-kicker can boot the ball between the two vertical bars of what is called the uprights, the U-on-a-pole at each end of the playing field. A try is awarded after each touchdown, and is worth one point if successful. A team that is behind, or feeling feisty, can also choose to try to run or pass the ball over the goal line instead of this extra-point kick. Success is worth two points. The place-kicker also can be summoned when the team did not get the ball across the goal line and is close enough to try a field goal. A field goal is worth three points. Really long ones are considered 50 yards and out from the spot it is kicked.
The NFL record is 64 yards, a boot just made this past December, coincidently, by Matt Prater of the Denver Broncos, who will be playing Sunday. The mark of 63 yards had stood since 1970.
The team with the ball keeps it as long as it obtains what is called a first down. The offense must move the ball 10 yards in four plays to make a first down.
These yards are gained by running backs, who take the ball directly from the quarterback in what is called a handoff, or receivers, who catch a thrown ball from the quarterback, which is called a pass.
This can be done several times in succession until a touchdown is scored and the players start celebrating.
However, on the fourth down, unless there is a short distance to attain and the coach is feeling feisty, the place-kicker can be sent out to attempt a field goal.
If the team is too far away from the uprights, the punter is called upon to boot the ball as far as he can in hopes of making the other team’s offense start on first down as close to the other end of the field as possible. A return man is stationed way back there by the team receiving the punt. The hopes are that he’ll not only be able to catch the ball cleanly, but also be able to run with the ball many yards back toward the punter without being tackled.
Be wary, though, because on every play, the defense will be trying to knock the ball loose. That is called a fumble. When the ball hits the ground, everybody on the field dives for it. It’s a free-for-all. The man who ends up clutching the football earns possession for his team.
You will notice that American football is a game of stop-and-start.
Between plays, the team with the football may group together in what is called a huddle, with the quarterback telling his 10 teammates what to do on the next play.
The Denver Broncos, though, have made a practice of sending the 11 men on offense immediately up to the line of scrimmage. Quarterback Peyton Manning will stand behind the center, looking at the way the 11 defenders are lined up, and considering whether a running play or a passing play will work best. Peyton Manning will shout out code words, secret stuff that tells his teammates what to do. Microphones are quite close to the field. In the two playoff victories that clinched this Super Bowl appearance, Manning shouted the word “Omaha” many times. Still, nobody is quite sure if he will hand the ball off to a running back, or what receiver he will attempt to successfully hit if he decides to throw the ball.
Length of the game
The game is broken into four quarters, each consisting of 15 minutes of playing time.
The clock continues to run after a play unless the ball carrier crosses the sideline out of bounds instead of being tackled in the field. The clock also stops if the quarterback attempts to throw the ball to a receiver, but the ball is knocked away, dropped, or was thrown too inaccurately.
Out of bounds plays and incomplete passes happen frequently. That’s why 60 minutes of playing time always takes longer than 3 hours of real time.
After the first two quarters, it is the Super Bowl tradition for the NFL to put a big stage on the middle of the field and summon some of the biggest names in show business to perform songs for those in the crowd in the stadium and the TV audience.
The Rolling Stones have played. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band have performed. Beyonce reunited with Destiny’s Child last year. Janet Jackson caused a huge stir when she sang and danced and had one of her boobs fall out of her shirt. This has since become known in America as a wardrobe malfunction.
At home traditions
People in the States hold big Super Bowl parties, stock the fridge with many beverages, and prepare lots of food.
This is, after all, the culmination of a 16-game regular season in which everybody has a favorite among the 32 teams in the NFL. As the three rounds of the playoffs leading up to the
Super Bowl unfold, fans of the eliminated teams tend to pick somebody still playing for a rooting interest.
And then there are the gambling boards, grassroots 100-square grids drawn up in countless places of business, that allow folks to throw down a few bucks and hope that the two random numbers they draw from zero to nine show up together on the scoreboard at the end of a quarter, half, or, for the biggest prize, the final score. Yeah, it’s illegal here, but widespread nevertheless.
In Syracuse, N.Y., many people think chicken wings are the perfect Super Bowl food. They are called Buffalo wings by some, because the crispy stems and flappers with a spicy sauce are said to have been first cooked and devoured in Buffalo, 150 miles to the west of Syracuse. They are served at many take-out establishments. Some pizza places are also known for great chicken wings. Lines on Super Bowl Sunday are long, though, and anybody sent to retrieve the food can miss huge chunks of the important game.
My dear wife Karen suggests I offer a link for the recipe to make your own chicken wings.
So here we go, from the Seahawks’ hometown Seattle Times site. It also includes recipes for chili, chowder and more.
The short version
Want to seem smart?
You can tell your friends about how this Super Bowl just across the river from New York City is a rare one because it’s being played in a cold weather city. Normally, the NFL chooses warm weather cities or cities with domed stadiums. This stadium has no roof. The early forecast is for a “wintry mix.” Just say: No matter. Both teams have to play in it.
Or relate how Peyton Manning can become the first quarterback to win a Super Bowl with two different teams. He won the big prize previously with the Indianapolis Colts. Then the Colts released him after a bad neck injury that required several surgeries and caused Manning to miss a whole season. For extra credit, say: And Peyton’s younger brother, Eli, won the Super Bowl quarterbacking the New York Giants. Twice.
You can offer that the Seattle Seahawks are in their second Super Bowl, and that they lost their first one to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The good folks at CNN.com have put together a quite tidy collection of handy facts about Sunday’s game. You can click here if you want to learn even more.
But really, no matter where you are, just watch.
Enjoy the combination of athletic grace and power, and hope that nobody gets seriously injured — on the field from the many inevitable high-speed collisions, or at home from too much drink, food and serious rooting for one team or the other.
Do you have any suggestions for folks worldwide who might be watching the Super Bowl as a spectacle?