Super Bowl Sunday has replaced Christmas as the nation's homecoming holiday. It brings together both sexes, all generations and those divided by regional loyalties.
Most of our family gathered at our house for Super Bowl XXIX, my being the paterfamilias when it comes to football.
My older son, Curt, said he'd come over and watch with me so he could pick up some of the finer points of the game.
My younger son, Doug, also came, though he knows perhaps as much about football as I do.
We sat in the living room around our television set, nine of us, including my wife, our two sons and daughters-in-law, two granddaughters and a grandson.
The only ones missing were our grandsons Chris and Casey.
Since the game didn't begin until 3:18 p.m. (I wondered what genius decided on that hour), we all had lunch. Inevitably, though, we found our ways to the refrigerator in service of our various tastes.
Simply because it's the manly thing to do, my sons and I had a couple of beers, though I waited until halftime.
Of course, attention centered on me, not only because I am the most knowledgeable about the game, but because I had publicly picked the San Diego Chargers to win. (As everyone knows, they lost 49-26.)
I explained that I had not picked San Diego as an expert, because I don't believe the experts have the slightest idea who's going to win a Super Bowl, but because Stan Humphries, the San Diego quarterback, had given me the right vibrations.
Humphries had brought his team from behind in two playoff games, against Pittsburgh and Miami. In both games, when his team scored the winning touchdown, Humphries had jumped up and down like a kid, kicking his feet up to his waist. Somehow this demonstration impressed me. I figured Humphries was an upstart who might beat anybody. When I read that San Francisco was favored by three touchdowns I thought, "Don't be too sure."
But as they were in this case, vibrations can be misleading.
Before the game was two minutes old, I realized I had misread Humphries' vibes. The game belonged to Steve Young, the San Francisco quarterback.
Actually, I had always liked Young. I suffered with him during those humiliating days when he had to sit on the bench while Joe Montana got all the glory. As he showed the other day, Young is the best quarterback in the game.
The final score was not as bad as it might have seemed to someone who doesn't understand football. Take those six touchdown passes that Young threw. Suppose he hadn't thrown them. San Francisco would have had 42 fewer points and the final score would have been San Diego 26, San Francisco 7. It was that close.
Do you have any idea how hard it is to throw a touchdown pass? The quarterback must elude three 350-pound linemen intent on his destruction, then throw the ball to a teammate who is running away from him, or across his beam, at about 10 yards a second, so that it falls precisely in his outstretched hands.
Super Sunday was a cozy family experience. Everyone did his own thing. My grandson Trevor spun around the house in my wheelchair. My daughter-in-law Jackie cooked dinner. My granddaughters, Adriana and Alison, left the group, shut themselves in my bedroom and watched another program on my TV. It was probably "Designing Women" or something like that.
I wondered what Super Sunday would be like when Alison and Adriana married. Would they still be independent, going off into another room and watching the soaps? Or would they accept Super Sunday as a family holiday and serve beer and pop popcorn, watching the game with ill-disguised ennui? Somehow I felt they would never succumb.
The day was without the emotions and memories Christmas brings. Being strictly a secular holiday, it aroused none of the childhood sentiments associated with that Christian celebration. I remember several years ago when the Super Bowl was being played in New Orleans, I think it was. They had ministers of three faiths--Catholic, Protestant and Jewish--read invocations, but evidently this wasn't a big success. I don't believe they ever did it again. Now they let it go with the singing of "The Star-Spangled Banner," which to me seems more appropriate.
When the game was over, my wife made me my usual vodka tonic fix and we fell into a general conversation during dinner. As usual, the boys argued--this time it was something about investments. It was over my head. I had a glass of wine and was about to expand on the fine points of the game when everybody decided to go home.
I will say one thing about Super Sunday. It's much more exciting when you understand the game.
Jack Smith's column is published Mondays.
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