The Big Game

More than 179 million people will watch the Super Bowl this year. If you’re reading this, I expect you’ll be in that group along with me.

More than “funny” commercials and halftime music and lead-out shows, the Super Bowl has taught me about ancient counting systems. Football fans learn how to use Roman numerals because of The Big Game. The number grows by one as the years pass. It’s 47 this year, and AP style says to do that rather than type out the XLVII that looks so darn nice when it’s in gigantic letters outside the stadium.

linesThere was something cool about knowing about Roman numerals before the rest of your classmates in elementary school. You talk about the Roman empire in social studies, or watch the closing credits of a television show and figure out the date for fun. It’s nerdy, sure, but it’s about football. It can’t be all that bad.

Over the years, XX had grown to XXX and now we see the shirt size-like XL denote the game’s first digit. As the numbers grew and various champions are crowned, we get further away from the Super Bowl being an event of local importance.

Here’s the thing about the Super Bowl: it’s never really meant anything to me as a Bills fan. My memories of the Bills of the early 90s are fuzzy at best, not much more than one of the Cowboys nightmares where they were leading at the half. I remember a quiet car ride home afterwards, but the context of a sad Bills clearance sale at Hills just wasn’t there for me.

In my more formative years, the Super Bowl has been about watching other teams play in the big game. You get together with family and friends and do squares pools while you eat a lot of food and watch football. It’s not all that different from Thanksgiving, really, other than the fact that the Bills have a better shot of playing on a Thursday than they do playing in February.

Over the years I’ve grown to notice that there are two distinct seasons in football. The first one is the 20 games the Bills actually get to take part in. Then there are the playoffs, where you get to watch good football teams play important games. There is no crossover, and yes, it’s incredibly depressing.

5089756775_c1cd79d9e5_bThe Bills might have seven or so years left in Buffalo. It’s something I don’t like to think about, but I honestly can’t see the Bills even making the Super Bowl in that time. Every year the team provides at least a glimmer of hope that they could be decent, or even just fun to watch. Despite remarkable fan support, getting to the Super Bowl is never a realistic expectation.

If you want to use Facebook data to extrapolate the point, 73 percent of Facebook users who “like” a football team and live within 50 miles of Ralph Wilson Stadium are Bills fans. That’s the seventh best percentage in the league despite having the third worst total likes among all teams. Bills fans are loyal, even if the team is already working on a second decade of absolute misery.

None of this will matter when the game actually starts. I won’t think about the Bills, and I definitely won’t think about Steve freaking Johnson’s offseason workout schedule. The Super Bowl is about the game itself, and I’m looking forward to it. Watching football is fun, even when you’re team isn’t playing. It’s the time before the game, and the months without football to follow, that make me think about the Bills.

Pray for overtime.