SUPER BOWL XXIII.
DATE: JANUARY 31st, 1999.
LOCATION: NEW LIFE JESUS WORD GOD COMMUNITY CHURCH, MARIETTA, GEORGIA.
You know Brian from fifth-period English. Friday, he invited you to a Super Bowl party at his church. "Sure," you said, "sounds good." He was unsatisfied. "New Life Jesus Word God Community Church is different," he said. "We don't have any pews or stained-glass windows or any of that. We're not all stuffy. We're about having fun, you know? Being friends."
You find your way to the church's auditorium; at the door a placard sits on an easel that reads, "Is Jesus the 'quarterback' of YOUR Super Bowl of life?" You peer inside and see kids your age talking, eating pizza, and watching the pre-game show on a large projector. Seems all right.
"Hey!" A twenty-something man in a "NO FEAR" shirt approaches you. "Are you Brian's friend? I'm Pastor Jay. Happy to have you!" You talk for a few minutes about the game. "You know, I was really happy to see Elway finally win one last year, but now it's our turn ... Chris Chandler's just such an exciting quarterback ... you know, I think he's a Christ follower ... right on, buddy, right on! Hey, we've got plenty of pizza, make sure you grab some." As he turns and walks away, you read the back of his shirt: "AS LONG AS CHRIST IS IN YOUR HEART."
The Broncos take a 17-6 lead over the Falcons in the first half, but aside from the nervous hush in the room generated by Ali Landry's Doritos commercial, the mood has remained festive. Just as the halftime show is set to begin, the lights dim and Pastor Jay walks to a platform. The projector switches from the Super Bowl feed to a PowerPoint slideshow.
Brian, who sits cross-legged on the floor next to you, calls out, "Jay-Dog! Wassaaaaaaaap!" The kids in the room cheer. Jay acknowledges with a grin as he kicks away the slack from his microphone cable and looks up. "I'm so happy to see everyone's faces tonight. And you know, we've been having a great time, but there's a reason we brought you here tonight." He shades his eyes and looks through the audience. "Do we have any visitors here tonight? I know I've spoken to a few of you."
"It's OK. Guess we have some shy-guys out there." Pastor Jay continues. "Well, when you think about it, we're all sort of in a Super Bowl of life. And I'm here to tell you that Jesus should be your quarterback." He begins moving through his slideshow.
Eventually, Pastor Jay picks up an acoustic guitar and begins strumming a somber, sparse tune. "I'd love for your relationship with God to begin tonight ... but first, you need to come clean with God and repent of your sins. I'd like you to take some time and do that right now. This time is just between you and the Lord."
Silence in the room, apart from endless strumming. Five minutes pass, then 10, then 20. Surely the second half has started by now, you think. And then you begin to hear some kids in the audience start to sniffle. You turn to Brian and ask, "dude, what the Hell is going on?" He's weeping.
Pastor Jay stands up. "Now, if you'd like to accept Christ into your heart, I'd like you to step up here and say, "Lord, I'm a sinner, and I'm going to stop sinning." You stare in bewilderment as the kids, one by one, begin to shuffle toward the platform. You realize that before long, you will be the only one left sitting, and you manage to slip out of the room unnoticed. As you do, you hear them over your shoulder, through sniffles and too close to the microphone, "Lord, I'm a sinner, and I'm going to stop."
You get home just in time to see the Broncos recover Jamal Anderson's fumble to win the game. You reflect on the only crime you ever committed -- stealing a pack of 1993 Donruss baseball cards from K-Mart -- and you begin to wonder what sins a 16-year-old could possibly need to confess for. Years later, you will reason that it was probably just a room of teenagers telling God they were sorry for masturbating.
SUPER BOWL XXXIX.
DATE: FEBRUARY 6th, 2005.
LOCATION: CAPTAIN PUBBY O'DUBLIN'S PUB AND IRISH GRILL, CLEVELAND, OHIO.
You've been in a relationship with Josh for six months. Breaking Benjamin blares from the speakers as the two of you drive across town. "Babe," he shouts, "you're gonna love this place."
