How Super Bowl LIV changed this Kiwi’s mind about football


Brianna Stanley stares lovingly in the direction of the artichoke dip while watching Super Bowl LIV. Photo provided by Brianna Stanley.

Brianna Stanley

I don’t usually enjoy football. It’s unnecessarily long and flashy and basically Walmart-brand rugby. This year, having been lured to a Super Bowl party by the promise of artichoke dip and a healthy fear of FOMO, I expected to be nonplussed as usual. I was a little disappointed by how not disappointed I was.

The Super Bowl this year was truly enjoyable. Personally, it was less the sport itself and more the sense of unity it created. For one night, 99.9 million U.S. viewers sat on their couches, stuffed their faces, and yelled instructions at professional football players about how to do their jobs. Yes, people supported different teams, but the general consensus seemed to be that everyone was just happy the Patriots weren’t there.

I’m only being partly facetious. By definition, sports involve pitting individuals against each other, so stating that the Super Bowl was a unifying event may seem like an oxymoron. On the back of impeachment proceedings and the gearing up of the 2020 general election campaigns, however, it was nice to turn our collective attention to a divisive event without heavy political consequences.

There was comedy and cringyness in the ads; the half-time show provided high quality music and dance, cultural pride, and artistic political statements; the game itself was a tight match where the underdogs came out on top.

Overall, it was good-quality recreation. It was relief. It was a sense of togetherness that I had until now not felt in this country (even during the 2016 Olympics, only 26.5 US million viewers tuned into the opening ceremony).

The U.S.A. has few truly positive unifying events. We are undoubtedly brought together by tragedy – from 9/11 to mass shootings, I don’t dispute American’s ability to pull together and comfort one another. Sometimes our tendency for this is co-opted for political gain in what’s known as the Rally Around the Flag Effect; presidents have historically experienced a surge in popularity during periods of war or international crisis.

When it comes to celebratory unity, however, I draw a blank. Has there been anything matching that description in the U.S. since the Moon Landing?

I think that I notice this lack of national unity because I used to take it for granted. I grew up in New Zealand, a small country that is roughly the same land mass and population as Kentucky. A country of 4.5 million is, as you can imagine, in many ways simpler than a country of 327.2 million. In sporting events, it’s NZ vs. The Rest of the World, and the country’s obsession with rugby means that every four years almost every eye in Aotearoa is glued to the Rugby World Cup. The national pride in the air post-win is palpable for months.

This sense of togetherness, if not pride, was a near-nightly occurrence. Pretty much the whole country tuned in at 7 p.m. on Channel One for the news. On Christmas, we had the Queen’s Broadcast, and any time a New Zealander became famous overseas the whole country celebrated along with them (we’re all still behind you, Lorde). It felt like we experienced everything together, from the Chocolate Milk Shortage of 2014 to the zoo escape of Jin the otter. (Sometimes even I’m unsure whether New Zealand is real.)

Here in the U.S.A., or at least in my Lexington microcosm of it, I miss that feeling of unity. The Super Bowl, while only grabbing the attention of around one third of the country, still engendered for me that sense of oneness.

Now, I feel a bit bad about my anti-football stance that I’ve held for so long. I maintain that the games are unnecessarily long and seem more about the external entertainment than the sport itself, but maybe that isn’t so bad. The rest of our news cycle can get so heavy that 4 hours spent distracting ourselves by buying into the football hype is not unhealthy. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty that is unhealthy about football, the 1.25 billion chicken wings and 28 million pounds of chips consumed annually during the Super Bowl not withstanding, but it’s not the worst thing America has ever done. It’s a net neutral excuse for some light-hearted escapism, which everyone needs in moderation.

If you too are prejudiced about football, put your Scrooge hat away for a night and let the hype wash over you. Personally, I’m already looking forward to next year’s Super Bowl and that artichoke-dip coma.