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My Twenty-third Super Bowl

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Since I'm planning on sitting on this couch for the next eight and a half hours or so, I stocked up on provisions early, and I may use the Internet to arrange for the hot-food delivery to arrive at approximately 8:45, around the dog days of the third quarter when the commercials begin to repeat and the pre-game beers reach their tipping points. This is my third Super Bowl in a row on the East Coast, and watching a 6:30 game creates a completely different dynamic than watching a 3:30 game in Oregon. For four Super Bowls spent in Connecticut, between 1999 and 2002, I was completely blindsided by the time difference, unable to figure out optimum eating and drinking times, failing to determine when I ought to have fit in time to study that day. In one year, when 3:18 came and went with no kick-off, I forgot about the game and was reminded only by barging in on a group of guys who were, naturally, watching the game.

As far as memory will allow, this is my twenty-third Super Bowl; I have to look up whoever it was that San Francisco beat in Super Bowl XIX in 1985 (the Dolphins), but I can give you the match-up, venue, result, and relative place in N.F.L. history of every championship game since. My year, I suppose, begins on Super Sunday, not New Year's Day.

Despite never scoring a touchdown in the game, Walter Payton led the Bears to a 46-10 rout of the Pats in Super Bowl XX in 1986; after watching the game -- played two days before my birthday -- I named the parakeet a neighbor gave me "Payton." The real Walter Payton outlived the parakeet Payton, but not by much. Super Bowl XXV, one day before my birthday (and the first year of the Bills' quadrennium of futility), was quite possibly the only sporting event in my family's history that was successfully recorded, ignored, and played back in complete ignorance -- just as if it were live -- without some scrap of score, statistic, or play breaching security and ruining the faux-live broadcast we were trying to capture for future viewing. My parents had taken the family to the mall in the Portland suburbs to buy birthday presents; I can't remember what I got that year, but it will be hard to forget Scott Norwood's 47-yard field goal, wide right with eight seconds left.

The Super Bowl has always been held within a week of my birthday, and the two events are inextricably linked in my memory. Joe Montana's and the Niners' record-setting 55-10 romp over the Broncos in the Superdome on Jan. 28, 1990--my tenth birthday--felt like a present delivered especially to me by Number 16 himself. (In Corvallis, Ore., in those days, you could root for either the Seattle Seahawks, who played consistently mediocre football on Astroturf in the endlessly twilit Kingdome and seemed to play either the Chargers or Chiefs every weekend; or for the 49ers of Montana, Rice, Lott, Taylor and Craig, who already had two championships by the time I cared about football, seemed to regularly match-up against the NFC East beasts in Washington, New York, and Dallas, and who played in San Francisco, which, to this Oregonian, was cool by mere fact of geography; the Washington the Seahawks represented was just N.F.L.-less Oregon-extended: pine needles, grayness-merging-with-greenness, and drizzle.)

Super Bowl XXXV, between the Ravens and the Giants, was also played on my birthday -- this time my twenty-first -- and it marked the first game -- first event, for that matter -- at which I could legally buy beer. (To be fair, since Jan. 28, 2001, was a Sunday, and since I was in college in the State of Connecticut -- where alcohol sales are banned on Sundays -- at the time, I would have needed to have purchased any beer earmarked for the game on the Saturday prior to Super Sunday -- the 27th -- an impossibility because I would still have been only 20. That game, I had to make due with beer purchased by other people, most of them born any time other than late January or early February, who had never had to and never would have to deal with this type of problem. So Super Bowl XXXV's role in my first legal day of drinking is more complicated than a game and a date.)

Of course, the Super Bowl's advertisements are visible to one and all regardless of age (although, ironically, perhaps less-so to those of drinking age, who are more likely to utilize commercial breaks for urination than those who aren't), and since Budweiser and Pepsi -- traditionally the day's biggest advertisers -- trade off for the first spot after kickoff each year, Budweiser to me has become as natural at the Super Bowl as that iconic constellation of camera flashes at kickoff and the gorgeous green of the untrampled grass on the field. (An Associated Press article admitted as much in an obligatory article about Super Bowl ads this week.) So, when time came today to purchase my beer for my own Super Bowl get together, Budweiser felt like the proper thing to do; beer, after all, tastes better in close proximity to the massive advertising blitz behind it. Now, Coors Light is the official beer of the N.F.L., but since I like neither Coors beer nor Coors politics -- and since Golden, Colo., doesn't feel as beer-ish of a city as Milwaukee or Saint Louis -- I shun it and have friends who do the same, which makes me question the value of Coors' exclusive sponsorship in the first place, at least on a purely anecdotal level.

Due to the footprint advertising leaves on the Super Bowl, it is perhaps the singular American event that most shapes itself and creates its own identity, independent of viewer input. Tastes are introduced (Crystal Pepsi) and tastes are made tonight; they will be accepted (Mac) or rejected (Crystal Pepsi) on the market later, but for now we consumers are merely fed and fed and fed. Networks have been known to change their entire graphics scheme on Super Sunday, as CBS did in 1992 in Minneapolis. With ad spots pushing $3 million for 30 seconds this year, there is, perhaps, as much brain power behind the Super Bowl commercial breaks as behind a NASA launch. More than any event, the Super Bowl attempts to give us what corporate America thinks we want to see. I look forward to enjoying the show.