Monday 23 April 2018

Get ready to be Bowled over - the bluffer's guide to the Super Bowl

Want to join the conversation about Sunday's Super Bowl? Just use Darragh McManus's bluffer's guide

Get to the end zone: Julian Edelman of the New England Patriots and Earl Thomas of the Seattle Seahawks during Super Bowl 2015
Get to the end zone: Julian Edelman of the New England Patriots and Earl Thomas of the Seattle Seahawks during Super Bowl 2015

American football, or gridiron, has never quite captured the public imagination this side of the Atlantic. Maybe it's that glaring misnomer: only one player really uses his foot, so it should be called throwball or shoveball or Legalised GBH With a Ball Thrown In Somewhere.

Maybe it's the countless, endless stoppages, the overblown hoopla, the Barbie g irl cheerleaders, the legions of beefy men doing a good impression of two warring factions of steroid-crazed Mad Max cast-members. Or maybe it's simply that gridiron is a terrible, terrible sport, and thus no match for far superior games like hurling, soccer or hacky-sack.

At least that was the case. Weirdly, though, Irish interest in the Super Bowl seems to be on the increase.

This used to be something to either laugh at in an urbane, supercilious way, or flatly ignore. But in recent times, personality-deficient nerds over here have begun showing, or at least faking, an interest in "football"; check Twitter for proof.

In case you're one of those nerds, and anxious about how to spoof your way through a watercooler conversation about this weekend's big blow-out, here's our cut-out-and-keep Bluffer's Guide to the Super Bowl:

WHAT: The Super Bowl.

WHERE: America, of course. Specifically, Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, sunny California.

KICK-OFF: 11.30pm Irish time.

ALSO KNOWN AS: National Football League championship game; the pig-skin world series; the American all-Ireland final.

WHO'S PLAYING: Carolina Panthers vs Denver Broncos.

ORIGINS OF GRIDIRON: Essentially, a mish-mash of soccer and rugby, primarily achieved by removing the skill of the former, and decreasing the concussion and ear-biting quotient of the latter with padded helmets.

HOW TO PLAY: 11 players aside try to get an oval ball into their opponents' end zone. The attacking team gets four attempts, called a "down", to move the ball forward by 10 yards. Hence commentators babbling about "first down and 10 for the Wackatawmee Necromancers…" Fail, and possession reverts to the other side. Still following? We're not, to be honest.

SCORES: A touchdown is six points, a field goal three and a conversion one (or two, depending on some arcane distinction no human being can possibly comprehend).

CONFUSINGLY: Players don't have to touch down for a touchdown.

CRUCIAL POINT: Offence and defence are pronounced "AW-fence" and "DEE-fence", and not the normal i.e. correct way.

MAIN POSITIONS: Quarterback, centre, running back, wide receiver, tight end - oh, do stop smirking - line-backer, safety.

USEFUL JARGON TO DROP INTO CONVERSATION: Snap, scrimmage, Hail Mary, playbook, Dan Marino, interception, timeout, fumble, fumble-a-rooski, fumble-a-rama, fuumm-beeelllll.

ORIGINS OF 'SUPER BOWL': It's named after a popular children's toy of the period, the Super Ball.

TV AUDIENCE: Unquantifiable millions of couch potatoes. Or, to quantify it, last year's Super Bowl was the most-watched programme in American history, peaking at 120.8m during the fourth quarter.

WHERE CAN I WATCH IT: BBC Two's broadcast, beginning at 10.50pm, is hosted by Mark Chapman (presumably not the incarcerated-for-life assassin of John Lennon). It doesn't end until half-three, so stock up on pretzels, Twinkies and Gatorade… whatever those things are.

ALTERNATIVELY: The Irish American Football Association are organising events in a number of pubs around the country - check

DON'T MISS: The iconic half-time show, now almost as big a deal as the game itself, and almost certain to be more entertaining. Dreary Coldplay will labour to emulate last year's sensational showing by Katy Perry's off-the-reservation dancing shark.

DAFTEST NFL TEAM NAMES: Tennessee Titans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, San Francisco 49ers. Like, that last one doesn't even make grammatical sense.

COOLEST TEAM NAME: Baltimore Ravens, named after the famous poem by local writer/lunatic Edgar Allan Poe.

OTHER LITERARY REFERENCES: Tom Robbins' equally brilliant-but-awful novel Skinny Legs and All revolves in large part around the possibility of a bunch of guys missing the Super Bowl. The great Don DeLillo's End Zone is about a college footballer. And Game of Thrones wizard George RR Martin wrote a short story in 1975 which prophesied that the titular "Last Super Bowl", about to be replaced by ultra-realistic computer simulation, would take place in… 2016.

AND IN MOVIES: God, tonnes of them - Friday Night Lights, Any Given Sunday, All the Right Moves, Leatherheads, Necessary Roughness, Varsity Blues…and the daddy of them all, Ace Ventura, which turns on the theft of the Miami Dolphins mascot (a dolphin, yes) around Super Bowl.

INTERESTING FACT: The Super Bowl is known to law-enforcement as "the single largest human trafficking incident in the United States", with tens of thousands of women ferried to the host city to work as prostitutes.

INTERESTING FACT YOU CAN TELL THE KIDS: All Super Bowls are denoted by Roman numerals, except this year's 50th running.

IRISH CONNECTIONS: Record-equalling four-time winning quarterback Tom Brady is, as one would gather from the name, of good Irish stock on his dad's side. And last year two intrepid eejits, from Tipp and Dublin, blagged their way into $50,000 seats through nothing more than cheek and twinkly-eyed charm.

DO SAY: Carolina's offence needed to make more yardage in the end-zone by pulling a Hail Mary from the playbook.

DON'T SAY: I wouldn't have thought it possible, but someone has invented a sport requiring even less skill than rugby.

Irish Independent

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