An ex-pat’s guide to Super Bowl 50

dab on em

No matter where you’re from in the world, it’s impossible to not have at least heard of the Super Bowl. Named after one of George Washington’s favorite pieces of crockery[citation needed], Sunday’s contest will be the 50th iteration of the NFL’s deciding game.

Even for folks who aren’t football fans, Super Bowl Sunday is as much a part of the American calendar as the Fourth of July or Thanksgiving. It permeates every part of the culture, from advertising to zoology, and everything in between.

Sure, maybe you’ve watched it at 8 o’clock on a Monday morning in Australia, or caught the highlights at the end of the news, but that ain’t the same. Perhaps you’re new to the whole shebang, at least in terms of experiencing it as a newly minted permanent resident, without an idea of where to even begin planning for such an event.

But fear not, hypothetical reader! I’ve come back from the blogging grave to give you the inside look (most of which is based on fact, with a healthy serving of “being a smartass.”) I barely know the first thing about football, which everyone is okay with because I’m a foreigner, but I know a thing or two about eating and drinking to excess while there’s sports on TV. Read on!

When is the Super Bowl?

Let’s start with the easy stuff. Super Bowl 50 is set to kick off at 6:25 p.m. ET on Sunday, Feb. 7. That’s 3:25 p.m. for you out west.

Speaking of the Left Coast, that’s where the Big Game™ is being hosted this year. Specifically, it’s at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, 40 miles south of San Francisco. It’s the virtually brand-new home stadium of the 49ers, despite not being terribly accessible to San Francisco.

Who’s playing?

This year’s Super Bowl will be contested by the American Football Conference champion Denver Broncos and their National Football Conference counterparts the Carolina Panthers.

You may now be thinking, “why the hell isn’t the game in Denver or Charlotte, N.C.? Where’s the San Francisco team? Why am I weeping?” That might seem counter-intuitive to those who grew up watching Australian sports, where traditionally one team has something of a home-field advantage in the final.

The host city changes every year, and a general rule of thumb is “if the temperature is below 50*F, and your stadium doesn’t have a roof, you can’t have a Super Bowl.” I mean, that seems fair, right? There are a whole other list of conditions to qualify, which you can read here if you so desire.

What do I need to know about these teams? Who should I root for?

The Panthers went 15-1 through the regular season, with their only loss coming in the second-last week. Missing out on a perfect regular season allowed New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins fans the chance to be insufferably smug about having achieved that milestone, something they will never miss an opportunity to do.

Carolina’s quarterback is Cam Newton, a young man who is both very good at, and seems to immensely enjoy, playing the game of football. He made Middle-Aged White America very mad throughout the season with his post-touchdown celebrations, which incorporated a dance called “dabbing.”

200

This sheer act of glee has been met by mindless droning and complaints all season long, because it’s allegedly classless and unsportsmanlike and blah blah blah shut up.

As it turned out, nobody stopped Cam from going into the end zone, so he kept dabbing. The dance became as mainstream as it was hotly debated, leading to Barack Obama banning it. IT’S TRUE, IT’S ON CNN.

Now, I haven’t watched a Panthers game on purpose since 2012, when I went to see the New York Giants put an ass-whippin’ on them in Charlotte. But I’ve had a great time on Twitter on Monday mornings this season watching Cam Newton highlights, so I’m cheering for Carolina.

If you go to this link and watch all of the GIFs, you’ll probably want to root for them too.

If you hate fun, or are a cranky old man or woman, you might be best served rooting for the Broncos. Denver’s quarterback, Peyton Manning, is very much in the twilight of his career, after spending many years calling the shots for the Indianapolis Colts.

He came to Denver after undergoing neck surgery (when your job involves 300lb guys trying to splat you, that’s bad), an event which eventually led to allegations that he used human growth hormones (also bad) this season.

Peyton had a rough season in 2015, and yet the Broncos find themselves in their second Super Bowl in three seasons. The last time they made it to the final game of the season, I was new to Maine and rooting for the team from the last city I lived in. This time, due to my unfortunate Denver de-friending, I can’t in good conscience hope that the Mile High City gets to lift the Lombardi Trophy this year.

Where should I watch it?

Well, that all depends on your situation, doesn’t it?

If you’ve got family and friends at hand, maybe you’ve already got plans for a party at someone’s house, or to meet up at a local drinking establishment. If that’s the case, you don’t need this section.

It’s on CBS, so you don’t even need cable to watch it. If you, like me, don’t get free-to-air TV at your place, you can stream it online for free via Apple TV, Roku or XBox One with the official NFL or CBS Sports apps. NICE.

