Andy Williams famously declared the festive season to be the most wonderful time of the year, but almost 112 million Americans may disagree. That’s how many viewers tuned their TV’s to 2016’s Super Bowl Sunday, undoubtedly the biggest event in the US sporting calendar. Those home viewers are one thing – after all, major corporations don’t spent over $5 million on advertising during the show for nothing – but experiencing the event live is quite another.
For the uninitiated, the Super Bowl is the ultimate National Football League (NFL) clash of the titans. The one-off game pits the champions of the American Football Conference against the winners of the National Football Conference in a winner-takes-all clash for the ultimate prize in sporting prestige; the Super Bowl winner’s ring. 2017’s Super Bowl LI (that’s 51 to you and I) will be held in Houston’s 71,795-capacity NRG Stadium on February 5th, and promises the usual heady concoction of gladiatorial contact sport and bombastic half-time entertainment – this time headlined by none other than Lady Gaga.
As the mathematicians among you will have gathered, the first Super Bowl was held back in 1967 in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The game saw four-time Super Bowl champions the Green Bay Packers see off their opponents the Kansas City Chiefs by a score of 35 points to 10. With that, an American institution was born, and families, friends and mortal enemies have begged, borrowed and stolen tickets, or gathered around televisions sets in their packs, every year since.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are the most successful team in the competition’s history with six titles from eight appearances – a fitting achievement for the oldest franchise in the sport. Famous brand names such as the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers can boast of five titles each, while the aforementioned Green Bay Packers share a record of four victories with the New England Patriots and the New York Giants. Individual glory is attainable for the competitors by bagging the legendary MVP, or Most Valuable Player, award. Usually the preserve of the Quarterback, the most prominent position of the field of play, the MVP is decided by voting from both fans and media commentators. Joe Montana won the award three times for the San Francisco 49ers in 1982, 1985 and 1990, but Tom Brady of the New England Patriots tied his record in 2013, adding to his wins in 2002 and 2004.
Despite the helmets and padding sported by the players, and the increased precautions taken against incidents of concussion, watching American Football isn’t for the faint-hearted. These players leave every drop of sweat in their body out on the field, and watching them chase, tackle and crunch into one another with the determination of champions has crowds on their feet throughout the match, creating an orchestra of “ooh” and “aah”. Houston is playing host to the game for the third time, and the omens for a sporting occasion to remember are positive. In addition to 1974, which saw the Miami Dolphins conquer the Minnesota Vikings 24 to 7 in the Rice Stadium, the NRG Stadium hosted Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004. The New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers clashed in this game, eventually playing out a 32-29 victory for the former in a match declared “the greatest Super Bowl of all time” by Sports Illustrated magazine. Whichever teams complete in Super Bowl LI, it’ll be worth ensuring that you’re among the tens of millions that spectate.