Tonight, the Seattle Seahawks face the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Being February 2, today is also Groundhog Day. Weirdly enough, this is the first time in history these two events have occurred simultaneously.
Groundhog Day and the Super Bowl are very different, of course. One is an odd, irrational, annual winter tradition whereby a cheerful but slightly loopy group of folks braves bitter temperatures to gape at a pudgy, hairy creature performing a task that nature surely never intended it to perform.
And the other is Groundhog Day.
In fact, there is one definite means by which the NFL’s championship match resembles the quirky gathering at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, at least in terms of the 1993 movie starring Bill Murray: Year in and year out, it’s essentially the same damn thing over and over again.
The genius of the Super Bowl, as an American cultural event, is how very little it has to do with football. With all the hubbub and distractions—the commercials, the snacks, the halftime show, the indiscriminate boozing—one need not care that much (or at all) about the actual game in order to have a grand old time.
Seldom do we reflect on how unusual this is.
To wit: There is little reason why someone who doesn’t follow baseball would ever watch the World Series. Likewise, a person who doesn’t see many movies in a given year would have no cause to tune in to the Oscars. Political conventions are made strictly for political junkies, and American Idol for those who don’t know real music when they hear it.
The Super Bowl is different. While true football fanatics will always have ESPN’s 14-day pregame show to fall back on, during which every sports analyst in America churns through statistical formulas that didn’t even exist when the modern NFL began, the casual viewers who make up the bulk of the telecast’s dependably massive audience need not feel excluded from the festivities. It’s all just one big party, and everyone is invited.
Accordingly, for us fair weather heathens who don’t particularly care about the game itself, all Super Bowls tend to blend together into one overhyped, unholy blur.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
As with all large-scale annual shindigs, there is a certain comfort in knowing exactly what you can expect from the biggest football game of the year. Knowing, for instance, that the commercials will contain talking babies and human-like animals. Knowing the halftime entertainment will be underwhelming and overproduced. Knowing at least one of the teams will field a compelling human interest story to lend an emotional hook to an otherwise jovial enterprise.
It’s all very entertaining, but also very predictable. Like Groundhog Day’s promise of a furry rodent popping out of its hole to predict whether the wind and the cold will ever subside, the Super Bowl’s charms are much the same year after year. They are not susceptible to change.
Except…just a little bit.
Lest we forget, the essence of Groundhog Day (the movie) is that, given a fixed template onto which an infinite number of scenarios can be played out, even the most selfish and insufferable person is capable of self-improvement—even if just in the tiniest of increments and over the longest possible span of time.
Just because a man is born a jerk does not mean he is fated to remain a jerk for the rest of his life.
The Super Bowl does not seem to change much from year to year, but it has certainly evolved over the longer term. Granted, most of these changes have been in the direction of excess: The pregame buildup has gotten longer and louder, the advertisements cruder and the on-field technology sharper and more invasive.
In the eyes of many, the Super Bowl’s ballooning into a behemoth of unfettered consumerism represents a regression—at least in a moral sense, and at least as far back at the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction,” which is now a decade old.
Yet the game’s ratings have only ticked upward over the last 15 years, suggesting people like their excess and they like knowing exactly how much they’re going to get.
Maybe that’s just how we choose to deal with having six more weeks of winter.