If you’re in the same position that I was in my first year of immigration, you might not have a wide range of friends and social invitations from which to choose. To that end, I’d highly recommend two things:

  1. Click this link right here.
  2. Choose location from said list (based on reviews, proximity, price range, personal preference).
  3. Get there well before kick-off so you can actually get a seat.
  4. Sit at the bar. The United States, in case you hadn’t heard me mention it before, has a restaurant and drinking culture that caters beautifully for people hanging out by themselves. On a regular day, you can bullshit with the bartender if you crave human interaction while you drink a beer. On Super Bowl Sunday, the bar is going to be populated with fellow solo pilots as well as groups. Unless you’re in, like, some awful corner of the U.S. I’ve never heard of or been to, you’ll be welcomed with open arms and enthusiastically encouraged to partake in the atmosphere once your fellow patrons find out you’re Aussie.

Is there any etiquette I should be aware of?

As an Australian, you may well not be a fan of American football at all. You might be dying to crack wise or even argue with fellow viewers about how “rugby union/rugby league/Australian Rules players don’t wear pads” and “are tougher,” or that the game is boring because it’s so stop-start.

As much as everyone should feel free to voice their opinions without censorship or fear of persecution (kinda like the First Amendment to the Constitution!), pick your battles. This one isn’t the right one. Look at it this way: they’re different sports. Cricketers wear pads and baseball players don’t, and batters often face 95mph (or 152km/h) pitches. Goes both ways, y’know?

Besides, it sounds uncomfortable to roll one’s eyes for three whole hours. Instead, enjoy things like the company of your friends (or newly made bar friends), the half-time entertainment, the commercials, football food and copious amounts of beer, all of which play equal roles in making the Super Bowl such an important day for this great nation.

You mentioned beer. What should I drink?

I spent a little bit of time in 2015 bartending in Maine, often during football games, and it took me awhile to get used to people’s drinking rhythms when there was a game on TV. I was always eager to freshen up someone’s glass, but oftentimes I was waved off before I could pour another.

Once I figured out the strategy, it made a lot of sense. Televised football games are long as hell. Drinking at a regular pace would potentially see you shitfaced by half-time, which takes a lot longer to arrive than the “two-times-15-minute-quarters” math would suggest. Keep it up for three hours, and you may need to be shoveled off the floor and into an Uber.

Learn from my other-side-of-the-bar revelation, and go slow and steady. I vastly prefer big-flavored beers such as IPAs and American pale ales, but the catch with those is that they’re higher in alcohol by volume (ABV). For the sake of longevity, and general affordability, lighter beers will keep you going longer and will for the most part.

If you can’t stomach America’s Big Three (Bud Light, Miller Lite, Coors Light), there are plenty of other sessionable options. Ask your server, I dunno what’s on tap where you live.

If you’re going to someone’s place for a party, do the right thing: Leave whatever beers you drink there, don’t collect them up and take them home. That’s a fair price to pay for hosting and the associated clean-up.

Drinking on an empty stomach is fun dangerous. What should I eat?

Wings. Next question.

(Seriously, don’t go somewhere that doesn’t have wings, if such a place even exists, which I doubt.)

Other American gameday favorites, if you must, are:

  • Spinach and artichoke dip: This isn’t a thing in Australia, to my knowledge, so I imagine my readers from Down Under may grimace at the thought. But pro tip: It’s pretty awesome. It’s warm, and has cheese, and comes with tortilla chips, so just give it a whirl.
  • Potato skins: Another bar-room appetizer favorite. Tell yourself you’re carb-loading!
  • Pizza: Especially if you’re partying at home. My preference isn’t for anything fancy – hell, I love a good Pizza Hut pepperoni – but you do you, man.
  • Mozzarella sticks: Fried cheese and marinara sauce. Virtually impossible to screw up (unless you buy them from McDonald’s), simple and delicious.
  • Nachos: It’s my unsolicited and wildly unpopular opinion that nachos are deeply overrated, and inevitably cold and congealed the second they come out from under the broiler, but you can’t argue that they’re infinitely shareable.
  • Seven-layer dip: WAY better than nachos, because it has all of those components (salsa, guacamole, sour cream, cheese, refried beans, ground beef perhaps?) without the risk of cold clammy cheese, soggy (or worse, dry) tortilla chips, or burning your hand on a plate out of the oven.

Of course, this is just a beginner’s guide. You may not like beer or fried food, in which case we will never see eye to eye. But in any case, you know what you do like, and if there’s one thing about this great nation that we can agree on, it’s that options for everything are almost literally infinite. So pick things you like, in venues you enjoy, and do Super Bowl however you want.

This is the Land of the Free, after all. Go Panthers!

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