I didn’t get enough sleep last night. Like many other sports fans here in the UK I stayed up late to watch the Superbowl, Philadelphia Eagles winning their first title against defending champions the New England Patriots. Unlike most other sports fans I hadn’t planned to spend the early hours of Monday morning this way, and this was the first NFL match I have ever seen all the way through.
The Superbowl is one of those events that anyone who follows sport in general will be aware of. It will always feature in news bulletins the following morning. The first time I recall a UK TV channel screening the whole game live was 1988. Channel 4 covered it as part of their remit to show different sports from the other three terrestrial channels. This was the station that brought us Serie A football (the top division in Italy) and first brought Gaelic sports (hurling and football) to people without any Irish blood in them. Channel 4 used to broadcast the showcase Gaelic events, the All-Ireland finals, every September until the early 1990s. After that their Sunday afternoons were dedicated to Italian football instead.
If I’m staying up late to watch sport I’ll usually plan for it (as noted in some detail in this piece about the Ashes). I have rearranged my sleep patterns to keep an eye on cricket from Australia during the winter, and for the World Series (baseball) in late October, but last night was my first time in front of a whole NFL game.
How did that happen, and why did I deprive myself of a good night’s sleep? Well, timing was a big part of it. I watched the end of “Match of the Day 2” to catch up on the weekend’s Premiership goals and just stayed in front of the TV instead of going to bed. The Superbowl coverage started immediately afterwards. If it had begun at 2am I would have gone to bed before midnight and maybe woken up early enough to catch some of the last quarter. Instead, having watched Pink sing the national anthem from Minneapolis, I decided to watch the start of the game. And that was it.
Another reason to stay up was for potential quiz answers. On “Tenable” last year a team was challenged to name the 10 most recent winners of the Superbowl. Despite watching the show and then doing some research afterwards I would be unable to name more than five of them with confidence. Having never watched a full NFL game before, I regard the teams as, essentially, names on a list. I have very little context for them. (For the record, the list appears at the end of this piece, extended to 11 teams to include the Philadelphia Eagles.) The only American football player I could name and visualize before the game was Tom Brady, the Patriots quarter-back, and he has come up in a few quiz questions over the last year. Maybe I should add him to this list, about quiz questions where it’s usually worth having a guess. If a question includes the word “playwright” the answer is probably Shakespeare, if it’s about an “Australian supermodel” try Elle McPherson and if you hear the words “Egyptian queen” the question is probably about Cleopatra. So, for any question here in the UK that mentions an American footballer, the answer is probably Tom Brady. What I didn’t know until last night is that he is married to Gisele Bündchen. She too is a standard quiz answer, for any question that mentions “Brazilian supermodel”. And while we’re at it, the only ice hockey player who ever features in UK trivia is Wayne Gretzky. We literally haven’t heard of any others.
This time last year I also contemplated giving my Word of the Week a Superbowl theme. A few hours before the game (New England Patriots beat Atlanta Falcons; I did not stay up to watch) I had fish & chips at a local restaurant with my son and one of our school dad friends. Unlike most such places this one serves beer and, for the first time in 15 years or more, I had a bottle of Budweiser. The following morning Budweiser made the news headlines because of their TV commercial, aired during the game. It was seen as having a pro-immigration message and, less than a month after Donald Trump’s inauguration, this sent waves of right-wing commentators into a rage. Many of them threatened to boycott the beer, as you can read in this Guardian piece from a year ago. In case you missed it, or need a reminder, you can check out the original commercial on this YouTube link. At the time there seemed to be something coincidental about me tasting “The King of Beers” for the first time in many years and then, within a few hours, finding that the company was all over the news, but it was not quite enough to make Budweiser my Word of the Week.
Last night my four hours of viewing time were uninterrupted by adverts. The coverage was on BBC1 so every time there was a commercial break in the US (and there were lots of them) we switched to Mark Chapman and his three co-hosts discussing the game’s progress. They did a good job analysing each phase of play, and were joined for a while by England football manager Gareth Southgate, but I would have benefitted from having a bit more basic knowledge about the game to begin with. It would have been handy to have someone in the room with me to explain exactly what was going on, but the rest of the family were sensibly tucked up in bed, and none of them has ever seen a whole NFL game either.
Around 2.45am I was flagging but figured that it would all be over by 3am. We were in the final quarter and there was less than five minutes on the clock but, as I now know, with time-outs and other tactics this can (and did) stretch to over 30 minutes. Still, I was awake to see the Eagles crowned as Champions, and can now add Nick Foles (the game’s Most Valuable Player) to that short list of quarter-backs that I have heard of. And in my sleep-deprived state today I could console myself with the knowledge that I had witnessed, in the words of this piece from philly.com, the “best Superbowl ever”. Maybe I’ll plan things a bit better next year.
Finally, here’s that list of the last 11 Superbowl winners, up to and including last night:
2018: Philadelphia Eagles
2017: New England Patriots (and 2015, 2005, 2004, 2002)
2016: Denver Broncos (and 1999)
2014: Seattle Seahawks
2013: Baltimore Ravens (and 2001)
2012: New York Giants (and 2008, 1991, 1987)
2011: Green Bay Packers (and 1997, 1968, 1967)
2010: New Orleans Saints
2009: Pittsburgh Steelers (and 2006, 1980, 1979, 1976, 1975)
2007: Indianapolis Colts
2003: Tampa Bay Buccaneers