Wanna go to the Super Bowl? It's great, but there's a problem

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The only thing missing was the commercials.

I was in a to-die-for seat overlooking the 50-yard line at the Georgia Dome on Super Bowl Sunday. A great place to be, yet vague signals of distress radiated through my body.

Believing the source of my discomfort to be the commemorative plastic-and-foam seat cushion on which I was perched, I flung the thing into the crowd. I'm pretty sure I saw Andy Rooney with it the next day as he boarded a plane to New York, but that's a story for another day.

My sense of disquiet grew as game time approached, and I soon realized why. When I had first taken my seat, I was lulled by the presence of giant screens at both ends of the stadium. Surely these monitors would beam into the stands the multi-million-dollar mini-movies advertisers had ransomed their futures to display during the game.

After all -- as the carefully coiffed anchors of every sports, business and entertainment program had reminded us in the days leading up to the event -- Super Bowl ads are now at least as important as the game. The marketing-savvy NFL wouldn't deny fans lucky enough to see the game live our ad fix, would they?

Turns out they would, the bums.

At first, I couldn't believe it. Surely a break in the action would be accompanied by the strains of Chicago's "If you leave me now," sung mournfully by a floppy-eared sock puppet. But the monitors stubbornly displayed only shots of the crowd and highlights of former Super Bowls.

By now I was jittery, and tried to soothe my nerves by remembering commercial glories from games past. As the big screen replayed Joe Montana's performance in Super Bowl XXIV, in my mind's eye the 49ers legend turned to the camera and shouted -- in response to an offscreen query -- "I'm going to Disney World." Tears welled in my eyes.

Still I needed the real thing. I turned in my seat to watch the telecast on sets in the luxury boxes behind me, but Evander Holyfield glared from his seat in the suite until I turned away.

So I began sneaking away from my seat whenever I could. I felt guilty, but I had no choice. I needed to watch some ads, man.

Sure, I had seen just about every Super Bowl commercial already. Advertisers happily encourage the theory that viewers would rather take bathroom breaks during a drive to the goal than miss the antics of Rex the Bud dog. To build interest, they send their spots in advance to TV news shows, which air them repeatedly prior to game day. This allows ad execs to convince their bosses they haven't really thrown away three million bucks because, after all, there was so much free publicity.

But seeing the ads on CNN wasn't enough. I needed to see the biker grab his Dew from the cheetah in the context of the game.

Whenever there was a pause in the action, I jumped up. "Capuccino, anyone?" I asked my annoyed neighbors as I shoved past their twisted knees. Inside, I moved quickly in the direction of a bank of TVs. On the screen, Christopher Reeve walked and I settled into an easy chair -- hey, it's a modern stadium -- and tried to steady the nervous twitch under my left eye.

"Hey, buddy, who do you think'll win?" The guy behind me was decked out in several hundred dollars worth of officially licensed Super Bowl XXXIV apparel, which after this game he would stuff in a drawer and throw on only on Saturday mornings to run out for coffee.

"Well," I said, turning back to the screen to catch the singing chimp, "the Traditionals have lost a few of their best players this year and their game plan is predictable. But they have experienced veterans who've been to the Super Bowl before. The Dot-coms, on the other hand, have energy and they bend the rules. But they lack discipline, and that's ultimately going to hurt."

When I turned again, he was walking away, shaking his head. That's OK. Let him go back to Rams-Titans. I'll stay here, where the only Cowboys around are herding cats. Waiter, another capuccino, please.

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