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The Super Bowl

So yeah, I went to the Super Bowl. If that sentence holds no interest for you then go on to your next thing, and no hard feelings. I’ll have a flash fic to post here this week or next.

A whole bunch of stars aligned over last year and the beginning of this one. We’d come into a little chunk of money. The Super Bowl was being played in the brand new Levi’s Stadium, about a fifteen-minute drive from our house; alternately we could walk to one of the stations on the VTA and take a train directly there (our farmer’s market, usually in the parking lot of the transit center, now gets displaced on Sundays when the 49ers are at home because of the traffic going through there). And just over two weeks ago, the favorite teams of my husband (Denver) and our roommate (Carolina) won their conference championships to set the lineup.

Denver is my team-in-law, yes, but I’ve liked them since Elway won his first Super Bowl eighteen years ago. The narrative of the team that had made it for several games and finally broke through and won was appealing, and I was just dating Mark at the time (he told me he watched that first Super Bowl win alone in his apartment, being so nervous he wouldn’t have been good company). Elway is back with the team, running the personnel side now, and that was a great story too. He’d been away from football for years and there were stories of him just hanging around his steakhouse, aimless, looking for something to occupy himself. He never has to pay for a drink in Denver, but he still wanted to do more. So he got involved with the Arena League’s Colorado Crush (we once saw him at an AFL game) and then accepted the front office job with the Broncos.

One of his first moves was to draft Von Miller; a year later he convinced Peyton Manning to join Denver after being released by the Colts. I’ve liked Manning for a while, partly through having a roommate from Indianapolis for the better part of seven years, but also partly because like Elway, he seems to be a very talented, great guy who for whatever reason was on very good teams that fell short in the playoffs early in his career. After his stunning season two years ago, Denver’s dismantling in the Super Bowl was painfully reminiscent of some of those early Colts losses. And this year–well, you all know the storylines.

So Jack, Mark and I looked at the price tag for Super Bowl tickets, said, “When will these teams we like be playing the Super Bowl in our backyard again,” took a deep breath, and bought three tickets. The ticket is the fourth most expensive piece of paper I’ve held in my life, after our house’s mortgage papers and my two car deeds (okay, after my two college diplomas as well). But you know, it’s a once in a lifetime experience. I’m writing this journal almost as much to document the experience for myself as to tell all of you about it.

We got a dog-sitter for the day and set out around 10:45 am for the VTA train station. We’d had to buy our passes the day before–$20 round trip to the stadium. This is approximately a 400% markup. I hope the VTA gets to keep some of that money (and CalTrain theirs for the additional $20 tacked on if you wanted to take a CalTrain to Mountain View). The line to get on the train was long but moved briskly, and was about 75-25 orange Denver jerseys vs. teal Carolina ones. Once on the train, we found a place to stand and waited the fifteen minutes for the train to get to Great America (it made all the stops even though nobody was allowed on or off there). That was the only place where someone commented on my Chevali Firebirds t-shirt; I didn’t explain it beyond saying the logo was a “Firebird” and they concluded it must be the “Denvolina Firebirds,” which was pretty amusing actually.

The weather was sunny, warm, and perfect–high of 73, I think I heard–and that was nice because we had to walk about a mile from the train station to Great America itself, where we had to pick up the tickets from StubHub. The line took an hour to get through, but StubHub sent people around with free cold water and soft drinks, and when we got to the park we got a bit of a surprise: StubHub had rented out the entire amusement park for its customers. Some of the rides were open (we didn’t go on any) and all the food and non-alcoholic drinks were free. We walked around the park for about an hour and had lunch, but by that time it was after 2, and with the game starting at 3:30 we figured we should head back to the stadium.

