Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Super Bowl - a great sporting event, a great party excuse

I like American Football.

As a Brit, I am somewhat unusual in this. Most of my British friends complain that the game is too long, the play too repetitive, the rules too complicated, the whole affair too much structured around the TV ad breaks. But then, these are mostly guys who've never given the game a proper chance, guys who tend to affect a knee-jerk disdain for all emanations of the Transatlantic 'culture' (one of my Oxford buddies used to have a T-shirt that said, "Cornwallis surrendered; I didn't."). I don't pretend to understand the intricacies of the game's more technical rules, but the basic premise is beguilingly simple. And I love the gladiatorial intensity of it, the way that you can sense the changing momentum, the subtle shifts in the psychological balance of power between the two sides (something that usually ends up being decisive, even if it is not reflected in the actual scores for the majority of the game - sorry, Pats fans!). I think tennis is the only other game that has such a strong emotional dimension to it, the only contest where you can see the coming result in the players' body language, in their eyes, well before the end.

I'm not an obsessive fan, and I don't follow any particular team (although I grew quite attached to the 49ers in the great Joe Montana/Jerry Rice era, and more recently have tended to pull for the Cheeseheads' noble but perpetually thwarted attempt to give Brett Favre another shot at the Bowl). I'm not able to follow the regular season at all, such are the limitations of timezone difference and patchy TV sports coverage out here; I try to keep up with the progress of the play-offs, but am often thwarted in that as well. However, I always watch the Super Bowl (well, very nearly every year for the past 20 or so).

I have to confess that - apart from my longstanding affection for the sport and my appreciation of the magnitude of the event - I chiefly like the Super Bowl as an excuse for early morning drinking. American Football is a great excuse to get drunk at any time - the long duration and the 'soundbite' choppiness of the play are ideally suited to the tempo of a good drinking session. I watched a Thanksgiving Day game with The British Cowboy once in Philly; and I had a great time watching the Conference finals in a little sports bar in New Orleans with my buddy John a few years ago. And I have watched the Super Bowl itself in the States a few times (I was reminiscing just the other day about a particularly alcoholic one I enjoyed with The Cowboy in smalltown Pennsylvania a few years ago) - but drinking in the late afternoon, early evening is, well, just a bit too routine. In the UK, the Bowl usually starts in the wee small hours and goes on till nearly dawn. Here in China, the kick-off is around dawn, and the game ends mid- to late morning. Having a once-a-year excuse to get completely ripped that early in the day is most welcome.

(An aside: back in my undergraduate days, when I first became a keen student of the effects of alcohol, I derived the formula: "Lunchtime drinking counts double. Morning drinking counts treble." Not that I advocate or indulge in daytime drinking very much; but it definitely gets me drunk much easier [which is to say, at all; I have noted on here before, I think, that I am such an experienced drinker, I very seldom exceed my limits; these days, in fact, I mostly find drinking a rather frustrating activity in terms of 'getting high']; and, once in a blue moon, that is a rather agreeable indulgence.)

Last week's Bowl was quite a subdued drinking experience, since I was feeling badly depleted by sleeplessness and an attack of bad bowel (I drank only beer, relatively moderately, and more for rehydration than the buzz), and my companion was trying a spell on the wagon. Perhaps my comparative sobriety is one reason why I followed the game more closely than usual this year and was so enthralled by the closeness of the contest.

However, without question, the greatest, most protracted, most extreme Super Bowl 'party' I have ever experienced happened here in Beijing two years ago. There were a number of reasons why it turned out this way. I was an emotional wreck after the recent failure of a huge love affair. My oldest drinking buddy in this town, the notorious BIG Frank, was just about to leave for South Korea. It was the middle of the Chinese New Year holiday, so none of us had any work to worry about for the whole of the following week. It was a particularly drab, dark, cold day (it snowed pretty heavily from the early hours of the morning through till late afternoon), so there was no incentive to go outside and do anything else with the day. And the bar where we had intended to watch the game had lost its overseas satellite feed and was having to show the crappy terrestrial coverage (with Chinese commentary), so Frank and I made a last-minute decision to watch the game on our own in his apartment nearby. Afterwards, we watched crappy movies on a cable channel, reminisced about the 'good old days' together, and generally talked amusing bollocks to each other for another 4 or 5 hours - while getting completely slammed.

We drank mostly rum'n'coke, Frank's favoured tipple. We'd each bought a bottle of Bacardi for the occasion at the Jenny Lou's supermarket over the road, and Frank had another nearly-full one in his apartment already. We finished all three. And several beers. And three or four big fat spliffs. The snow let up just before dusk, and - thinking that it would be difficult to get taxis in these adverse weather conditions - I decided to try to walk all the way home (probably a 2-hour hike, even with clear sidewalks; nearer to 3 hours with all the snow). After a slightly head-clearing 30 minutes of slithering through the slush, I happened to get a call from my friend GG, who was hanging out in The Bookworm - conveniently on my way - so I dropped in there for a few more. I suspect I probably treated myself to one or two fine malt Scotches - which was my habit at that time.

A great day - a somewhat maudlin day, but a day of valuable catharsis. That might not be quite the most wrecked that I have ever been in China, but it would certainly be up there amongst the top contenders. And no, I can't remember the result of the game, or even who was playing.

No comments: