The Superest Bowl of Them All

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Super Bowl 50 winners the Denver Broncos bow their heads in gratitude. USA Today Sports/Reuters

As the express bus nears Levi's Stadium, it stops and a transit agency employee gets on. Everyone groans, because everyone is tired of sitting on the bus. The employee says we will soon get to leave, but first he must count us. But first we must cheer, because this is the Super Bowl, and all duties are subservient to the duty to have fun. The passengers, quiet until now, clap for the Broncos and really go pretty nuts for the Panthers. There is something summer-campy about this insta-enthusiasm, but nobody seems to mind except the miserly journalist near the back of the bus, who is incapable of joy.

There are enough law enforcement and military agencies ringing the stadium to enact a hostile takeover of the Bay Area. People take pictures of themselves in front of black SWAT trucks and camo-colored bomb-resistant vehicles, as if these were cheerful works of public art.

A group protesting circumcision is camped outside the stadium. This is a San Francisco cause of some popularity and dubious reasoning, though that rarely stops anyone around here. Grotesque imagery is evoked; the protesters are dressed in white pants, with blood stains at the crotch. This makes it seem like they are protesting adult circumcision—performed with a rusty butter knife. Which I am definitely against.

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Anti-circumcision protesters outside Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California. Alexander Nazaryan for Newsweek

The Bay Area is rife with natural beauty. None of that beauty is apparent in Santa Clara, where the Spanish colonialists built the first office park in California in 1803. Ever prescient, they built a parking lot too.

My press credentials go through some sort of complicated digital scan. Thus far, Levi's Stadium is proving a lot harder to get into than both Guantánamo Bay and the Chernobyl exclusion zone. I am not sure that it will prove any more pleasant.

Everyone is wearing lanyards, fans included. This gives the Super Bowl the feel of the final night of a corporate convention, open bar in full swing.

What does it mean to wear the jersey of a living football player, such as Peyton Manning or Cam Newton? That you revere him? Worship him? That in another life, you would have been friends? That in this life, you are long-lost brothers?

I have often wondered who drinks Bud Light. I now have my answer.

As the players prepare to run onto the field, the feeling in the tunnel is of immense anxiety, as before a D-Day-scale invasion. Part of the stadium's security plan is obviously to just have some of the staff shout incessantly at all who pass by.

I think I just saw Phil Simms being driven in a golf cart down the aforementioned tunnel. His appearance evinces no visible enthusiasm, which I think he is aware of, judging by the tragic expression on his face.

The stadium serves regular wine by the glass ($15), premium wine ($17) and specialty wine ($25). This is an oenological classification system I had not seen elsewhere.

You'd think it would be really, really hard to make the national anthem sexy. Lady Gaga somehow managed, with a little shimmy in the last verse that gave the whole thing a come-hither quality.

I have now seen Phil Simms twice. I wasn't sure it was Simms before, but I am certain now. Again, nobody else notices. His anonymity is even more poignant the second time around.

Also, there is Bill Cowher in a cornflower-blue three-piece suit. He walks through an atrium as if he has killed a man with his bare hands and has no compunction about having done so. The former Steelers coach is the most terrifying man I will see at Super Bowl 50.

Something kind of cute about watching grown men high-five each other. I don't have anyone to high-five here at the press table, but I do have a free turkey sandwich courtesy of the NFL. Thank you, Roger Goodell. If I could high-five you, I would. I appreciated the chocolate chip cookies too. Those deserve a bro hug.

Watching the Super Bowl IRL means you can't see the TV ads, which has to give many here a huge case of FOMO. It's strange to be watching the action while also feeling that you're very much missing the action. Like the Seth Rogen ad? I still haven't seen it. Was it funny? What was the best ad? I can't believe I missed the best part of the Super Bowl. I should have never gone to the Super Bowl.

A lot of yelling of "get there" at the Carolina defense (I think I am in the Carolina section), as if the fans were parents and the players their hapless Pee Wee League children. I am pretty sure, guys, that the players can't hear you and are doing their best to "get there" anyway. Carolina fans, a father and son duo, wearing synchronized jerseys: "Keep" and "Pounding." It's a Panther slogan, and a clever use of the customize-your-jersey option, but I imagine that it's hard to wear one without the other close by.

Because the Super Bowl is usually played on neutral ground, there isn't the rise and fall of noise you get in a stadium with a home team, but rather a general unending din, as in a train station during rush hour.

Someone from the upper deck is whistling at the Carolina cheerleaders. Maybe the same guy who was earlier exhorting the Carolina defense to "get there."

One of the great pleasures of being in the stands is watching people juggle several trays of hot dogs, nachos and beers as they struggle to reach their seats by jostling past thousands of other people holding complex and shockingly expensive towers of grease, carbohydrate and alcohol. It is a sport of its own, with its own private glories.

The smartphone-charging stations are receiving vigorous use. Hey, YOLO.

No way to empirically measure this, but attendees of the Super Bowl are vastly more attractive than attendees at your average professional sports event. There's clearly a status thing at work here. Down near the more expensive seats, every other person gives off an I-am-kind-of-famous vibe, which really might only mean that he or she is from Southern California.

You see men around Levi's Stadium who are obviously NFL veterans: thick guys who move slowly, who know their own worth and expect others to know it too. You wonder about them, about whether one of them could be the next CTE headline. And then you go back to watching the Broncos defense pound Cam Newton into the ground.

The number of grown men with painted faces is disconcerting, sobering, intimidating. But the guy with a Panthers logo painted on his bald head? He is in a league of his own. A frightening league I never want to be drafted into. Please, friends and family, keep me out of that league.

Disappointment does not look like it has spent much time on Cam Newton's face. It is an awkward guest there, but it lingers into the evening.

Going to a dull Super Bowl—and three quarters in, this has been a dull Super Bowl—is like meeting a celebrity who is far less attractive in real life than on the screen. Of course you should have known better. But who wants to be the kind of person who goes through life knowing better?

The Broncos win. On the bus back to the East Bay, a drunk and happy Broncos fan proclaims his desire to find whiskey, Cuban cigars and rat dogs. He asks the rest of us if we know what a rat dog is. Nobody does. Nobody wants to find out.

The Superest Bowl of Them All | Sports