Watching the Super Bowl from Sevilla

Tuesday, February 13, 2018 - 5:03pm

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Hannah Myers

The hundred of us spent just a few hours together, at an Irish pub in Spain, standing, jeering and celebrating the most American of traditions.

Sly Fernandez de Castro came to the bar by himself — standing out among groups of American college students who had come to the Phoenix Pub for a taste of home and discounted “cerveza” in the Los Remedios area of Sevilla. He was an American soldier from downtown Philadelphia, based in the Morón Air Base in Sevilla, Spain.

De Castro was an Eagles fan, looking for a place with big screen TVs, good beer and a vibrant atmosphere.

He had considered flying to Minnesota for the game, even asking his commander for permission.

“You really want to do this?” the commander said to him.  

De Castro wasn’t sure and opted to stay in Sevilla, afraid of having his heart broken by his team yet again.

Then there was Aaron.

He was a shy kid. He clearly came to the bar for the “sport” aspect and little else. He didn’t drink like others in the bar, socialized sparingly, but was an enthusiastic Patriots fan. But he could talk smack. Throughout the game, he and the Eagles fan would poke fun at each other’s team after each dropped pass and holding penalty.

De Castro remained confident the Birds would win even as the Patriots began to inch closer. The Patriots fan wasn’t nervous until Rob Gronkowski failed to rein in Tom Brady’s final pass.

In the early hours of Feb. 5, the soldier and Aaron, like myself and so many others, found themselves at Phoenix Pub with countless other foreigners and some oddly-interested Spaniards in the supposed “American game.”

Maybe it was a longing for the United States, some nostalgia for our culture while living in a foreign country, or simply a desire to continue a long-standing tradition. Nonetheless, we all stayed up until 4 a.m. to watch football, Justin Timberlake and spend time with our newfound friends.

*****

I’ve watched the Super Bowl since I was five. I love that every year for one game, for nearly four hours, families and friends pay attention to their TVs and computers. Some watch the Super Bowl for the out-of-this-world plays. Others watch it to spend time with their friends or to see the latest iteration of the Doritos commercial, or, perhaps cringe at the next controversial GoDaddy ad.

Every year until I graduated high school, I spent Super Bowl Sunday, the entire day of the Super Bowl, with my closest friends. We would watch the game together, adding in our own inside jokes about the players and commercials. Then at halftime, the group of us, along with my younger cousins, would play a game of touch football in my backyard — imagining ourselves as the next Tom Brady or, in the case of my Giants fan friend Andrew, Eli Manning.

In an era when football receives — perhaps valid — criticism for its unjust treatment of protesting players, over-militarization of games, a concern over injuries or in the case of one Daily writer, boredom, the Super Bowl serves as an antidote to these narratives.

Though some might argue that events like the Oscars captivate the movie-buff and casual film-watcher alike, the Super Bowl too attracts sports enthusiasts toward its gameplay and pop-culture fans toward its halftime performances and unique commercials. Just ask members of the Beyhive what they think of Super Bowl 50 and Beyoncé’s performance of “Formation.”

Still, there is a tendency to consider the Super Bowl as an activity to “unify” a politically and culturally divided nation. Not only is this assertion cliché, it isn’t necessarily correct.

I enjoy the Super Bowl because, rather than unify people from across the world, it captivates its audience. This year, whether someone tuned in to watch Nick Foles and the Eagles miraculously outplay Tom Brady, or to see Justin Timberlake’s extremely mediocre halftime performance, the viewer was intrigued by what would come next.  

That is why I love the Super Bowl. There is no excuse to not participate in the festivities, because it has something for everyone.

When in Spain, this realization is much to the glee of Spanish pickpockets, who feast on the absent-mindedness of Americans paying closer attention to the actions on screen than the backs of their jeans.

*****

I had been nervous about being abroad for the first time during the Super Bowl. It is such a uniquely “American” event that, for me, represents home, friends and laughter and for the first time, I didn’t have a set plan in place.

While home for the month of January, I had enjoyed the Wild Card, Divisional and Championship games with my dad, but I, unfortunately, wouldn’t be home for the Super Bowl.

As Super Bowl Sunday approached, and I had settled into my home in Sevilla, my friends on my program suggested we go to the Phoenix.

It was an Irish pub that would show the Super Bowl, they said.

Even before stepping in, I knew it would be a bit different than playing touch football in the backyard with my close friends in middle school.

I arrived at the bar around 11 p.m. Sunday — kickoff began at 12:30 a.m. Monday morning — to ensure a table near the television. I joined many members of my program and more began to file in. The University of Massachusetts-Amherst group and other New Englanders sat in the back corner in their Patriots shirts, from the typical (Rob Gronkowski) to the atypical — I saw an authentic Chris Hogan jersey.

Nearly everyone else supported the Eagles in the bar, with the exception of a few Spanish speakers sporting Tom Brady shirts.

As the seemingly endless pre-game analysis drew to a close, and the Star-Spangled Banner began, I finally could sense the “home” feeling I thought would be lacking when watching the Super Bowl abroad.

Despite watching it 5,855 miles from my home in Los Angeles, I knew I would enjoy this experience among new friends and fellow students. Once Cris Collinsworth and Al Michaels appeared on screen, it became real. It wouldn’t be my typical Super Bowl viewing party in the United States and it wouldn’t be with my close childhood friends, but it would be an incredible experience.

There was a bit of an unexpected downside, however. We didn’t see any Doritos commercials, Dodge Commercials or any commercials.

Because it was a broadcast for global audiences, during commercial breaks we instead listened to British commentators, Canadian football coaches and Redskins cornerback Josh Norman analyze the game’s plays. For some people, this proved to be a turnoff. For me, it was part of the unique experience.

And I could still follow along with the ads across the Atlantic thanks to Twitter.

*****

The game continued. The Patriots came back and kept everyone engaged until Brady’s last-second heave to the end zone.

By the end of another close Super Bowl, after Brady’s pass was deemed incomplete, de Castro was elated. After an extended “surrender cobra,” Aaron then knew his next move. He walked toward de Castro — whom he had just met — and embraced him. They gave each other a customary fist bump and the Patriots fan offered congratulations to the grimacing de Castro.

Before that final moment, the bartenders walked over to the groggy-eyed Americans and told us that as soon as the game ended, we needed to leave the bar and venture outside to the surprisingly frigid southern Spanish morning.

As I headed to bed at 4:30 a.m., just a few hours before my first class, I was thankful — thankful for an incredible experience to watch a truly “American” event in a foreign country.

The projector screens in the Phoenix captivated each American, who — whether there for socializing, watching the game or enjoying the halftime show — enjoyed a taste of their childhood homes.