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What We Love About the Super Bowl

It’s definitely the game itself, but everything surrounding the event is super too

spinner image Tennessee Titans WR Kevin Dyson is tackled just short of the goal line by St. Louis Rams LB Mike Jones on the last play of Super Bowl XXXIV at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, GA on January 30, 2000, to give Dick Vermeil his 1st Super Bowl victory.  The Rams beat the Titans 23-16. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
In 2000, St. Louis led by seven with six seconds left. Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair passed to receiver Kevin Dyson, who appeared to be heading for a game-tying touchdown until Rams linebacker Mike Jones prevented Dyson from getting the ball across the goal line. The photo of his outreached arm is iconic.
Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

Quick quiz: Can you name an American you know who has never watched a Super Bowl? That’s a trick question, because, according to Nielsen, few such people exist. Of the 32 most-watched TV programs in U.S. history, 30 of them are Super Bowls. This year’s National Football League championship takes place Sunday, Feb. 12, in Glendale, Arizona, between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs. It will be the 57th Super Bowl, and it’s an event we love in so many ways.

The pregame

spinner image MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04:  Recording artist Pink performs the National Anthem during the Super Bowl LII Pregame show at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Pink sings the Superbowl pre-game national anthem in 2018
Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty Images

Thirty minutes. That’s how much time TV networks spent setting up the game in most of the early years of Super Bowl coverage. In 1978, before the Dallas Cowboys played the Denver Broncos, CBS needed to fill time because a golf tournament earlier in the day had been postponed. The marathon pregame show was born. NBC’s 2022 pregame stretched for five hours.

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The food

spinner image A Superbowl party table with chicken wings, celery, and dip, party pretzel snack mix, banners, beer, and a football.
Arina Habich/Alamy Stock Photo

Americans ate a whole lot of a very American cuisine — about 1.42 billion chicken wings — while watching the Los Angeles Rams play the Cincinnati Bengals last season, according to a real authority on the matter: the National Chicken Council.

Italy might be where the pizza was born, but Super Bowls are where they give us the most heartburn. We eat more than 12.5 million pizzas on the day of the big game. The most popular topping? It’s easy to pick that winner: pepperoni, says the American Pizza Community.

The commercials

spinner image Famous Superbowl ads, clockwise from top left: HOUSE Converse ad with Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, Mean Joe Green and kid Coke Ad, E-Trade baby, 1984 Apple.
Famous Superbowl ads, clockwise from top left: HOUSE Converse ad with Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, Mean Joe Green and kid Coke Ad, E-Trade baby, 1984 Apple
Courtesy Converse; “Hey Kid, Catch!”: Courtesy Coca-Cola Co.; Baby: Courtesy E-Trade; Apple 1984: Courtesy Apple Inc.

“Hey, kid. Catch!”: Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman “Mean Joe” Greene limps into the locker room, angry that he’s hurt. A young fan gives him a Coca-Cola. Greene downs the bottle in one swig, brightens up and tosses the kid his game jersey. “Thanks, Mean Joe!” Although the spot debuted in the fall of 1979, it also ran during the 1980 Super Bowl, and in 2011, it was named the greatest Super Bowl ad up to that year.

“1984 Won’t Be Like 1984”: Directed by filmmaker Ridley Scott and inspired by George Orwell’s 1984 — and airing that year — the ad portrays a woman throwing a sledgehammer into a giant video screen broadcasting a Big Brother figure speaking to a brainwashed crowd. The ad announced the coming debut of Apple’s Macintosh computers. The commercial itself was an epic event, airing only that one time.

“The Cans Are Going Wild!”: In the “Bud Bowl,” a game between Budweiser and Bud Light bottles was staged in commercials throughout the 1989 Super Bowl. Announcers Bob Costas and Paul Maguire called the “action.” Bud Bowl I was so popular that seven more followed over the years. And, yes, wagers were taken on the outcome.

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The halftime shows

spinner image Two memorable Superbowl halftime performers: Michael Jackson in 1993 and Prince in 2007
Two memorable Superbowl halftime performers: Michael Jackson in 1993 and Prince in 2007
Michael Jackson: George Rose/Getty Images; Prince: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images Sport

In 1989, Coca-Cola provided retailers with 3D glasses that fans could wear for the halftime magic show, called “BeBop Bamboozled” and hosted by Elvis Presto, who performed tricks to a soundtrack of ’50s music.

