A weekend in Glendale: in-person at the Super Bowl

No. 12 was a popular jersey at the University of Phoenix Stadium for both sides. Courtesy Priyanka Dharampuriya

There is silence from the Patriots section as the final two minutes of Super Bowl XLIX tick away. It has been a difficult half with a brutal third quarter, but the Pats seem to have regained momentum. Still, this has not been a relaxed game for anyone.

Many hours later, after high-fives have been exchanged and the red-eye to Boston is packed with passengers in Brady and Edelman jerseys, cries of “dude, we dominated, except for that third quarter” and “did you see Gronk deck that other guy?” will pepper the air. But for now, the entire section is quiet and straining to see the play that will make or break the season. Eyes dart from field to clock and back again. Malcolm Butler’s interception makes the stands erupt in cheers. What happens next is a blur of streamers and confetti. Strangers exchange high-fives. Bill Belichick actually says something emotional on television. Twitter explodes with variations of “Butler, you da real MVP” and “It’s Brady’s world. You’re just living in it.”

That’s the Super Bowl for you. So much of a fan’s experience at this game happens in flashes of sounds and images: the Budweiser puppy, Katy Parry’s dancing sharks and a sandy-haired guy and gal inexplicably selling chocolate-dipped fruit on a stick for $9. There are famous people, too — Ice Cube, Kanye West, Rihanna, Vin Diesel — endorsing one team or the other. There’s an earsplitting cheer for Brady, and another, louder one for Wilson.

Then there’s ubiquitous number 12 — in Patriots language, the number 12 means Tom Brady, and for the Seahawks, the 12th man.

Not every Seahawks fan flies in from Seattle and not every Patriots fan flies in from Boston, but airports on both coasts seemed to be teeming with football fans this weekend. Delayed Phoenix-bound passengers at Logan airport on Friday were entertained at the gate with snacks and Patriots trivia. On the opposite side of the country, another flight from San Francisco took off and landed to a chorus of “SEA-HAWKS! SEA-HAWKS!”

Inevitably, these two formidable forces from the east and west coasts collided in Glendale, Ariz., a suburb just outside of Phoenix which is home to the Arizona Cardinals. Disregarding the occasional drunken brawl, most interactions between the fans of each team were in the spirit of healthy competition — meeting someone in the same jersey led to high fives, fist bumps and hugs, while meeting someone in another jersey simply resulted in a friendly “booo.” Glendale and neighboring Scottsdale exploded with football paraphernalia in New England’s red and blue and Seattle’s blue and green.

Palpable throughout the stands was the sense that these fans were not only supporting their team, but the game as a whole. It’s this distinction that separates the atmosphere of the Super Bowl live to that of watching it from home — watching at a Super Bowl party generally means being surrounded by friends and like-minded fans. Even Tufts carefully divides game viewing parties based on allegiance. But at the game itself, the crowd is mixed, and you could be high-fiving your neighbor three rows down from someone very upset about the same play.

The NFL experience, a collection of football-themed games and activities, was set up for those interested in the activities adjacent to the stadium before the game began. The true NFL experience, though, occurred outside — drawing a euphoric crowd the likes of which are rarely found outside of Disney World. New England and Seattle fans — and a number of neutral fans who just wanted to see a good game — piled into the stadium for kickoff.

The game began with John Legend’s rendition of “America the Beautiful.” Between the snapshots of Boston and Seattle at the words “from sea to shining sea” and the loud cheers at the video of military personnel and planes flying overhead, one got the sense that the Super Bowl, while inherently a competition, is also a unifying event. Nothing feels quite like this football game. Between Legend’s performance, Idina Menzel’s rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, many advertisements and the level of dedication from the crowd, Super Bowl XLIX reflected various snatches and snapshots of American life and the interesting and often unexpected things that draw us together.


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