Column: Impressions from Super Bowl Sunday

Column: Impressions from Super Bowl Sunday
Patriots fans watch the game unfold in eerie silence in Boston Beer Works. / Photo by Susanna Joseph
Susanna Joseph, guest columnist. / Photo by Riley Robinson.

By Susanna Joseph, guest columnist

It’s five past 7 p.m. on Feb. 4 and the New England Patriots are losing to the Philadelphia Eagles, 9-3.

It’s not what I was expecting, but at least I’m not the only one. From my research, I thought I had a pretty good grasp on how this night would unfold. Chips, dip and winning were on the menu tonight in Boston, and the thought that the Eagles would be wearing new rings on their flight home that night was quickly dismissed.

Unlike so many underage sports fans who chose to observe the game alongside friends and copious amounts of food in the comfort of their home, my associate and I braved the cold and embarked on a holy Boston pilgrimage to Fenway Park. Our personal investment in the outcome of the game is minimal, so thrusting ourselves into an environment of extremely high stakes is the clear way to change this.

Our investigation begins in Yardhouse, a sports bar comprising only beer and Tom Brady jerseys as far as the eye can see. As we enter, P!nk has just finished an impassioned rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, and the room of red and blue applauds. A quick lap offers an interesting riff on the preconceptions I had. There are a surprising number of college-age girls here, groups of six or eight huddled in booths along the wall. They’re sinking beers as big as my torso with only Patriot scarves around their shoulders; there are no boyfriends in sight. The sisterhoods seem skeptical of myself and my companion however, eyeing us suspiciously. It’s understandable – we do not look the part. Unfortunately, the only merch we could muster for the occasion are my associate’s gray Northeastern sweater and the Red Sox hat on my head.

Feeling underdressed, we skulk by the bar as the game gets underway. It is not hard to get into the swing of things, however. Appearing to understand the game is simple, just follow the cheers. There is no booing when points are awarded to Philadelphia, there is no flagrant sexism on display and everyone is, for the most part, being courteous to bar staff. I feel a little bad for doubting the people of Boston’s courteousness. It is not so much a deafening roar of Americana than a patriotic poem read over a high school sound system.

There are other insurgents lurking in the crowd, soaking up the atmosphere. This is Sarah Coyle’s third Super Bowl after moving to Boston from her native Ireland. At 26, she does not understand the rules of American football, but enjoys the tradition all the same.

“I bought this jersey just for the occasion,” she tells us conspiratorially. “I bought it in the sixth shop I tried. Five others were completely sold out.”

Her shirt is one of the few that doesn’t boast quarterback Brady’s name on the back, but she does know who he is. This is Boston, after all.

I had expected more scepticism toward the handsome alleged cheater, but the sweetness of victory is more overpowering it seems. But is this the consensus outside of Yardhouse?

We venture out into the night in search of answers, but bars are closing now, and nervous-looking hosts send us on our way. If the mood so far has been amicable, these figures are altogether skittish and I’m finding it hard to understand exactly why. Luckily, outside Boston Beer Works, 21-year-old Chris Blundo is able to shed some light on the matter.

“If they win they’ll riot in the streets. If they lose they’ll riot in the streets and flip cars,” he says.

On the question of cheating, he is also helpful. “The Patriots will do anything to win, and I really respect that.”

He’s only joking, but not really. Originally from New York, he abandoned his native Giants since coming to Boston for school because “they suck.” He’s not at all worried that the second quarter is drawing to a close and his adopted Patriots are still down, because, as they showed last year, they’re a fourth-quarter team. We now know this information is to be taken with a grain of salt, but he insisted I include it.

Inside Boston Beer Works, the scene is familiar. A sea of faces transfixed on the televisions, the screens reflecting back their deepest desires.

During the near constant ad breaks, my friend and I amuse ourselves by guessing how many thousands of dollars the thirty-second slots must have cost.

We begin talking to a nearby reveller. His vaguely exasperated expression during yet another advertisement marks him out. Like us, this is 35-year-old Amardeep Khanapurkar’s first Super Bowl, and he too has noticed how slowly the game progresses.

“Soccer is better, but at least it’s moving faster than cricket,” he says. I’m inclined to agree.

Despite the copious amounts of consumerism on display, the Super Bowl tradition is one that seems to be actually quite… nice. I forget pretty quickly that the the potentially excessive drinking that comes with the biggest night in the pro football calendar does not necessarily reflect everyone’s best. Of course, while waiting at the bar, one guy jogs my memory with some slurred advice: “The only way you’ll get served is by putting your hand on the bar and calling the bartender a [expletive].” This served as a friendly reminder of why sports fans are viewed so poorly by anyone who doesn’t identify as such.

As the game proceeds, the tension in the room becomes palpable. It’s a far cry from the jovialities that began the evening. With this in mind, I feel slightly guilty for my own progression, because by the fourth quarter I am having genuine fun. I still do not know the rules, but I now understand what’s going on to be more strategic than previously thought. What a beautiful, smart game. It’s much subtler than grown men smashing into each other has any right to be.

The subdued atmosphere is making it easy to wax lyrical when a cheer permeates the air. I look up, and see a boy chuckling in a crowd of concrete. I make a beeline. Trey Toms (“like the shoes”) is 22, from Atlanta. As a Falcons fan, watching the Patriots lose would be sweet satisfaction after his own team’s loss to them last year, and he’s drunk enough to not care who knows it.

“I’ll leave quickly,” he says. “As Super Bowls go, though, it’s been a good game.”

He’s right. Even now, in the final minutes, it’s too close to call. From all I’ve heard, seen and read, I don’t believe the Patriots will lose. “I’ve seen this movie too many times to think this game is over,” the  commentator remarks. I barely even know this movie’s name, but I trust his judgement. There’s one minute left though and New England’s finest are impossibly down, information that jars fiercely with what I know about them. Trey is whooping. He needs to cool it, I’m worried about his safety.

In the quiet, I notice something. The elation that the likely possibility of losing is delivering is unfounded. My associate informs me that it is now impossible for the Patriots to deliver the two touchdowns they need to win the game. I have never felt so alive. What is going to happen if they lose?

The room is bizarre. All this time, all this food, all this investment, for nothing? Maybe. Probably. I wonder, where will it go? I feel an alien sense of displacement bubble within. This may be my first Super Bowl, but somehow there is a tangible wrongness in going home empty-handed.

The Eagles are going to win. There are nine seconds left. Here we go. Seven… four… three… Patriots have the ball, but what good will it do… two, one, but an almost-caught Hail Mary won’t cut it. It’s over. Losers, for the first time in forever. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I feel an affinity with the fans I have been observing all night. Now, they are all as new to this as I am.

Welcome to the other side, Patriots.

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