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A Super Sunday

Eric J. Plosky

National Football League teams prepare for the Super Bowl throughout the fall and winter, butting their armored heads together to see who will still be standing by the end of January. Advertisers prepare for the Bowl by designing multimillion-dollar campaigns for launch on game day and spending in excess of $50,000 per second to air their glitzy new commercials. And my family makes its own preparations we hunker down in the living room, surrounded by food.

It wasn't always this ritualistic. Bowl Day used to be just another family Sunday, albeit with a somewhat more defined agenda: sit down in living room, watch first half of Super Bowl, eat bagel-and-lox dinner during halftime (with halftime show on in background). Then, if the game was good, and it wasn't too late, the rest of my family would keep my dad company for the second half, at least until the commentators started to deride the remains of the game as a blowout.

In January 1996, our Super Bowl semi-tradition underwent a stunning transformation my family decided to attend Super Bowl XXX in person. The game was to be held in Tempe, Arizona. Since we have relatives in Phoenix, we regarded the trip not as an NFL pilgrimage but as a reasonable combination of football and family. So we watched the Cowboys and Steelers from plastic folding nosebleed seats instead of from our own living room, and we saw Diana Ross's halftime helicopter not from behind mouthfuls of bagel but right above our heads as it clattered down to the 50-yard line with its diva cargo.

As far as Super Bowl XXX goes, I don't remember anything about the game, or even who won. The entire experience, however, was great fun. Before the game, during the "NFL Experience" fair and exhibition held outside the stadium, I commandeered a computer showing's new Web page to check my Athena account. My father and I donned foam-and-plastic sumo wrestling suits. My mother and brother sat in a replica sportscaster's booth to try their hand at real-time football commentary (and we still have the souvenir video tapes to prove it).

At some point during the game's first half, while the rest of the world was enjoying some Super Bowl commercial, the stadium's public-address system suddenly came to life, issuing instructions: how and when to deploy the colored cards provided at each seat in order to display a pattern in the crowd during the halftime show. I felt as though I was part of a massive conspiracy, but the sight of 50,000 people executing precisely timed maneuvers was undeniably impressive.

Despite the success of our in-person viewing of Super Bowl XXX, my family had no plans to follow the NFL to its next championship city. Watching the Super Bowl through binoculars is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the non-fan, and we were quite content to return to our living room. Besides, we now could have the satisfaction of feeling superior to the Super Bowl the cosmopolitan "been there, done that" attitude; the ability to glance nonchalantly at the television and shrug as if to say, "What's the big deal?"

But our brief time in Tempe had created a big deal a permanent and irrevocable family tradition. It was now understood that my family would forever spend the Super Bowl together, regardless of circumstances. Being at school in Cambridge really wasn't enough of a reason to miss the traditional family gathering on game day, was it? No; my family has so few traditions that I have every reason to welcome the newly-ordained Super Bowl tradition, and so I do.

As the years go on, our preparations for the game are more and more elaborate. This year, my father first mentioned the Bowl to me during a telephone conversation some time in the fall. "You'll be coming home for the Super Bowl, right?" A pause a token pause, really as I, uh, consider my schedule. But there's enough moment for my father to seize, and in that moment he further expands the new tradition: "You should bring some of your friends from school. We'll have a gathering."

So I circulate the idea among several of my friends, none of whom care much for football. "The Super Bowl?" they say, with puzzled expressions on their faces. "Is that a big thing?" They don't understand the family tradition, so I have to bribe them. "We'll have food," I promise. I begin to spin the legend of the hoagie, a food introduced to my household by my Cosbyesque father as an accompaniment to Super Bowl XXXII. With visions of roast beef and provolone now dancing in their heads, the friends agree to make the drive to New York.

I must arrange the details with my father, whom I call to update on the projected household attendance. "So that'll be you plus four friends, and your brother plus three friends," says my dad thoughtfully. "Better add a foot" to the hoagie, that is. The local delicatessen is notified. My mother is briefed and goes out to purchase enough chips and salsa to feed a hungry army. And so it goes, the complicated tactical planning underway and more elaborate than ever.

As I write this, on Sunday afternoon, Super Bowl XXXIII has not yet started. The family and friends are not yet all assembled; the hoagie is not in attendance. But bags of chips and pretzels lurk in the next room, and beer and soda stand ready on refrigerator shelves. In a couple of hours, with the opening kick, another year's worth of family tradition will begin. Or does it begin when we unwrap the hoagie? All that matters is that the family is together, several more hours of preparation well spent. Next year may bring another expansion of the family tradition or at least another foot on the hoagie.

Eric J. Plosky's column appears each Tuesday.