By Matthew Ajaj
On the night of Feb. 5, 2012, a crowd of players gathered in the end zone to greet a football that fluttered for what felt like an eternity over the turf of Lucas Oil Stadium. In an instant, the ball clanked off a flurry of hands and fell to the ground as gently as it had left it. Incomplete. The game clock struck zero. The New York Giants had won the Super Bowl. For 16-year-old me, it was the happiest day of my entire life.
Regardless of what the United States government says, the Super Bowl is a national holiday. It embraces all ages, genders, races and religions. A holiday of such all-encompassing magnitude naturally warrants a slew of parties. The coasters emerge from the cupboards, assortments of chips and dips line the tables and every man, woman and child with a whiff of football knowledge is wearing a jersey from one era or another. An unwritten tradition of the event is for each man in the room to bestow his wisdom upon all of the others, boldly exclaiming his pre-game analysis and undoubtedly citing an interesting fact or two which bears little actual meaning on how the game will play out. Most are there to watch the sport, but there are also some who come just for the commercials and the halftime show. From the national anthem until the final play, there is not a moment to be missed. For all those watching, it is the ultimate four hours of sheer entertainment.
While the layfolk enjoy their salty snacks from the couches at home, the football players step onto the turf to star in what is perhaps the world’s greatest stage. Behind their helmets are not actors or celebrities, but human beings who have likely dreamed of this very day since they first picked up a football. They have worked their entire lives to play in this ultimate game. Taking the field, at long last, they can bask in the day that they have waited to enjoy for so long.
Many participants in Super Bowl 50 carry emotional tales of triumphing over the trials they faced in life to reach this game. Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas did not have a mother around the house for most of his young life, as she had been in prison on drug charges. In 2016, she received her release and has since gotten to watch her son’s playoff games in person — she will be watching from the stands in this year’s Super Bowl. Carolina Panthers lineman Michael Oher was dealt a bad hand in life. His familial problems were depicted in the award-winning film “The Blind Side.” But Oher beat the odds, and has since won a Super Bowl and will get a chance at a second title this Sunday. For men like Thomas and Oher, sports became a channel for success and happiness, and to make it to the Super Bowl despite facing such adversity is remarkable to behold.
Unlike the player, there is no pressure for the fan — he or she has no plays to call, balls to catch or tackles to make. And yet, the fan is overcome by nerves not too dissimilar from those afflicting the players on the field. As a 12 year old in 2008, I enjoyed watching the Giants win Super Bowl XLII. I was a fan, of course. I had a jersey laying around in the closet and had tuned into some games, but to me, football was just another T.V. show I would watch on the weekends. However, in those four years between the Giants Super Bowl appearances, I gradually began to understand just how amazing an accomplishment it was to reach the big game. It takes a physically and mentally exhausting effort from an organization — from the front office to coaches to players — to somehow pull together a Super Bowl-winning team. In learning to appreciate these efforts, I became a superfan, and to a superfan, their team is like a second family. Albeit, the superfan has no genetic ties to this family and is not even allowed to participate in the family’s meetings and events, but it feels like a family nonetheless. And admittedly, superfans like me probably are not all that psychologically-stable to reach such a level of obsession and prioritize their emotional investments into a mere game. It might be difficult for those uninterested in sports to understand, but for a superfan, watching your team win the Super Bowl is like winning the lottery of emotions.
Keeping in mind the mentalities of these players and the superfans only adds to the Super Bowl experience. Whether you are a hardcore fan or just watching for the commercials, everyone can appreciate the entertainment and emotions brought on by the big game. Once the final whistle blows, there will be a bevy of polarizing emotional states from those on the field to those on the couches. Whatever happens, I’m glad that somewhere out there, a 16-year-old kid — maybe not all that different from my 16-year-old self — will get as much joy from seeing his or her team win the Super Bowl as I did.