Super Bowl Sunday, 1993.
I was ready. Invited friends over and loaded up on all the requisite items. Plenty of chips and salsa. Nachos. Pizza. Dead animals tossed on the grill.
All of us were psyched. My beloved Dallas Cowboys — I’m a lifelong ’Boys fan — were facing the Buffalo Bills. It was my Cowboys’ first appearance in the Big Game since I’d been in high school. I’d suffered all those dry years, so I was ready for Dallas’ chances to win another ring. The matchups alone were intriguing; the game featured future Hall of Famers all over the field. Troy Aikman vs. Jim Kelly. Emmitt Smith vs. Thurman Thomas. Ursula vs. Prince Eric.
Wait a minute. We’re gonna need a timeout here.
I thought I’d thought of everything, but I’d neglected one little part of the big Sunday equation.
Back then, I didn’t have many days off. The Marine Corps kept me moving six days per week, meaning I only had Sundays to be a dad. Even then, there were times when I worked several hours on Sundays. My daughter Jaime grew accustomed to my long hours, and she and I had a habit of watching movies together on my lone off day. Her favorite at the time was “The Little Mermaid.”
She didn’t give doodly squat about the Super Bowl and all its trimmings. She cared not even a little that I’d been waiting years for a Cowboys’ revival.
When Sunday afternoon rolled around, the only thing concerning her 5-year-old self was our movie time.
I had a couple of choices, neither of which would leave me a popular man. I could tell her, “Not today,” meaning she’d be waiting at least a full week before our next movie date.
Or I could tell the guys, “Game over. See ya.”
I had mere moments to make my decision. Nothing I’d experienced as a Marine had prepared me for such potential for failure. I was facing fourth and long deep in my own territory. Either way, I couldn’t win.
I decided that if I was gonna lose, it wasn’t gonna be with my kid. Her “disappointed” face was always a surefire way to get me. As Jaime stood in the living room holding her VHS version of the “Mermaid,” I simply looked at the guys and shrugged. “Sorry, guys. Movie date.”
To my surprise — and eternal gratitude — they understood. The Cowboys were up 28-10 when Ariel made her appearance, so maybe the guys thought the game was in hand. Maybe not. Maybe they were having no more luck facing a disappointed little girl than I was. Either way, they agreed to become part of her world. Jaime let us watch the halftime show, mostly because she wanted to see Michael Jackson — but when the Prince of Pop strode off in the smoky haze, it was Mermaid time.
I thought for sure my buddies would bail. Maybe head for a nearby restaurant or drinking establishment showing the game.
Nope. They immersed themselves in the movie. They yelled for Sebastian the crab to run from the chef; they booed Ursula for tricking poor Ariel into trading her voice for legs.
And when Eric ran a reverse, whipping that ship around and impaling the evil Ursula, my buddies and I went as nuts as we did when the Cowboys’ Michael Irvin caught his second touchdown pass right before halftime. Never has a Disney production generated so many high-fives.
The movie ended in time for us to catch the end of the game, setting off a double celebration: Both Ariel and the Cowboys had won. How could anyone possibly hope to beat that?
I could fill pages with my Super Bowl memories. The game has grown into a national holiday, and it gets its own Roman numerals. (I’m so old I can remember when the only numerals necessary were “I”, “V” and “X”.)
I don’t remember the first two games, mostly because — believe it or not, young folks — the game really wasn’t a big deal in the beginning. In fact, the first one didn’t even sell out, and it wasn’t called the “Super Bowl.” Yet. Seats sold for less than $10. Television ratings weren’t all that high for the times. The game came and went with very little fanfare, as did the game the following year.
Honestly, the first one I vaguely recall watching with my dad was Super Bowl IV featuring the Kansas City Chiefs and the Minnesota Vikings. As Cowboys fans, we didn’t have a dog in the hunt for that particular game, but it was football, so we were gonna watch it.
Then the next year rolled around, and lo and behold, my Cowboys were in the big game for their first time. Super Bowl V, with the ’Boys facing the Baltimore Colts. I remember lots of the plays and players, but mostly I remember my Uncle Jake throwing a chair through his TV screen when the Colts kicked a game-winning, last-second field goal. For years, my uncle epitomized to me true football fandom and all its passion. You’ve gotta be a diehard to murder a TV because of a football game, I thought. (Later, I learned he’d wagered and lost a bundle of cash, which would better explain his assault on a defenseless television.)
I’m also old enough — I’m LV years old, in case you’re wondering — to remember when the Super Bowl was mostly for the guys. My sisters, for the most part, weren’t at all interested in football (they’d come around years later). They found something else to do on Super Bowl Sunday. To my brothers and me, that was as good a reason as any to park our booties in the living room with Dad. No girls for a few hours? Heck, yes. We’re in.
However, over the years I noticed the ladies wearing their own jerseys for the games. Some, but not all, picked their teams based on the teams’ colors. I still remember a friend’s wife wearing a Dolphins aqua green jersey for the big game just because she thought it was the prettiest. She seemed oblivious to the fact Miami wasn’t even playing that day.
But now? The game — heck, the entire day — is a communal event of massive proportions. Families and friends gather to scarf down snacks while talking smack. My wife gets up early to start on the day’s feasts; we keep the grill warmed up all day long. Now, there’s so much more to the event than a mere football game. There are pregame performances from musical acts; the big halftime spectacular featuring big names and lots of special effects; and to make sure none of us can take potty breaks, there are the commercials, which have become a cultural phenomenon of their own.
For sure, it’s a massive party, and it rarely matters whether one’s team is or isn’t playing. Shoot, my Cowboys haven’t played in a Super Bowl since ’96, but I haven’t missed the game since 1970. I’ve attended some epic celebrations, and I’ve enjoyed them all. Won and lost a few friendly wagers (with no losses big enough to leave me heaving a chair through a TV). Helped friends celebrate their favorite team’s win.
Mostly, I’ve just enjoyed hanging out with the people I love. I’ll take any excuse to do so, and the Super Bowl is a pretty good reason. It’s got a little of everything for everyone.
I hope your Super Sunday is a blast. May your team win. May the chip and salsa bowls runneth over. May the girl in the Dolphins jersey have fun watching other teams play.
And if you’re the betting type, I’ll offer you this wagering tip:
Take Ariel over Ursula. The Little Mermaid is gonna win every time.