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Patty Stegman Headshot

Super Bowl, Super America

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My busting with excitement 16-year-old son and I boarded our flight bound for Super Bowl XLVIII. I settled into my seat and checked my email just before we were asked to power down our electronic devices. I rushed to take one last glimpse, like a desperate drinker taking the very last sip of his gin. The email that happened to catch my eye was one with the subject line that read, "re. We r all fucked up." I was intrigued, as this email was from a renowned child therapist. She is an expert in her field, and her words are like gospel to the masses. The body of the email read, "160 million viewers tune in to watch the Super Bowl, and only 20 the Inauguration." I paused to gather my initial thoughts, contemplated and without ever having experienced the Super Bowl firsthand, I nodded my head in agreement. That is, until I was there at the Metlife Stadium, sitting in a sea of orange and blue, experiencing one of the country's most televised events. Just as I powered down my phone a male passenger shouted out, "Hey anybody got extra tickets to the game?" Since when do passengers get airtime?

The Super Bowl, I discovered, is not merely about pigskin, tackles, halftime shows and advertisements. The backstory -- and frankly more compelling to me -- is how it both evokes and promotes good will on micro and macro levels. As I sat in my collapsible seat, I took a more sociological and psychological fan stance, than a football one. Even more interesting than the game for me was the indisputable buzz of pure elation and passion in a stadium full of strangers who are somehow inexplicably and inextricably bound together by something seemingly inconsequential. As a therapist, I have always been drawn to uncovering what makes people tick. The fans were far more fascinating to watch than the game. Upon entering the grounds of the stadium I was enthralled by the contagious excitement. What was the magic? How does a 82,566-seat stadium get filled to the brim and what draws approximately 108 million Americans to watch this event? According to The International Business Times, "The Super Bowl is third on the list of the most watched television events in US history." My fascination and thirst was whetted from the moment I got up close.

Before going to the Super Bowl I knew that it was a coveted event, but when a friend remarked to me the day before the game, "I am obsessively checking that I have my tickets on me, even more than when I carried my fiancé-to-be's diamond engagement ring." With that, I clutched onto my purse even tighter. These tickets weren't going anywhere without a fight.

As one entered the stadium, mind you two hours before kick-off, there were throngs of excited fans marching for stretches towards the security checkpoints. There were tailgating events galore, music blaring and a stream of shows going on. There was the guy with the orange Mohawk and a number painted on his head, the men vying to take pictures with women bare breasted, with the exception of their painted nipples, and the blue caped guy on stilts. Hair was arranged and styled in unimaginable ways. There were Mohawks, Afros, shaved features, painted brows and styled locks of orange and blue. The head became a canvas for self-expression in unique ways. The clothing, or lack of, was astounding. I never knew that orange camouflage existed, or for that matter, that blue carpet could double as a shirt. Furry hats, beads and boas dotted the crowd. The walk together towards the entrance felt as if one was in the company of a vast migration of football refugees. Reaching security, I am both appreciative to be taken care of yet saddened that an event as innocuous as a football game required so much surveillance. There were metal detectors, friskers and a lot of police presence. They were all cordial, in good spirits and sent their subjects off with their well wishes to, "Enjoy the game."

Upon entering the stadium, it was clearly and evidently "SUPER." What I witnessed and felt firsthand, with no commercial interruptions to water down the impact, was both surprising and moving to me. I observed and experienced a sense of camaraderie, niceties, and courteousness from both sides of the divide. Next to a concession stand I caught a glimpse of a group of men arm in arm wearing Cowboys, Jets, Giants and Redskins jerseys. Crossing party lines was not only accepted, but celebrated. There was a general sense of tolerance and appreciation of difference. It didn't matter who you were rooting for, there was a sense of, "We are all in this together."

