A couple of years ago, I was nursing a hangover in my London grad school dorm room and watching Friday Night Lights when my friend texted me this: “Hey, a friend of mine managed to get the Super Bowl playing in the common room, wanna come watch?”
I was more than happy to continue watching fictional football in my darkened room in sweatpants, but one of our British friends was coming over to watch his first Super Bowl, so I thought it would be shitty for me to flake. I put on real pants and a sweatshirt and wandered down into our building’s common room, where one of my neighbors, a Jersey girl, had put out a huge cheese-based snack spread and hooked up our crappy common television to a British pay-per-view station that was playing the game.
The problem is that watching the Super Bowl abroad is a sad echo of watching it at home. It’s like Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July — it can’t be replicated on foreign soil. If my Thanksgiving turkeys / football players haven’t been blasted out of their mind on medication and steroids at some point before being horribly mistreated for my personal enjoyment, what’s the point? If my Fourth of July celebrations / football games aren’t tinged with petty provincialism and xenophobia, why even have them? But I hadn’t been home in seven months, and I hadn’t watched a single football game all year, dammit, so my reservations took a back seat.
Our hostess was a die-hard Giants fan, and there were a few other New York fans in the room, but for the most part it was full of Brits and ambivalent homesick Americans like myself. And that doesn’t make for the best viewing crowd, in part because non-Americans are often justifiably offended that we have the nerve to call our sport football, when the much older global version of football clearly had dibs on the name, and clearly involves more foot-on-ball action.
To be fair, changing the meaning of words for no apparent reason is always kind of a dick move. If we’d said to them, “You call these bananas? We call them yellowsticks now. And we call apples bananas, because America,” the reaction would have been similar.
These were friendly people, though, so instead of telling us our sport was a travesty, they simply commented on the inscrutability of the game, which was a bit much coming from a nation that invented cricket.
“Wait, what just happened…did that man score?”
“No. So if he’d caught the ball in the box, that would’ve been six points, unless they’d just gotten into the box the play before, in which case it would be two points, or one if they kicked it through the sticks. But it would’ve been three points if they’d kicked it through the sticks and no one had been in the box yet.”
“But why’s that guy celebrating?”
“Because he just made a catch.”
“Was it a particularly good catch?”
“So why’s he running around screaming like he just won the game?”
“Because he’s an asshole.”
Once they’ve figured out the basic rules of the game — which most Americans still haven’t done — your foreign friends will start watching, but will get insanely frustrated by all of the commercials. This is the second most common complaint against American football: It’s boring. On this front, I feel like we have soccer beat — their games may only stop for commercials once, but they can also end in a score of 0-0. The start-and-stop of American football throws off most foreigners, though, which would make you think the Super Bowl, with its expensive and often amusing commercials, is the perfect game to start a Brit off with. “See?” you can say. “The commercials are part of the experience!”
But you don’t get the commercials when you’re watching the game abroad, unless you’re illegally streaming the game from an 8-inch laptop. Which, by the way, is unacceptable — the Super Bowl was not made to be watched by you in a darkened room like some common masturbator. No, what you get instead during the commercial breaks is a British soccer announcer discussing the last few plays with a burnt-out American football player you’ve never heard of who only took the job because he desperately needs the money for his concussion-related mental health treatments. It’s what football would be like if every announcer was Dan Dierdorf.
The only salvageable part of the Super Bowl abroad is the food. All Super Bowl food must, according to international law, be cheese or grease based. And all countries know the value of cheese. It’s what binds us as a species. Our host had arranged a glorious spread that, in the absence of an adequate game to distract me, I proceeded to gorge myself upon. Since I could hardly spend my time watching the game, I started talking to the hostess, and, two years later, we’re still together.
So the verdict for watching the Super Bowl abroad: not great for the Super Bowl. Not bad for falling in love.