Sunday, 4 February 2007
Owen Powell - 4th February 2007
Today I had an American day. While cooking my breakfast, I listened to one of my favourite recent albums, Remain In Light by Talking Heads*. I then went for lunch at a local riverside pub where both the bar staff were American. That evening, I watched a DVD I had got free with my newspaper, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?, with Jonny Depp and Leonardo di Caprio. I hadn’t seen it before, it was great. When it finished, there was one of those Louis Theroux programmes, where he goes and politely insults people – in this one he was in Las Vegas and it was just as horrific as you’d expect. The casinos had no windows and they looked like the downstairs parts of cross-channel ferries. Everyone on the programme was an idiot. It was very funny.
Then I got on the tube, and went to watch Superbowl XLI.
Alex had got us tickets to the Hard Rock Café near Hyde Park Corner. Before tonight, I had never been to a Hard Rock Café. I think you’re supposed to go to Hard Rock Cafés in other countries and then buy the T-shirt from that Hard Rock Café and wear it when you get back home, to prove you’ve been abroad (but didn’t really like the culture you found there). I didn’t buy a T-shirt. They gave me a token. I exchanged it for a Budweiser and waited for Alex to arrive.
Before the game, there was lots of build-up. I regretted not having a quick Wikipedia about the rules of the game before I left the house. Oh well, I was determined to just treat it as rugby, and try to get an idea from various cheers and boos which team was doing something right. (Incidentally, it was Indianapolis Colts against Chicago Bears. I knew that much.)
As part of the build-up, Billy Joel appeared with his piano and sang the national anthem incredibly slowly. The camera panned round the stadium. Some people in the bar area stood up and put their fists on the chests, but they might have been doing it ironically. Then the live footage of the stadium switched to an army base in Baghdad, and showed some troops with those funny little square hats they have, all standing to attention. It was hard to tell, but I think some people in the bar booed. The camera switched back to the football players and the booing stopped. If it was booing. It might have been an odd kind of cheering, like when Man U fans used to shout “Ruuuuuud! Ruuuuuud!” for Ruud van Nistelrooy and it sounded very negative.
Anyway, Billy eventually sang the final line and the hundred or so players all jumped around and clashed helmets with each other, before most of them went and sat down and a few stayed on the pitch to start the game. Each team had an honorary captain for the game, which didn’t make any sense, but they did a coin toss anyway. Indianapolis called tails, but it came down heads. I wasn’t sure that this would have a massive effect on the game, but when the Colts kicked off, Devin Hester of the Bears caught it and straight away scored a touchdown. My only cultural reference for this was when Roberto di Matteo scored inside forty-five seconds in the 1997 FA Cup final, for a pre-Abramovich Chelsea. It looked like it was game over for the Colts. Only three hours left to make a comeback!
The game continued. Before four minutes have gone on the game clock (is it called a game clock?), there have been two advert breaks. I get another beer. It’s going to be a long night, I think, and I’m not sure there’s any way I can go and approach a table of Americans who are all quite enthralled and who seem to understand what’s going on. For me, it’s a game where there’s almost too much admin. There seem to be about twelve referees (umpires?), some of them popping up every now and then on the touchline waving sticks with numbers on the end. Sometimes the players catch the ball and run sideways off the pitch, and everyone cheers. Numbers come and go across the bar at the top of the screen, and different coloured lines are moved about – computerised – on the pitch. (It took me about an hour and a half to realise these weren’t on the pitch itself. It took until we met our American to work out what the lines represented).
Alex arrived just before the start of the second quarter, and we found ourselves some seats on one side of a booth. The guy on the other side didn’t seem very affable. Our waitress (Australian) suggested we ask him about the rules of the game, but he didn’t really want to know. He didn’t even seem particularly interested in the match. In fact, the only time he got animated at all was when there was a news story about a forthcoming American Football game due to be played at Wembley. Our mayor, Ken Livingstone, appeared for about two seconds, and the guy opposite and a few others all got to their feet to yell “Faggot!” at the screen. Once it all settled down, Alex asked him why he disliked Ken Livingstone so much. The guy shrugged. “He’s just unpopular,” he offered as an explanation.
We decided not to ask him to be our American.
At the end of the second quarter, it was half time. They built a stage in the shape of the Prince symbol, and invited what looked suspiciously like out of work actors pretending to be a real crowd onto the pitch to watch. Then Prince did a medley of songs. I tried to think of what they do at half-time during the FA Cup final, or even the World Cup. I’m not sure they’d ever do anything that had the potential to be more entertaining than the game itself.
During the third quarter, we met our American! By now, it was getting on for two in the morning. We were quite tired. Most of the sports fans were quite drunk. Play had stopped for some kind of infringement, and the words ‘Unnecessary Roughness’ appeared on the screen. Someone plonked herself down on the opposite side of the booth chairs to us, so we said hello, and asked her what was going on.
Lori gave us lots of very useful information about the game, and what to watch out for. She explained the systems of ‘downs’ and how to advance the ball along the pitch. She discussed how the constant rain would affect the play. (As the game was being played in Miami, it had been trailed as the ‘Shootout in the Sun’, but it rained from beginning to end). She told us to watch out for the Gatorade. We promised to watch out for the Gatorade. We asked if she’d like to represent her nation in London. She agreed.
Lori had only been in London for three months. She works in children’s television, and was in the middle of something very secretive with Ragdoll, one of the UK’s leading children’s TV producers. In a clever ruse to guess at her age, I mentioned that the last time I had heard what the Chicago Bears were up to was when I was seven in 1985, and they won the Superbowl. She raised her eyebrows. “You were seven in 1985?” she asked. “Woah. So that makes you …”
“I’m 28 now,” I said.
“OK, OK,” she said, still raising her eyebrows.
I think she’s a couple of years older than me, but I couldn’t interpret the raising of the eyebrows.
She was from New York, her dad was about 6 foot 8, and played basketball, and she’d grown up in a very sporting family.
We asked her about the Prince interlude. Lori explained that he only sang two of his own songs, and even then only sang about 30 seconds of each, because he is still in dispute with his record company over who owns the rights to the songs he wrote. Before he changed his name back to Prince again, he famously appeared at a Brit Awards ceremony sometime in the mid-90s with “Slave” written on his cheek. A lot of people thought this was in bad taste, when you consider the millions of actual African-American slaves throughout history who hadn’t been able to go to the Brit Awards and weren’t millionaires. I remember finding it very droll when David Rowntree, the drummer from Blur, got a marker pen and wrote “Dave” on his face.
With someone to tell us what was going on, the third and fourth quarters flew by. The Colts were in a commanding position as the game entered its final stages – that early Bears touchdown not looking so decisive after all. The clocked ticked down to three minutes left, then two. “Watch out for the Gatorade,” Lori said again. Within ten seconds, the cameras showed the Colts bench, and all the substitute players and coaches picking up the massive drum they keep the cold drinks in, and tipping it up so all the ice and cold water went over the head coach. Who’d be a head coach? According to Lori, this happens without fail whenever a team wins. The losing coach didn’t look too happy either.
The game was over! The Colts had won! We had found an American! We were tired and drunk! I got on a night bus and sat in traffic for an hour.
* I realise it came out in 1980, but I only bought it six months ago, so to me it’s the sound of now.