Outside the stadium was a large fairgrounds, where you could stand behind a Denver or Carolina uniform so it looked like you were a football player, or you could get your picture taken in a big frame with “SUPER BOWL 50” on it. A mob of people crowded around the stand dispensing Denver rally towels, while at the comparatively deserted Carolina one, the man told us, “Take two. Take as many as you want.” We were too late to get our picture with the Lombardi trophy; by the time we walked up it was on its way into the stadium. I’m not sure why it had to leave that early. It’s not like the game was going to end abruptly a half hour after kickoff and they’d need it RIGHT THEN. But otherwise we had fun walking around and being around all the fans, the teal and orange and black and white of player jerseys. The Carolina jerseys were mixed (we saw at one point a group of eight people with the jersey of backup tight end Ed Dickson), but probably 80% or more of the Denver jerseys were the familiar #18. One person had replaced the name “MANNING” on the back with “P.F.M.” which we interpreted the same way you probably are right now.

And around 3, we entered the stadium and went to find our seats. Levi’s is pretty easy to navigate and the crowds weren’t too bad except at a couple points. Even the bathroom line wasn’t bad. And our seats were terrific, about halfway down section 106 so we were right above the tunnel where the MVPs of the former Super Bowls came out for their group photo. I’m not a real student of the history of the game, but you couldn’t help but be impressed by the collection of players and former players they amassed there.

IMG_4098The performance of “America the Beautiful” was lovely, and then Lady Gaga just crushed the national anthem. Levi’s didn’t do anything else with it, no fireworks during “the rockets’ red glare” as I’ve often seen in sports arenas, nothing until the flyover of Blue Angels after the song was over. It was one of the best renditions of the national anthem I’ve heard.

And then…the game itself. I’ve heard some people describe the game as “terrible,” “sloppy,” “a real dog.” From our perspective, it was none of those. It was exciting on the first drive when Denver drove for a field goal. It was exciting when Miller stripped Cam Newton and Denver fell on the ball for a touchdown. There were stupid penalties, sure, just like in every game. But every Carolina drive we were aware that they could score in about three seconds and it would be a very different game. Manning, too, for all his limitations, had made it clear that he wasn’t going to cough up the ball as he had in the regular season, that they could move it at least somewhat against Carolina. So the pressure was on the defenses: Denver to limit Carolina to field goals, and Carolina to keep Denver from scoring, because once the Broncos got out to that 13-7 lead it was clear that scoring wasn’t going to come easy for the Panthers. We were never bored.

The guy in front of us was a real character, too. Jack overheard his friend explaining that when he got drunk, this other personality they called “Ron” came out, usually not until the third quarter. But Ron was in full force throughout the game. Early on, with Carolina against their own goal line, he yelled, “PICK SIX! PICK SIX!” just before the strip sack and Denver touchdown. I leaned down and said, “You almost called it!” and he turned and said, “I CALLED IT! I CALLED IT!” and then high-fived me and Mark. From then on, he’d turn and high-five whenever Denver made a play, loud and boisterous but not too bad (once, as Jack observed, he stopped yelling at the kids in Carolina teal about how “now they know it’s real!”).

(Mark deduced that he’d put money on the game, and Ron later confirmed that and told us that the amount was “thirty two, five.” I don’t think he meant $32.50.)

At halftime, I ran out to the store to grab a shirt for a friend and ended up talking to a couple Denver fans in line (as I was buying a Denver shirt). I wasn’t wearing any specifically Denver gear but I showed them my orange socks and one of them pulled up his pants leg to show his orange socks as well. We agreed that the defense was terrifying and they were quite optimistic for a Denver victory.

That’s another thing I noticed about the Super Bowl, from that initial train ride through the end of the night: everyone was more open, chatty, and friendly. We were all there for one team or another, so whether it was friendly ribbing between rivals or enthusiastic optimism between fans, there was a lot of chatter between strangers.

We enjoyed the halftime show quite a bit, but then, we’re fans of Coldplay as well as Bruno Mars and Beyoncé (and football). Because of slow clerks at the store, I didn’t get back in time for the first audience card stunt, but I did make it for the second one (and yes, we kept the cards).

