Judged by the team and player merchandise sold, the Steelers are the most popular NFL team in the world--one writer insists they are the real "America's Team." But a poll claims that most people are rooting for the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl.
That pretty much says it all about two teams that are a lot like each other, and enter this game pretty evenly matched. Even the fans and their towns are similar. The Green Bay coach has a stronger Pittsburgh accent than the Steelers.' He's from a few streets away from where I last lived in the Burgh.
Pittsburgh is relatively small and Green Bay is even smaller, and they both lost a lot of people when industries faded (Pittsburgh more I'd guess.) For this and other reasons, their fans are spread out. There are a lot of Steeler fans who've never even been to Pittsburgh, but there are a lot of ex-Pittsburghers who stay in touch to some important degree through the Steelers. Like me, or this woman.
As for the game itself: when a reporter asked Big Ben how he won the championship game he replied, "luck." He's a smart guy. Luck is going to be important on Sunday. But though the Packers are still favored and have the offense to even run away with this one, I'm still giving the edge to the Steelers because of their Super Bowl experience. You saw it this past week already--while the Packers were publicly fighting among themselves, the Steelers were talking each other up, and otherwise pretty quiet. And with a little luck...
(The photos by the way tell a lot about that Super Bowl legacy--that's Franco and Rocky presenting the league trophy after the Jets game, and the scene after the last Super Bowl win.)
Both teams have particularly devoted fans, which led the New York Times to check with mental health professionals, and found that those in Wisconsin and PA are on high alert:
Therapists in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are prepared. Most have seen plenty of people who suffer from what could be called Football Attention Neurosis (F.A.N.), in their practices, in their living rooms, and sometimes in the mirror.
“The belief that these patients have is that the world will end if the Steelers — uh, I mean, their team loses,” said Mark Hogue, a psychologist at Northshore Psychological Associates in Erie, Pa., who owns a trunkload of Pittsburgh Steelers paraphernalia, including a Snuggie. “As a therapist, you need to take that fear seriously.”
(The rest of the piece is pretty funny.)
But there is a very ugly side to Super Bowl madness. Apart from bad behavior at the games (while on average it may not be worse than before, from what I've heard the worst of it is much worse) there's the dark side of the Super Bowl as an event. And I don't just mean the maddeningly frequent and long commercials (or the fact that they are why some people watch the game at all.) There is growing awareness that trafficking in human slaves, often children, especially for sex is a growing problem, and as the San Antonio Express News put it:"As thousands of fans flock to Texas for America's biggest sporting event, human traffickers are preparing to bring in hundreds of women and children to serve as sex slaves for what is also America's biggest sex trafficking weekend." Another report says that this involves children as young as 11, and that these children have a life expectancy of seven years after they are first trafficked.
The federal government is taking this seriously, as are officials in Texas and in Dallas itself. But some charge that the NFL itself is resisting. Personally I was unaware of this, and I expect a lot of football fans are as well. The NFL and its teams need to talk about this, because theirs are likely to be the most powerful voices to shame it out of existence.