"Hold up." Josh's hand hovers over the volume control until the end of the bridge. He turns it down. "I think you're gonna love this place. It's a real authentic Irish sort of place. They got Angus style beef. That shit is really hard to find, I think."
"Sounds great," you say as the car pulls up to the bar. You notice a line outside the door so long that it wraps around a corner of the building. "Hm, babe, looks like we might have some trouble getting in. Maybe we should try a bar down the street?"
"No way," Josh says with a forced chuckle. "My boys Kinger and Schmo are in there. and we are gonna. Rage. Out."
The two of you stand in line, shivering in 15-degree weather. Your eyes pan across the line of people. At least half of them look barely distinguishable from your boyfriend: backwards cap, button-down shirt with popped collar. "This looks like a real old-style kind of building," he says. "Look at that sign. That's real wood right there. It's cool to see some old-style Irish stuff. I think I'm part Irish. One day I want to go there, kind of like how Nas went to Africa."
Ninety minutes later, the two of you are inside. The establishment is so crowded that it surely violates a half-dozen health codes. You're pressed against the back wall and barely have enough room to pull your arms up from your sides. Everyone in the bar is raising their voice to hear one another, and the result is a deafening, impenetrable roar. "Babe," Josh shouts. "Babe, I'll be right back. I'm gonna go find Schmo, he should be here already."
You stand there alone, squinting at a far-off television as Tom Brady and Donovan McNabb trade touchdown for touchdown. An hour later, Josh finally squeezes through the crowd and makes his way back to you. Schmo is behind him. They both reek of pot. "Babe, where you been? I got you a beer."
"Um, thanks." You reach for the beer in his hand, but he pulls it away. "Wait, I mean, no. This is mine. I didn't get you a beer but I got you a beer list. I wanna give you an Irish tour of Ireland beer."
"Josh, it's all right. I can just read the list."
"Huh?" Josh yells over the crowd. "No, hold up, lemme show you."
He disappears into the crowd again. You squeeze your way toward the bartender, and order a neat glass of whiskey, only to be told the bar doesn't have a liquor license. It suddenly occurs to you that you might be able to make it home in time to catch the fourth quarter. You spend the next 10 minutes pushing your way from one end of the bar to the other, and after you fail to spot Josh anywhere, you text him that you're leaving. He does not answer. You climb in a cab, give the driver directions, and ask him if he knows the score of the game.
He looks at you in the rear-view mirror and laughs. "Why do you want to know?"
SUPER BOWL XLII.
DATE: FEBRUARY 3rd, 2008.
LOCATION: YOUR FRIEND'S HOUSE, WEST CHESTER, PENNSYLVANIA.
After a decade of living with roommates, your buddy Rob finally moved into his own place last month, and he has insisted on throwing a Super Bowl party at his house. You asked whether there was anything you should bring. "No, man," he says. "I've got it all covered."
You walk into his apartment a few minutes before kickoff. The beige walls are completely blank, save for a creased "Beers of the World" poster he has stapled to the living room wall. Cardboard boxes are everywhere. You ask to use the bathroom. "Yep, just down the hallway and through the bedroom."
You step through the un-assembled bed frame that sits in the middle of the hallway and push aside the box spring to enter the bedroom. A half-inflated air mattress, bicycle pump still attached to its valve, sits next to an alarm clock that is roughly four hours fast.
The bathroom is dirtier than should be possible in an apartment that has only been occupied a few weeks. You wash your hands. "Hey Rob, you got any soap in here?" you call from the bathroom. "Oh! Yeah, I think I bought some. Should be in a bag on the floor." You find a plastic bag and open it. It's full of hair and nail clippings.
You walk into the kitchen, and Rob gestures toward the refrigerator. "I got plenty of beers, man. I scored big, managed to grab tons of beer my old roommates didn't want." In the fridge, you find several bottles of Coors Light with label designs you haven't seen in years, a few six-packs of Honey Brown Ale, and some bottles labeled only with masking tape on which, "ROBBYDOG'S TURBO HOMEBREW 2004" is written. You take a Honey Brown.