IMG_4122I think we stood for almost the entire second half. A couple observations about seeing the game in person:

  • At every other game I’ve been to, the Jumbotron supports the home team. Here, the cheering was balanced; at one point they’d show the Denver defense highlight reel, and a few minutes later they’d show a Carolina offense montage. “MAKE NOISE” came up variously under one logo or the other at different times.
  • The timeouts seemed (to me, though Mark disagrees) to be longer and maybe a little more frequent. But this is only the sixth NFL game I’ve seen live, and the previous one was when Tim Tebow was quarterbacking the Broncos, so don’t take my word for it. It was weird, though, to have a timeout during which the Jumbotron was reminding us fans not to forget our cards for the two audience stunts while the players milled around on the field.
  • The game felt maybe more exciting to me without the announcers. Sometimes on great plays they would replay with the announcer voiceover, but by and large I didn’t miss people telling me what was happening. I enjoyed just watching the game unfold at normal speed. We all agreed we’d like to go back to Levi’s for a regular-season game sometime.
  • “Normal speed” is terrifyingly fast. Not, like, Indy car fast, but everything happens in seconds.
  • At the very first football game I attended, a Washington-at-Eagles game that you can look up by typing “body bag game” into Google, there was an Eagles touchdown that was reviewed. I still remember the crowd holding its breath, the woman in front of me moaning, “They’re going to take it away from us,” and then the surge of energy, the explosive cheer when the referee came back out and threw his arms up in the touchdown signal. The same thing happened on Anderson’s one-yard run for Denver: it got the big cheer, and then the announcement came that the play was under review. The crowd went silent and tense, watching the replay–was his knee down? No, he was in. But it was close. Would they overturn it? They did not, and the stadium exploded again.

The game was strange for us because that tension we felt never really went away until the fourth quarter was almost done. We were all aware that one lapse in the Broncos’ defense could let Carolina score with one play, something they’d done all year, and that they’d still have a chance with momentum after that. When Carolina was forced to punt with two minutes to go (after another sack), Mark and I hugged excitedly, and then hugged Jack consolingly while Ron continued to go bat-shit crazy in front of us. I think he high-fived a stadium post at one point.

As trophy ceremonies go, the actual on-field ceremony was shorter than I’d expected, but still emotional as at least Mark and I were still giddy with the win. They presented the trophy to owner Pat Bowlen’s wife Annabel*, then Elway got a chance to talk (with an emotional “This one’s for Pat”), and then they announced that Von Miller was the MVP of the game. There really wasn’t another option; he forced two fumbles that led to the Broncos’ 14-point margin of victory.

IMG_4159

After the ceremony, we ran down to the main team store, where in the back there were tables being frantically stocked with Denver World Champions caps, t-shirts, and pins that disappeared as fast as the harried employees could throw them out. One guy was taking orders for shirt sizes: just yell a size at him and he’d find the shirt and hand or throw it to you. I grabbed a cap and shirt for Mark, who’d been looking in a smaller store and had come up empty, and a pin for myself**. By the time Mark got down to the store, all the pins and caps were gone, but he found a cap abandoned elsewhere.

The whole experience was a little surreal. I mean, everything surrounding the game itself felt just over the top: the rented-out amusement park, the immense fairgrounds around the stadium, the halftime show, the pre-game ceremonies. But the game itself was a very normal football game. The game was the most enjoyable part of the day, but it was all the trappings that made this a unique experience. Was it worth it? For us, absolutely. To get to see those shows, the MVP parade, to get to see our team win a championship, to see a player we both like and respect finally win another one (this time as a GM!–oh, yes, I guess it was nice for Peyton too): yeah, it was an experience that comes along once in a lifetime. And it wasn’t just worth it to say we’ve done it; we had a wonderful, exciting time there, and being there in person made us feel more part of it in a way you don’t get from TV.

But you know, the Super Bowl parties are a lot of fun, too, and a lot less expensive. We’ll probably go back to that next year.