What is the "this?" Perhaps it is the one place that we can all come together. The winnings do not have implications for the majority of us. It won't decide whether or not we will go to war, will increase our taxes or support or threaten our Constitutional rights. In actuality, it supports our right to freedom of speech. It just doesn't really matter. For most there is no great consequence. Well, that is unless you bet your life savings in the company pool. When the people from the armed forces appear on the video screens, the crowd bursts out in cheers of gratitude and reverence. Queen Latifah sings "America the Beautiful" and Renee Fleming, the National Anthem. All rise, caps are removed, hands placed over hearts and all are united in regard, respect and awe for our great nation.

There is an equal playing field. Amongst the mostly male dominated, beer spilling, shucked shards of peanut shells that stick to the bottom of your shoe, consumers of nachos oozing and overflowing with cheese, there are few distinctions. Elbows are rubbed with people of all color, class and creed. All ages and both sexes are well represented. There are no signs of discrimination. People attend from all over the country and for that matter, the world; just ask a waiter, cab driver, or an airline flight attendant. Arms of all colors, some with tattoos shoot up in the air, they jump, clap, pound fists, back slap, raise arms in victory as if they have reached the summit at Mount Everest. With the fists that fly up in the air, I wonder if anyone will dislocate their shoulder.

The entertainment factor is enormous, not only the halftime show, or the National Anthem but also the fans. They sing, dance and perform. The adrenaline rush abounds, and peaks with each team's advance to the goal post. A touchdown creates an explosion of excitement that has the floor vibrating. There is a deafening roar that rises and falls, depending upon what is happening on the field.

There's also music, songs interspersed with statistics and play-by-plays. And there is meal sharing. The chicken wing has risen to new heights. In late January of last year the Huffington Post reported, "Two storage workers in Georgia are accused of stealing $65,000 worth of frozen chicken wings amid a high nationwide demand for the delicious Super Bowl snack." A friend of mine remarked, "The chicken wing is to Super Bowl, what the turkey is to Thanksgiving." The Super Bowl gets people out and also gets them to gather. There are parties, events and more parties. Then there is the fun factor. It is an outlet, a catharsis event, a letting go, and a hypnosis that lends itself to mindlessness. Oh, and I learned that there is another national anthem that goes something like, "uh oh uh oh." The vocal synchronization is nothing short of miraculous. A master orchestral conductor could not produce such sound.

There's a lot of good will that's done too. According to a high-ranking NFL official that I spoke to, the 120 balls used in the game are all donated to charity. There are balls, parties and more that donate much of the proceeds to charities. The t-shirt sales, parking, food, tickets, jobs, tourism and more boost our economy. New Jersey, a city now known for its bridge and lane closure is on the map as a tourist destination. And what were the people in the crowd post-game going to do with the used tickets that they were willing to pay upwards as much as forty dollars for?

Another absolutely confounding shift to my thinking that the Super Bowl was mostly just a really big show, rather than a testimony to the American spirit, was that only 12 years prior one of the views from Metlife Stadium was of the World Trade Towers. The view was the scene of one of America's most horrific disasters. The citizens of New York and New Jersey picked themselves up, brushed the debris off and persevered. As our great nation has done many times before we rebuilt and forged ahead, in the face of destruction and grave loss. Here we were resilient and spirited in this magnificent fanned and oval shaped building entertaining the masses. It is what we are all about.

The visual stimulation went beyond the fans. The turf was like brushed velvet, perfectly manicured, with a touch of shimmer. Glittering pom poms, barely clad cheerleaders, and I worried each time they were tossed into the air. The lighting was spectacular and abundant.

There is no denying the love of this game. So it may seem to some that this is solely a sport of men jumping on top of one another, a sort of testosterone climax, yet it is so much more. Much more than the stench of relish and beer saturating my olfactory system and my ears vibrating even the day after, there is a lot to be learned. It may just be our nation at its best. We are a spirited one, for sure. With the rain of confetti and the shine of the Vince Lombardi Trophy at the close of the game, I discovered my child therapist friend was mistaken, there is nothing wrong with us Americans; there is something undeniably right. The Super Bowl is one giant collision of what is right with our country.

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