The calendar is peppered with days celebrating the birth, progress and success of the United States of America. Each holiday is uniquely defined by tradition and, more often than not, gluttony replete complete with a distinct absence of temperance. There is the Fourth of July with fireworks and barbeque. There is Thanksgiving with a special parade, turkey and football. To round out the proverbial big three, there is Super Bowl Sunday, which wraps everything; the fanfare, the explosions, the food and revelry in America into a nationally unparalleled celebration of sport and country.
According to statista.com, over 105 million people in the United States of America have watched the Super Bowl each of the past four years. The only television events to even come close to that kind of viewership within the US are the Olympics (adweek.com estimated 70%, or around 219.4 million Americans, watched some part of the London games), and the 1983 finale of M*A*S*H, which drew in about 105.9 million viewers, as per Wikipedia .
Using the Nielsen Rating data provided by Wikipedia, the World Series hasn’t averaged over 20 million viewers for the duration of the series since 2004 when the Boston Red Sox swept the St. Louis Cardinals. So much for the so-called national pastime . Similarly, the NBA Finals don’t begin to approach Super Bowl ratings, either.
Viewership for last year’s epic game 7 between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs peaked at 34.2 million, or just about one third of what the Super Bowl has averaged over the past four years, says The New York Times.
How does one define a national holiday? If it can be summed up by a significant portion of one country coming together to participate in a singular activity, then the Super Bowl absolutely fits the bill. After an NFL season filled with uncertainty, scandal and the unexpected, expect one thing from the final Sunday of professional football: expect this Super Bowl to be the most watched ever.
Numbers don’t lie. Football is the most popular sport in America and there is not even a close second. Many say that the United States lacks a national identity, a national culture.
This may be true, and it is not hard to see why. Values, morals and norms in America vary dramatically region to region. Even though American English is becoming more homogenous, the regional accents and dialects are hardly dead.
In a nation of over 300 million people whose ancestors were mostly immigrants, a nation with great ethnic, racial, religious, economic and political diversity, consistency is hard to come by. Like it or not, sport, and most especially football, is the United States’ most identifiable and universal cultural thread. No time will this be more evident than today, as of this writing, when the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos play for the Lombardi Trophy at the Meadowlands in New Jersey.
There is the old sports fan’s cliché, “I just want to see a good game.” But not since Peyton Manning was last playing in the Super Bowl against the New Orleans Saints in 2010 has there been this kind of emotional draw to the Super Bowl.
It is the old guard, Peyton Manning and the veteran Broncos, who say the right things at the right times against the brash, young Seahawks whose mentality can be defined by their loquacious cornerback Richard Sherman and charismatic coach Pete Carroll. It is a conflict of styles. It is the best offense in NFL History in the Broncos pitted against what might be one of the best defenses ever assembled in the Seahawks.
Peyton Manning rewrote the record book this year, throwing for 55 touchdowns and well over 5,000 yards en route to winning his fifth MVP award. And what if Peyton loses another big cold-weather game? Is his legacy tarnished? What if Pete Carroll wins and becomes the third man ever to win a college national titles and a Super Bowl as a coach? A lot is at stake.
Everyone watching will be rooting for one team or the other, even though the vast majority have no tangible geographic affiliation with the two teams whatsoever. Some might call that being a bandwagoner, when the reality is that is just the profound effect football has on our country.