I’ve never been a huge sports fan, but of all the major American sports, football has always been my favorite. More than 20 years ago, while dating an avid football fan, I learned enough about the game to enjoy spending Sundays parked in front of the TV rooting for my favorite teams, cheering at extraordinary plays, and holding my breath at that occasional Hail Mary that could win it all. Back then, it was an exciting time to be a football fan: Steve Young took Montana’s spot on the 49’ers, Dallas was America’s team, Emmitt Smith made history and headed to DisneyWorld. Sundays were fun and the Super Bowl was an “event”. It was exciting to hear who would sing the National Anthem; half time shows were actually cool to watch; and hearing the sticker price on commercials made everyone gasp.
Over the past several years, I’ve watched that energy change. Watching football is rarely about anyone’s favorite team anymore; it’s about who has which player on their Fantasy League. Throughout the regular season, fans watch TV alongside their mobile devices so that they can simultaneously check the reports on other games, and, of course, their Fantasy League stats. Once the fantasy season ends and the playoffs begin, we get a couple weeks to catch a glimpse of the “old days” – teams are weeded out, fans root for their favorites (with alternates, of course, in case their team blows it early), and for the first time all season, people seem to be actually watching the games. They yell at the TV when they disagree with the refs, they cheer at picks, groan at sacks, and sit on the edge of their seats as the score continually jumps sides.
Sadly, this sense of true excitement seems to end when the BIG game rolls around… and I blame it on one thing, and one thing alone:
The Superbowl Square.
Sure, it seemed like fun to put down $5 and write your name in a blank box on a sheet of paper circulating the office. Kind of like buying a scratch ticket, there was no real expectation of winning. But then the stakes got higher. One square turned into two. $5 turned into $25 or even $100. The Superbowl Square had become more than a fun little addition to the game; it had changed the way the game was watched.
The last time I attended a Super Bowl “party” was a few years ago and it was a small gathering – maybe 8 people. It didn’t take long to notice the changes. The stillness during each quarter was sharply interrupted at the 2 minute warning by the sound of crinkling paper, as everyone reached into their pocket to retrieve and unfold their squares. You see, around the 2 minute warning is the perfect time to begin devising every possible scenario that could occur by the time the clock hits 0:00. If team1 kicks, then so-and-so wins the square and $250; but if they get a touchdown, then so-and-so takes the $250… but what if it’s a touchdown and they go for 2? What if there’s a fumble or a pick? A blocked kick would be a complete game changer and the $250 would belong to somebody else. The quarter continues but nobody is rooting for their team anymore – they are all rooting for their squares!
Naturally, this behavior continues throughout the course of the game. Some of the $4 million commercials get watched but many get missed as friends text each other to see how they are doing on their squares. The half time show is now considered a joke by many – so as some of the people stay to watch the fanfare on TV, the rest break for food, texting and reviewing their squares (again). By the end of the game, you will, of course, have some true fans, either ecstatic or heartbroken about the results; but in my experience you will mostly have bitter losers whose quarterback sneak scenario didn’t work out and thus, didn’t win their square. Plus of course, 1-4 happy people who did win and whom everybody now secretly despises.
And that is how a little photocopied square has ruined the Super Bowl – well, at least for me anyway.
So, for me… unless I am suddenly invited to a vegan, square-free SuperBowl party (ha!), I will be doing what I have been doing the past several years – skipping the game altogether, commercials and all. I will follow the score on twitter and watch the commercials the next day on YouTube.
P.S. sadly, you can even download your very own, already customized template – and official rules for squaring – right off the Sports Illustrated website: http://www.si.com/nfl/2015/01/18/super-bowl-squares-2015-template-rules …sigh