Super Bowl 2015: America is more suited to a game which is more about strength than subtlety

The country's deeply-held patriotism hits its apotheosis at the Super Bowl

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The clue is in the name. If anything truly epitomises the character and mores of modern America, it is American football. In the sport's DNA, you'll discover most that's good and bad about American society: on the one hand, its patriotic ardour and its work ethic, and on the other its culture of excess and a risible insularity.

We have just had the Super Bowl, a game that Americans call the World Championship (even though it is played professionally in only two countries, the other being Canada) and a contest which began in 1967 but which is counted down, for heaven's sake, in Roman numerals (Sunday's  match, won by the New England Patriots was Super Bowl XLIX). It is the most overblown, hypetastic sports event in the world, but it's also wonderfully captivating in what it reveals about the American psyche.

There are some who still regard baseball as America's game, but its homely charm belongs to another era, a time in which its public had more of an attention span. (There's a great scene in an episode of The Simpsons when Homer has given up drinking, and goes to a baseball game. Without a beer in his hand, he can't understand what he ever found interesting in the sport.) Today's America is more suited to a game which is more about strength than subtlety.

Basically invented for television, American football may have a frustratingly stop-start nature to accommodate advertisements, but the action is compelling, its characters are like Hollywood superheroes and its language has a militaristic flavour that strikes a chord with ordinary Americans in a post-9/11 world. The talk is of “blitzes” and “bombs”, and a team's movement up the field is analysed like an army advancing (the Seattle Seahawks, runners-up on Sunday, have a defensive unit known as the “Legion of Boom”).

 

It is easy to find this grotesque and repulsive, symbolic of a trigger-happy nation bent on using its might for global domination. For all that, this is a sport like no other, and there are moments of grace and excellence that very few ball games can equal.

I am lucky enough to have been to several Super Bowls back in the 20th Century, and I've seen some incredible feats of sporting endeavour. It's only when you see the game live that the raw power and the skill are visible to the naked eye.

When you see a quarterback, with several tons of human muscle charging towards him, spiral a ball 60 yards to be caught, without breaking his stride, by a man running with the speed an intensity of an Olympic sprinter, you find yourself reaching for that clichéed adjective, and meaning it: awesome.

Of course, America's overweening belief in its own power, and its conviction that its way is the only way, are why the country engenders so much antipathy from the rest of the world. But the other side of that particular coin is a deeply-held patriotism that hits its apotheosis at the Super Bowl.

The singing of America The Beautiful, the fly past, the national anthem: I found the occasion rather overwhelming. It's so much more than a game, and to understand modern America, you really have to understand American football.

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