* Pat Bowlen, the longtime owner of the Broncos, suffers from Alzheimer’s disease to the extent that he can’t make public appearances anymore. He’s beloved by many of the players and coaches he’s worked with, and I always feel bad for his wife, who is clearly uncomfortable with public speaking and wishing for so many reasons that her husband could still be there. Pat is the one who famously said after Denver’s first Super Bowl win, “This one’s for John,” because Elway had played so well for the team for so long and had lost the Super Bowl three times.

** The NFL shop sold a number of pins in different designs, many of which said, “I WAS THERE,” and was trying to get a pin trading thing going. I saw no evidence that this was working at all. Some of the pins were neat, but I got one tasteful one and that was enough.

 

 

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About Football and Expectations

I’ll go back to the Bond and flash fics in a day or two–still recovering from a lovely New Year’s vacation (maybe I will also write about that, though more likely I’ll post on Facebook). But as another Philadelphia Eagles season comes to a disappointing end, I thought I’d talk about expectations and evaluations and moving forward and stuff, lessons you can take from sports and apply to anywhere.

The Eagles were 4-12 last year, last in the NFC East, fourth worst in the league. They were widely picked to finish last in their division again, though some people thought the new coach, Chip Kelly, could get them to a second or even first-place finish. But the NFC East was thought to be a tough division, with Washington getting its star QB back and Dallas returning the same team that almost won the division last year and the Giants–well, you can never count out the Giants. Whatever happened with the Eagles, as long as it was better than 4-12, it’d be a gift.

So a weird thing happened in the opener. The Eagles demolished Washington in the first half and held on for a win. People started re-evaluating Coach Kelly and his offense. Maybe he was going to be innovative, maybe he was going to rack up 40 and 50 points a game. 

Then: three losses in a row. The Chargers, Chiefs, and Broncos would all be playoff teams in 2013, and the first two losses, at least, were close. But still, they were 1-3. Chip Kelly had been figured out, the defense was porous, the Eagles were going to finish 6-10 just as predicted.

Beating the hapless Giants and Bucs (combined record at time of games: 0-11) didn’t do much to change that view, but it got the Eagles to 3-3, amazingly tied with the disappointing Cowboys for the lead in the NFC East. That evaporated quickly with a 17-3 loss to the Cowboys the following week. They lost to the Giants 15-7 the next week–the 1-6 Giants–and that was it for Chip Kelly’s offense. Ten points in two games? The Birds, at 3-5, were done.

Only not so fast. They rattled off five straight wins after that, culminating in the Snow Game against Detroit, averaging just over 31 points a game. Only one playoff team in that bunch (Green Bay, playing without their star QB), but Arizona and Detroit were in the hunt at the time. Chip Kelly was back and the Eagles, incredibly, were in first place in their division. Even after a mystifying stumble in Minnesota, they pounded the Bears and held on against the disappointing Cowboys (they really should just change their name to that) to get to 10-6 and a division title. 

They then took the high-octane Saints down to the last minute before losing by two in yesterday’s playoff game. The defense tried valiantly to give the offense enough room to work with, and with the injuries on the Saints side, it was almost, almost enough. The Eagles played a pretty good game. They took care of the ball, they made some big plays. The Saints were determined to take away the run, so the Eagles passed. Nick Foles, in his first playoff game, had a couple bad throws, one questionable play where he took a sack and probably shouldn’t have, but overall he didn’t give the fans any reason to think he’s not the quarterback next year, and going forward.

So yes, the loss was disappointing, but against a playoff-experienced team like the Saints, it wasn’t bad. The Eagles need to stiffen up their defense, but they look pretty good on the offensive side of the ball. Getting Jeremy Maclin back will help, and giving Foles a full off-season as the starter will make him more comfortable. And they got to ten wins–yes, mostly against non-playoff teams, but as they say, you can only play the guys they put on the field. They surprised a lot of people, exceeded expectations, and while they could easily have won this game if a couple plays had gone their way, they’ve now got playoff experience for next year. 

So often we focus on the latest setback without looking at the larger picture. It’s hard not to live in the moment, but it’s also important to realize that the moment passes. Learn from it and move forward, be determined to do your best next time. Because there will always be a next time, one way or another.