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The Super Bowl: So Much More Than A Football Game

Just like the country in which it takes place, the Super Bowl, America’s largest cultural sporting event, has evolved quite a bit since the first game was played in 1967. Back then, the AFL and NFL didn’t even play with the same sized football, according to the New York Times, and instead of trying to decide between the two, each team used its preferred ball when they were on offense.

The event over 100-million Americans tune in for each year has had its share of landmarks and evolutions since 1967. As a result, it has also influenced how we watch the game, how we watch television, and even how we live. Here are a few notable changes that have made the Super Bowl what it is today… beyond the football stats:

Halftime Shows

For the first 30 years of the Super Bowl, halftime wasn’t nearly the spectacle we’ve come to expect each year. With a mix of marching bands, Elvis impersonators, dance groups, and celebrity appearances, many viewers either tuned out or went to fetch a snack at halftime. To take advantage of these fairly unpopular halftime shows, other networks began offering counterprogramming to try to draw audiences away. 

In 1992, Fox aired a live broadcast of its popular sketch comedy, In Living Color, prompting about 22 million viewers to change the channel. The success of this broadcast was motivation enough for the Super Bowl to invest more in their halftime shows. The next year, Michael Jackson performed what is considered to be one of the greatest performances of all time.

Watch here: 

More Counterprogramming

Puppies Playing at Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl XVII © Discovery 2021. Photo by Elias Weiss Friedman

If football isn’t your favorite, there have always been other things you could do or watch on Super Bowl Sunday. But if you wanted to keep in touch with the rest of the American culture without watching football, in 2005, Animal Planet introduced the Puppy Bowl, a program that mimics the play of a football game using dogs from rescue shelters. Announcers call the “plays” based on how the puppies are interacting. The show’s intent is to raise awareness about pet adoption. The success of the Puppy Bowl spawned other types of counterprogramming, including the Kitten Bowl, Fish Bowl, Toddler Bowl, and the Kosher Halftime Show.

Changing the Shape of Television and Commercials

Speaking of interruptions to the game, Apple’s advertisement of the Macintosh computer in 1984 changed how we watch the Super Bowl forever, turning what had been a football game interrupted by commercial breaks into, for many viewers, commercial watching interrupted by football. 

Here is the iconic ad from Apple:

Later, when “The Wardrobe Malfunction” happened during the halftime show in 2004, it resulted in two significant changes at the FCC. All live television events now air with a 5-second delay, and in 2005, the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act was passed, which fines and penalizes networks if they broadcast “obscene, indecent, or profane language.”

Super Bowl Sustainability

Volunteers unloading boxes of fresh strawberries. Image: Joel Muniz

With thousands of people in attendance and hundreds more working the event, the Super Bowl has the potential to generate a lot of waste and use a lot of energy. But when it comes to sustainability, the NFL has made a commitment since 1993 to leave their host city better than when they arrived. The program, NFL Green, has made the Super Bowl the greenest professional sports event in America. The program has several prominent initiatives:

  • Food Recovery: prepared, unserved food and packaged snacks and beverages are donated to local food banks. According to the NFL Green site, the Super Bowl can generate as much as 140,000 pounds of donatable food and beverages.
  • Community Greening: In every Super Bowl host city, NFL Green works with local community organizations and parks and recreation departments to plant trees, invest in green spaces for children to play, create community gardens in food deserts, restore habitats, and engage in reforestation efforts.
  • Material Recovery: Each Super Bowl generates tons and tons of material, such as fabric, carpet, building materials, and other donatable items. NFL Green partners with area organizations to recover this material after an event and donate it to nonprofit groups like Habitat for Humanity, Salvation Army, schools, and local artist groups, diverting thousands of pounds of material from landfills.
  • Super Kids-Super Sharing: This project works to provide books, sports equipment, and school supplies into the hands of children in need at hundreds of local schools in the Super Bowl host city.
  • Recycling and Solid Waste Management: NFL Green partners with host city stadium facilities to find ways to maximize recycling and landfill diversion efforts, with sponsor partnerships to support Zero Waste.
  • Super Bowl E-Waste Event: Verizon runs a one-day program at a local zoo shortly before the Super Bowl in its host city to collect electronic waste, which helps preserve animal habitats where many of the minerals used in electronics are found and mined.
  • Green Energy: Each year, the NFL estimates how much energy it will take to run the Super Bowl in the host city, and then purchases renewable energy certificates (RECs) equivalent to that energy usage total. REC funding increases the country’s “green” electricity capacity.

How the Super Bowl Can Speed Up the Slow March of Justice

With millions of Americans tuning in to watch this one evening of entertainment, organizations across the spectrum have realized what an opportunity it is to educate and inform Americans about causes that we might otherwise overlook. Throughout the last several years, cause advertisers and promoters have called attention to issues such as human trafficking, cancer research, blood donation, disabilities, vaccine awareness, HIV/AIDS, domestic violence, access to clean water, homelessness, poverty, social injustice, disaster relief, diversity and inclusion in the workplace, gender equality in sports and STEM fields, climate change, and more.
While the list of ways the world can go wrong is long, Christians are called to keep seeking justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” writes Paul in Galatians 6:9 (NIV). In this way, advertisers of causes have made it possible for us to continue being aware of the places we can partner to continue the effort to bring the promised kingdom of heaven to earth.

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