Something called the “Super Bowl” is happening this weekend. What a crazy name, right? Sounds like what Super Man smokes when he wants to get stoned! Nah, just joshin’ with you—this Super Bowl involves a bunch of giant men and a ball, and has been occurring once per year for the past 40 years or something. It’s probably important for you to know about, which is why I decided to write an informative FAQ so you know what’s going on and can make small talk with any of your friends, family, or acquaintances who might be Super Bowl fans.
Q: What is the Super Bowl?
A: It’s a football game! It’s the last one that gets played in the NFL until next season, meaning the winners get to be Best Football Guys for a year, and the losers are only Second Best Football Guys, which is way worse. It’s also a big event where famous musicians play and fireworks shoot off and so on.
Q: Fun! But what’s football?
A: Football is this game where one team tries to move a ball up a field by carrying it or throwing it and the other team tries to stop them by hitting them. Every time the guy carrying the ball falls down or the ball hits the ground play stops for a bit, then the players reorganize themselves and play starts up again. If one team doesn’t do a very good job moving the ball up the field, they give the ball to the other team. This goes on for three hours. The teams also kick the ball through a big yellow Y sometimes.
Q: That sounds terrible and boring. Why do people play this game?
A: Because they love it! Hahahahaha! No, actually many of the men playing in the Super Bowl get paid millions of dollars to do football.
Q: Whoooooaaaa! How did that happen?
A: Well, it turns out that people really, really like watching men play football on television. So many people watch football that companies pay the television folks a lot of money to show their commercials during the games, and that money trickles down to the NFL’s owners and then their players.
Q: Can I get paid that amount of money to play football?
A: No. While people like to watch world-class athletes (who often have taken human growth hormone supplements or other chemicals that make them bigger, faster, and stronger) play football, they do not want to watch ordinary folks like you or me play the same game.
Q: Why do people like to watch football in the first place?
A: Well, that’s a complicated question. Human beings have held athletic competitions since at least the time of the Ancient Greeks, so there seems to be something wired into our brains that makes watching competition enjoyable. Maybe we enjoy the sight of others competing and forcing themselves to the limits of their endurance, maybe we feel a primordial need to create narratives around the action on the field or pitch or court, maybe it’s just that we get a thrill out of not knowing what will happen—sports are the original unscripted drama, and if we invest ourselves in the outcome, we can find ourselves on the edge of our seats, dry-throated, ready to collapse or leap with joy depending on what happens in the next few minutes.
Q: You’re wrong. Sports are boring and dumb. But you said the Super Bowl is an event and not just a game, right?
A: Well, it used to pretty much be a normal game—a marching band would perform at halftime, but that was it. Then I guess so many people were watching it that someone was like, “Hey! Let’s get Up with People or whatever to perform!” and gradually that morphed into today’s halftime show, during which a super-famous band or singer takes the stage and does a huge, garish number with a bunch of guest stars. It can feel like you did acid by mistake and were shopping for a flatscreen TV at Best Buy when it kicked in all at once. Like this:
Q: This sounds horrible. Why does anyone who isn’t really into football and/or Top 40 radio watch this game?
A: Oh! I should tell you about the commercials, too. They’re hugely expensive productions with big celebrities and humor and occasionally emotional messages. Some websites have taken to reviewing the commercials as if they were short films.
Q: So people watch this thing for the commercials?
A: Yes! It’s a hugely important pop-culture event and you need to take part!