Before Fox started broadcasting sports, the then-upstart network staged an audacious stunt to piggyback on the 1992 Super Bowl. Its popular sketch comedy show In Living Color performed a live mini-show at the same time as halftime, with a running clock letting viewers know when it was time to switch back to the game on CBS. About 22 million viewers preferred the counterprogramming.

The NFL knew it needed to up its halftime game. Enter Michael Jackson, elevated on a platform from below the on-field stage, in 1993. The King of Pop performed a medley of hits and closed, surrounded by children, with “We Are the World” and “Heal the World.” Halftime shows were changed forever.

Janet Jackson, P. Diddy, Nelly, Kid Rock and Justin Timberlake performed at the 2004 halftime show. Though it was billed as a tribute to pop music, what everyone remembers is the “wardrobe malfunction,” the moment when Timberlake ripped off part of Jackson’s top.

In 2007, in a Miami storm, Prince played what Billboard magazine dubbed the greatest halftime show ever. His soaring set, which included his own hit songs and a number of eclectic covers, closed with, of course, “Purple Rain.”

The moments

spinner image L to R:  2008 Giants/Patriots David Tyree helmet catch; 1983 Washington John Riggins run; 1967 Packers Max McGee first touchdown
L to R: 2008 Giants/Patriots David Tyree helmet catch; 1983 Washington John Riggins run; 1967 Packers Max McGee first touchdown
David Tyree: Michael Appleton/New York Daily News/Getty Images; John Riggins: Tony Tomsic/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images; Max McGee: Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Back in 1967, not expecting to play in the game the next day, Green Bay Packers backup receiver Max McGee sneaked out of his room after 11 p.m. Saturday bed check and partied with two flight attendants he had met at the hotel bar. He came back at 6:30 a.m. Sunday, then later that day was forced into action when another player got injured. McGee scored the first touchdown in Super Bowl history and finished Super Bowl I with seven catches for 138 yards and two scores.

Before there was David Tyree (more on him later), there was Lynn Swann, a wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers. In 1976, Swann had one of the great catches in Super Bowl history against the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl X, jumping over Dallas defenders, juggling the ball and making a spectacular catch as he was rolling onto the turf. The play was nicknamed the “Levitating Leap” by famed NFL Films narrator John Facenda.

Washington trailed the Miami Dolphins 17-13 early in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XVII in 1983. On a key fourth down, fullback John Riggins (nickname “the Diesel”) took the handoff, bounced off a defender at the line of scrimmage and ran a thrilling 43 yards for a touchdown. At the time, it was the longest run from scrimmage in a Super Bowl.

The St. Louis Rams led 23-16 with six seconds left in Super Bowl XXXIV in 2000. Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair passed to wide receiver Kevin Dyson, who appeared to be heading for a game-tying touchdown until linebacker Mike Jones hit him and just prevented Dyson’s outstretched arm from getting the ball across the goal line. The photo of the play has become iconic.

The New York Giants trailed the undefeated New England Patriots 14-10 with 1:15 left in the 2008 game. Quarterback Eli Manning took the snap, avoided a sack and heaved the football downfield. Receiver David Tyree grabbed the ball with one hand and pressed it against his head as he fell to the turf in the now-famous “helmet catch.” Four plays later, the Giants scored, upsetting the Patriots 17-14.

The greatest comeback in Super Bowl history occurred in 2017. New England trailed the Atlanta Falcons 28-3 midway through the third quarter. But the Patriots had superstar quarterback Tom Brady, who led them on five scoring drives to secure a 34-28 victory.

Super Bowl quips

spinner image L to R: Russ Grimm; Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson; Joe Namath
L to R: Russ Grimm; Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson; Joe Namath
Russ Grimm: Rick Stewart/Getty Images; Thomas ‘Hollywood’ Henderson: George Gojkovich/Getty Images; Joe Namath: Tony Tomsic/AP

“We’re gonna win the game. I guarantee it.” —Joe Namath, 1969. And his New York Jets did win, 16-7, over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts.

“He couldn’t spell cat if you spotted him the C and the T.” —Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson, 1979. The Dallas linebacker famously mocked Pittsburgh quarterback Terry Bradshaw before their meeting on the field. Bad idea. Bradshaw racked up 318 passing yards and four touchdowns in a 35-31 Steelers win. “I didn’t say he couldn’t play,” Henderson said later, “just that he couldn’t spell.”

“I’d run over my mother to win the Super Bowl.” —Russ Grimm, 1984. The Washington offensive lineman stressed the importance of the game that lay ahead. Responded Oakland Raiders linebacker Matt Millen, “I’d run over Russ Grimm’s mother too.” The Raiders ran all over Washington, 38-9.

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