Saturday, February 5, 2011

America's Day

Where were you when you watched your first Super Bowl? Who were you with? I remember mine. It was Super Bowl XXI, Giants and Broncos, following the 1986 season. I had just turned 10, and I wasn't much of a football fan; in fact, I remember being annoyed by my father turning away from the Nascar races on Sundays to watch the Giants games. I was much more interested in watching Dale Earnhardt intimidate with his yellow and blue Monte Carlo than in a bunch of burly guys smashing each other to pieces.

But the Super Bowl was different. It just seemed so important to everyone, such a big deal, and watching my Dad sitting there living and dying with each play, I couldn't help but get caught up in it all. By the time the game ended, and Phil Simms was on his way to Disney World, I was an NFL fan for life, and the Big Blue blood that pumped through my father's veins finally began coursing through mine.

Though my memory of the game itself is a bit hazy and probably distorted by the images NFL Films has placed into my mind in faded glory, my memories of subsequent Super Bowls are crystal clear. Tomorrow will be my 25th Super Bowl. My Super Bowl XXV. That's 25 straight years of watching every play, every commercial, every half-time show of every game. That means something. The game means something. It was as clear to me that evening back in January of 1987 as it is today. Super Bowl Sunday means more than just getting to stay up late on a school night for a 10 year-old kid. It means more than just football. It means more than just a game.

Just think of the memories the game brings back for you. It's more than Mark Riepen tearing apart the Buffalo Bill's secondary. It's the whole family falling asleep on the couch except for you, the silly kid that was determined to see every second of the game no matter how big the blowout. It's not just Mike Jones's tackle of Kevin Dyson at the one yard line; it's the new apartment with no furniture in it and watching Montana scorch the Broncos on a lone mattress in the middle of the floor. It's not just wide right; it's the look on your father's face as he fought the urge to change the channel, barely able to watch the fate of his favorite team, now your favorite team, unravel before his eyes. It's Everson Walls frozen in time, jumping in the air with his arms raised high above his head. It's David Tyree pinning a ball against his helmet. It's Peyton Manning's "pick-6." It's all of this and so much more.

It's Whitney Houston's Star Spangled Banner while we wait for word from the Middle East. It's U2 memorializing the fallen in the 9/11 attacks. It's the little guy, the Patriots, completing the biggest upset since The American Revolution, staging a heroic comeback on a field adorned with a re-designed American flag Super Bowl logo, not quite numbing the pain of tragedy, but somehow re-uniting us all, as a nation, if for just one night. It's parents introducing their children to Paul McCartney and Tom Petty and children introducing their parents to Brittney Spears and The Black Eyed Peas.

The game provides a measuring stick for our lives. We can look back at each individual game and remember where we were in our lives, the triumphs we've had, the struggles we've overcome. It may be the only thing left that multiple generations of Americans can experience together and fully understand. A first down is always 10 yards. A touchdown is always 6 points. A hero is a hero. For one night only, it's all clear, defined, calculable. It all just makes sense.

Wars and loves come and go, but each year, we have the Super Bowl. Think about it. On what other night of the year are so many of us Americans doing the same thing at the same time for the same reasons. Experiencing the same emotions. Watching the same spectacle. All of our problems and differences are cast aside, and for three hours we're all Americans, all as one, all focused on something that seems so unimportant, but has become so essential to our society.

Sure, we were all together when Pearl Harbor was attacked. We were all together for Operation Desert Storm. We were all together when the towers fell and our lives changed forever. But the Super Bowl, one insignificant football game, may be the only time we all come together, as Americas, for an amazing, fun, positive experience. Whether our team wins or loses, we make memories that will last a lifetime, not only in the stadium and on the screen, but on the couch and in our living rooms.

Perhaps it's because this single, solitary game represents all that makes us American. The struggles and triumphs, the underdogs and heroes, the excess and pageantry, all there on our television screens covered in the blood, sweat, and tears that made this nation great. And this year promises to be the greatest of all. In the enormous monument to American dreams that is Cowboys Stadium, the same field that hosts America's team on Sundays throughout the season, we will watch two of the most legendary teams in NFL history go to battle, pushing themselves to the limit to achieve their lifelong dreams. For one night, grown men will relive the innocence and possibility of childhood, and we'll all, as one, come along for the ride.

The Steelers and Packers--the epitomes of middle class strength, endurance, and toughness--will battle each other, reminding us of the blue-collar work ethic that made this country great. It's "MADE IN THE USA" at its finest. The hopes and dreams of all of us metaphorically represented by the gladiators we cheer for on the gridiron. It's an American tradition. A moment to share. It's Christmas without the credit card bill. It's more than just a game.

So tomorrow night when you're watching the game, sure, celebrate the touch downs. Celebrate the interceptions and the field goals. Celebrate the winner and the efforts of the loser. But also celebrate each other. Celebrate the memories. Celebrate strength, endurance, excellence, and striving to be the best. Celebrate tradition. Celebrate America. It's America's Game. It's America's Day.

Where will you be for Super Bowl XLV? Who will you be with? I will be with my wife--our 15th Super Bowl together. I will be with my daughter--still getting over the tragedy of her beloved Jets losing the AFC Championship game, but still excited for "The Big Game." She already has a sense for how the game is bigger than the teams involved. And I'll be with my son--too young to really understand, much like when I was too young and only half heard the chatter of Dan Marino choking against the 49ers back in '84. I'll be with my family, making new memories. Not just the memories that will stand the test of time in the NFL Films vault, but the memories that will last an eternity in the collective consciousness of America.