"Good choice, dude. Honey Brown's the best bargain in the craft brew scene. You really gotta drink that one out of a glass. You want a glass?" Rob opens his dishwasher and rolls out the top rack, revealing three glasses as well as several sopping-wet baseball caps and T-shirts. You decline.
As you walk into the living room, you realize that Rob doesn't have a television. "Oh yeah, I'm part of the cord-cutting movement. I was thinking we could just watch on my laptop. I should be able to score a good bootleg feed."
By kickoff, nobody else has arrived. Rob fidgets a little in his nylon beach chair. "Yeah ... I guess everyone decided to go to Kyle and Michelle's place."
"Oh, they're having a party over there?" You went to Kyle and Michelle's for last year's Super Bowl and had a great time. "Dude, you want to just head over?"
"Um, I mean ..." Rob is obviously hurt. "I mean, I was about to fix us some snacks and stuff, I don't know if ... you ..."
"Yeah, no, nevermind. This is great."
You watch Eli Manning's agonizingly long opening drive; as it concludes with a Lawrence Tynes field goal, Rob emerges from the kitchen with the snack: a plate of stew meat, cooked into oblivion on his George Foreman grill, completely unseasoned, with party toothpicks stuck in each one. "OK. Here's how you eat these. You gotta grab 'em by the toothpick and just eat it."
It tastes like chipboard; as you chew it, the fibers break apart and floss the crevices between your teeth. You wash it down with a gulp of Honey Brown, which tastes like it's been sitting in the candy aisle of a Speedway for five years. The video freezes one second for every three seconds it plays. The site streaming the video is polluted with an army of flashing banner ads; one of them pops up right over the video unless you or Rob move the mouse every 10 seconds.
You find that expanding the video to full-screen mode gets rid of the ads. Rob stops you. "Actually man, let's keep it like it is. I want to keep AIM open and see if anyone IMs me and wants to come over."
"Can't they just call you?"
"No, my, uh ... my phone's shut off." Rob pauses and turns to you. "Actually, man, this is a weird question, but ... could you spot me like $20? It's pay-as-you go. That's the least amount of money they accept to--"
The power cuts off in Rob's apartment.
"Heh. Guess it's a power outage."
You look out the window and see that the lights are on in the other apartments. A man carrying a utility bag speed-walks across the terrace below. "Aw shit!" Rob shouts. "That asshole cut off my power!" He bolts down the stairs and catches up with the man. You watch from inside as he pleads with him.
"Dude, I got a big Super Bowl party up there and you do NOT want a crowd of pissed-off people on your hands ... no, man. Noooo, man, come on. I didn't know I had to switch the account to my name. I thought the last people who lived here were just doing me a solid. OK dude, listen. Just turn my power back on. Nobody has to know. I got ... well, I don't got any money. But I got a bat autographed by a bunch of Phillies players. I seriously stood there and watched as they signed it. Kevin Stocker, Mike Mimbs, Desi Relaford, one other guy. Shit, man. Shit, man! Come on, man!"
A couple minutes later, Rob comes back in. "Hey, man, uh ... the guy made a mistake. He uh, meant to cut someone else's power ... not gonna be back on tonight, though. I guess you could go over to Kyle's if you want."
"Yeah, guess so. Well hey man, it was cool to see your apartment. It was worth a shot. Hey, you want a ride over to Kyle's?"
Rob puts his hands in his pockets. "No, that's okay. I'll just ..."
You look around the room, illuminated only by the laptop screen, the feed frozen on a still image of Amani Toomer catching a slant pass. A full minute of silence passes.
"Rob, I can't just leave you here."
"Nah, I'm tired. I'm going to bed." Without another word, Rob slowly walks down the hallway to his bed. Before you leave, you fish a $20 bill out of your wallet and toss it on the floor. It's dark, you think. Maybe he won't know where it came from.
As you leave, you hear him trip over his unassembled bed frame. You listen as his body hits the floor with a dull thud, but you don't hear him get up. "F***." He lights a cigarette. He still hasn't gotten up. You shut the door.
For further reading, we invite you to see The Five People You Meet At Every Super Bowl Party.