Grasping at Straws: The Super Bowl Party

Welcome to Grasping at Straws, the weekly blog where the unheralded, the underappreciated, and the long forgotten get their time to shine! Each week, I will “make the case” for an unpopular opinion regarding any topic or category of culture and life. Suggestions for future topics will be taken and considered at any of Sour Power’s social media channels, but please, keep it classy.

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Family and friends are packed inside the house. Cars line the street in front of where everyone has gathered. Delicious food is constantly being shuffled to and from the kitchen. That one uncle who always has one or four too many is passed out on the couch.

It’s a familiar scene, one synonymous with holiday parties. A few times throughout the year, we as a nation collectively decide we need a break from our usual routines to celebrate life. Celebrate everyone making it through another day, or week, or month despite all in this world that works against us. Life is hard, so it’s necessary to stop and appreciate things every once in a while to keep your morale high and maintain your sanity. It always helps to be able to look forward to a Christmas or Fourth of July or New Year’s party as the monotony of day-to-day life can occasionally threaten to overwhelm you.

This blog entry isn’t about any of the holidays I just listed, or even about any of the many other widely recognized holidays celebrated in the U.S. The way people celebrate this particular day, however, should certainly qualify it to be a national holiday.

I’m talking, of course, about Super Bowl Sunday.

The final day of the NFL season brings football and non-football fans together in a way that no other sport can. Baseball, basketball, and hockey all use best-of-7 series to determine its champion, golf and tennis have 4 major tournaments that share the headlines throughout the year, and a boxing title bout simply doesn’t quite carry the same weight among the general public as it used to. By default, the football championship is the most important sports event of the year, no matter how much you actually care about the game or the two teams playing in it.

This is a tradition that goes back years (the first Super Bowl was played in 1967), but has only really entrenched itself as a pillar in American culture with the NFL’s rise as the most popular sport in the country over the last couple decades. The Super Bowl has become so much more than just a championship game, it is an absolute spectacle. A circus of all types of people converging on a different city each year to remind us how much we as a nation love to be entertained. Between the week of unnecessarily intense media coverage, the gaudy halftime shows, and the proliferation of ridiculous prop bets (especially with the growing legalization of sports betting), the Super Bowl is America’s crowning achievement in conjuring up a drama-filled event out of almost nothing.

Remember, at the center of it all, it’s just a football game.

But away from the stadium and even the city where the game is being played, the entire nation treats the first Sunday of February similar to how it would any other holiday with much more established and rational logic behind why it is celebrated so heavily. Fourth of July commemorates the birth of our nation. Memorial Day honors the brave veterans who fought, and continue to fight, for our freedom at home and abroad. Super Bowl Sunday, though often involving Patriots, has no particular reason for being a day with the same fervent dedication to partying as the two I just mentioned. Yet the scene I described at the very start of this can be found coast to coast, in the homes of the most rabid sports fans as well as people who probably couldn’t name one player on either team they’re barely watching.

Obviously I’ve attended Super Bowl parties my whole life, but this past one I fully realized how closely it resembles the proceedings of any “real” national holiday. Spending time with family and friends you may not get to see very often. The inordinate amount of food being consumed. Adults drinking way more than they ever would when they have work the next day. It checks off every item that is associated with actual holidays. Perhaps the powers that be are too ashamed of how devoted we have become to treating the Super Bowl as if it’s all of our birthdays at the same time. Maybe the insanity of a holiday based around a sporting event is what has prevented it from becoming officially recognized as such.

Well, if so, it certainly hasn’t stopped us from acting like it’s marked down on all our calendars alongside the other holidays. Sure, an official holiday that revolves around football likely doesn’t do much for the millions of people out there who don’t care about the sport. The day is certainly a bigger deal to those who are actually invested in the game and aware of what’s going on. However, I think it’s safe to say that there were many “Super Bowl parties” around the country on Sunday that took place without “the Big Game” as the highlight of the party. I’ve seen countless parties where most of the people there have no idea what the score is, or even who’s playing. The game is simply an excuse for people to get together, eat a bunch of food, get drunk, and enjoy each other’s company.

For the record, I’m all for this. It’s just that an artificial holiday of this magnitude is pretty unbelievable when you think about it. All the official holidays that are celebrated on the same scale as the Super Bowl have been around for centuries, while all the “unofficial” holidays/large events that only exist so people can party, think Mardi Gras or SantaCon, aren’t as universal and easily accessible.

The Super Bowl party provides the sweetest of spots for the average American to enjoy a fun social experience regardless of their affiliation to the event at the core of the occasion. It is entirely free of religious or ethnic connotation. It exists simply to entertain as many people as possible, and actively works to include you even if you’re not interested in football. The commercialization of the whole event is very reminiscent of what has happened with Christmas, but without all the resentment.

It’s as if after the run of Halloween in October, Thanksgiving in November, and Christmas/New Year’s in December/January, we needed something to carry us through until St. Patrick’s Day in March (another holiday that has essentially become “this feels like a good day to party” while expanding beyond just the Irish). It’s cold in February, the only “holiday” is Valentine’s Day which actually exists to separate people into pairs, and everyone decided, “We really miss celebrating all those holidays the past few months. Let’s just do that while watching a football game.” I think that’s the only way it all makes even a little sense. Someone prove me wrong.

Despite how confounding it all is, the Super Bowl party’s importance to the culture is somehow still underrated. The hosting city basically throws a party for an entire week. Family and friends across the country (and even the world) come together on that Sunday in an unspoken agreement that there is something happening that is worth celebrating.

And we all get to see Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. If the Super Bowl truly becomes a holiday, those two are basically its Christmas tree. All holidays have traditions ingrained in their identities and, for better or worse, I suppose Brady and Belichick help strengthen the Super Bowl’s case for entry into the Holiday Club.

Football legends whose success most of the country is tired of seeing aside, the Super Bowl is an institution. A cherished event that has become embedded in the fabric of our country. There’s no controversial history behind it. There’s no debate over whether or not we should be celebrating it. Every first Sunday of February, it is understood that a football game is going to be played, and we are all going to party. Simple as that.

Simple fun is a concept anyone can get behind (as well as one that seems to be a running theme here). The Super Bowl party is undoubtedly one of the shining examples of simple fun. Needed fun. A reminder of our collective ability to create a holiday just because we feel like having another one. The manufactured mystique of Super Bowl Sunday is arguably one of our greatest achievements. It should be celebrated as such.

Or maybe, I’m just grasping at straws.