Pregame. Sunday for some, Monday for others. Really, really early on Monday for others. I haven’t been training as hard as I used to, but you don’t pass up a chance to get your fan on, especially when those chances are so few and far between.
The Super Bowl is big in America, the one event that brings us all together, even if it’s to root for different teams. Then again, the game itself is almost beside the point. My past Super Bowl experiences were mostly food-centric — there’s generally nachos, chili, pizza, brownies, and dips of all kinds. And during the game, participants might discuss the highs and lows of the latest car and insurance ads, or switch to Animal Planet for footage of truly cuddly canines playing with a football in Puppy Bowl.
However, lack of NFL knowledge can’t stop this cheer train.
At 5:20 am, my Xylophone alarm goes off. Doubt settles over me. (Or is that sleepiness?) But through my groans, I realize that champions push through pain and uncertainty. So half an hour later, my eyes are open and I’m sauntering into the Beijing blackness.
Warm-up. The icy, 30-minute bike ride to the Kerry Hotel, where NFL China has decided to post up for their official Super Bowl party on this most auspicious of days, gives me time to work up a winning game plan. Even if the game doesn’t matter so much to me (or at all), I’ll fuel up and root with the best of ’em; we Americans are expertly trained in the art of chowing down and knocking back a Budweiser or two. I arrive at the high-end hotel on an adrenaline high, optimistic at my chances of beating the hardcore veterans at their own cheering game.
Alicia Keys sings the national anthem.
Warm-up, part 2. My enthusiasm is quickly dampened. At the fueling station, I begin to get nervous. One’s training should mimic his or her game-time environment, but the way I pictured the Kerry Hotel is nothing like how it actually is. Where are all the La-Z-Boys and pillows for floor seating? What about the tables piled high with DIY finger foods? Why are some people wearing posh suits?! After first finagling my way past the ticket ladies without too much talking (I’m pretty much voiceless pre-8 am), I’m greeted by an elegant breakfast buffet. Without stopping I pass into the main ballroom with its intimidating sparkly chandeliers to survey my field. More than 30 circular tables seat nine people each and two large screens adorn the far wall. I situate myself at my table full of unknowns, with my back to the screens and a pre-kickoff analysis running through my head.
This table is sheathed in a fancy cloth, and at least three silver forks are provided per person. Table 6 seems to be a spattering of China’s elite Americans and Europeans, though at two of the tables I note Chinese businessmen have already begun to attack the food. Those wearing team colors appear few and far between, but even sans jerseys, many have dipped into the bottomless Budweiser buckets atop the tables. I don’t exactly know what Reggie Bush looks like, but I’m told he’s here. The NFL cheerleaders of course are difficult to miss, as they rove around the crowd in full regalia peddling their grins to photo-eager dudes. Someone near me notes that one of the cheer girls was in the “Call Me Maybe” music video. Ah.
The hotel’s fancy tailgate includes a hefty amount of American-style meat, eggs, and bread products, with a nod to Chinese appetites with salad and dragon fruit. I pile on the eggs and regroup at the table. My attempt to pound a Budweiser ends in disappointment — have I lost the competitive edge, no longer able to guzzle a morning brew to get psyched up for some pigskin?
Hang on, Alicia Keys is still singing the national anthem.
Coin toss. I turn to one of the giant screens. Which team to choose? Dramatic storylines and jersey colors heavily factor into the decision. I turn back to my eggs. Or where my eggs used to be. Though the fuwuyuan appear to only be sluggishly bearing coffee carafes and serious faces, they too must be caught up in the spirit of competition with a game of “Who Can Get the Most Plates?” No matter, I turn back to the screen and assess the teams colors, then go with my gut: San Francisco, the underdogs. They are the underdogs, right?
But wait, it’s a fake! An influential table member calls Baltimore for me…
Tall man: “Who ya cheerin’ for?”
Me: “Um, well, you know, I’m not exactly familiar with the teams… (Looking down) I was thinking San Francisco though.”
Tall man (chuckles): “Ah well, it’s gonna be Baltimore today.”
Me: “Uh, well yeah, uh ok.”
…and, on second look, the Ravens do have better outfits. Plus, gold rushers pitted against Edgar Allen Poe’s necromantic muse don’t have a chance.
Oh shit, the game has already begun.
Halftime. Dilemma: in a fancy Western-style bathroom in Beijing, do you dispose of TP in a) the trash can, or b) by flushing it?
Delay as the lights in the Superdome go out while all Chinese viewers beam with pride knowing this would never happen here. Budweiser-influenced competitors try to distract me with what appear to be maracas, but I won’t be swayed, I’m here to cheer for the Ravens. Or the 49ers. Now it’s the 49ers. They’re losing, and I feel bad. Clashing colors aside, I’m now all about San Francisco again.
The cheerleaders roam a bit, flashing smiles and flesh all about. Their hair is both tall and wide, an interesting feat. Good thing this is one of the few locations in China that doesn’t allow smoking; open flame + that much hairspray = CCTV building all over again. I try to avoid meeting their eyes, instead maintaining focus on my team. A team. But a couple of them drift dangerously close to our table.
Let’s go New Orleans, flick some switches and get that voltage!
I, like the sports commentator asked to ramble along during the blackout, am mildly uncomfortable. Now there are pom-poms and legs directly behind the head of the man opposite me. Come on NOLA, you can do this!
The vivid red of their lipstick would leave a really bad stain on the blinding white bits of their uniforms. Ahh cleavage, bronzer, abs – help me!
Oh thank god, a man who has been identified as Reggie Bush is up taking photos now too. The cheerleaders are forced to move farther afield to make room, and the Super Dome eventually gets it together.
Winner! Finally, the moment we’ve all been waiting for: Kerry representatives randomly draw 20 numbers out of a raffle, giving away Nike shirts and footballs to the most dedicated fans. Not the first, second, third… eighth… twelfth… finally, “the thirteenth number is 000162…” and I go WILD! I’ve won!
I give a whoop and a solid fist pump at the announcement of my triumph and am graciously acknowledged by the hotel presenter. I hold my head high as I claim my new XL sleepwear and official NFL football and try to contain my elation. As someone who can only remember winning one thing — the responsibility of taking the class guinea pig home for the summer after kindergarten — I’m genuinely pumped! The noon sun warms my cheeks as I cross over to my chariot and cram my winnings into its basket. Car horns and tire screeches hail me as victor and the ice and slush seem to sparkle in the aftermath of my high.
It was a beautiful Super Bowl experience. Just don’t ask me which team won.