The Super Bowl.
It has a ring to it, doesn't it? The name, coined by then Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt and originally intended as a joke, now carries such cultural significance and cache that it's hard to imagine a time when the game didn't exist.
But just 45 short years ago, it didn't. Now, of course, references to the Super Bowl are ubiquitous, and more people across the country probably know about when it is and who's playing in it than know who the Vice President is (it's Joe Biden, for those of you wondering).
But why? Why has this pro football championship game become the 800-pound gorilla that it is?
Here are a few guesses.
Yeah, this reason is way at the bottom of the list.
The fact is, fans of each team who have a vested rooting interest in the outcome of the Super Bowl make up a minuscule amount of the audience. This isn't even close to being one of the most important reasons why the Super Bowl is so huge.
The very fact that the game is always played at a neutral site minimizes the importance of the actual teams involved. The event that the Super Bowl has become transcends the players, the teams, or the fans. It's far bigger than any of those individual components.
But it's still nice to have them.
Super Bowl Sunday has become a de facto holiday in America, and we like it that way.
Sure, it's a Sunday, but whatever day of the week it is, we look forward to holidays weeks in advance. Holidays give us time off from the stresses of work. They give us time with family and friends. They let us sit back and relax for once.
And being slotted into the year when it is, Super Bowl Sunday capitalizes on that desire for another holiday, because there are no other major holidays around it. We're far enough removed from Christmas and New Year's that they're starting to feel like a distant memory, and there's really nothing else people get very excited for coming up again until Memorial Day.
Super Bowl Sunday provides a crucial stopgap holiday for a country in the midst of a cold, snowy winter that gives people something to look forward to.
Football captures the national imagination nowadays like no other sport before.
Baseball can hold onto its claim of being the "national pastime", and basketball is popular enough. Hockey has Canada, but football is almost a religion in America.
It's not just the NFL. College football, even high school football, is even bigger in certain parts of the country than the NFL is. It's a virtual rite of passage for boys from every corner of the land.
It also helps that no other country really can claim football. It's distinctly American. It values the blue collar ideals of hard work, toughness and brotherhood. Sure, every other country in the world can follow what they call football, but we know the truth. That's not football. That's soccer. This, and only this, is football.
The Super Bowl provides us with our biggest and best gambling fix of the year. If you're not in some sort of pool for this game, what's wrong with you?
You can bet on everything from who wins the coin toss, to who scores first, to what celebrity will be shown on TV during the third quarter. Never mind the standard things like, oh, who's going to win the game.
It gives us a major natural high, and the more creative you can be with it, the better. After all, anybody can pick who's going to win. That's just a 50/50 chance. There's no real fun in that. No, you need to get far more detailed if you're going to be able to brag about it to your buddies at work tomorrow.
Besides, we don't actually care who's going to win, do we?
The NFL has positioned its schedule as well as it could to capitalize on people's ability to pay attention.
Almost every game is played on Sunday afternoons, when the overwhelming majority of people are off and have nothing much better to do than sit at home and watch sports on TV. Most games are also still on major over-the-air TV networks, instead of pay cable, ensuring that everyone has access to the NFL's product.
In addition, spacing the games out once a week isn't just so players can have time to rest in between games. It's so we, the viewing public, can have the time to not miss a beat in our fandom. We care so much about football because it's easy to follow. The league makes sure of that.
With a two week buildup, the NFL ensures that even your sports-hating ex-girlfriend's sister can't help but be aware of what's going on. And with the championship consisting of just a single contest, rather than a drawn out best-of-seven series, the league gives fans a guarantee that if they just watch this one game, they'll see everything they need to. It's a self-contained whole, packaged and ready to serve.
You couldn't draw it up any better.
Now we're getting to the good stuff. Admit it, you, like many other people, watch the Super Bowl mostly for the ads.
With 30 seconds of airtime during the Super Bowl running sponsors upwards of $3 million, we're sure to see the most creative and entertaining advertisements that corporate America could concoct. With DVRs rendering traditional television advertising more and more obsolete, Super Bowl ads turn back the clock to a time when you had to watch commercials.
Sports in general defy the growing trend for people to record TV shows and watch them later. To truly enjoy a sporting event, you have to not know the outcome. Watching it later saps it of its immediacy. So most people still watch sports live. And advertisers know it.
By the way, have you placed your bets on which companies will run ads yet? No? Better get to it, then.
The Super Bowl gives us one of our best ready-made excuses to do the things we really love: drink beer, watch TV and pig out on food.
Super Bowl Sunday has become the second largest single day of food consumption in America all year, trailing only Thanksgiving Day in that regard. We cook bratwursts, we bake chili, we order pizza. We kick back and down a few cold ones (after all, we get enough advertising during the game telling us to).
This fact is probably the No. 1 reason why more and more women follow the Super Bowl than most other sporting events. Because they know that it's not even about the football, it's about the party. And who doesn't want to have a party?
The Super Bowl allows us regular folk to create mythical, legendary stories that we will tell our children and our grandchildren about someday.
The brashness of Joe Namath. The leadership of Joe Montana. The courage of John Elway. The unlikely heroism of guys like David Tyree. NFL players are our modern day gladiators and their tales become our modern mythology.
They become the people we trust to sell us things on the ads we watch, but more than that, they become something we can believe in. That's why it hurts so much when our favorite players let us down. Because we want to believe.
And when they don't let us down, when they rise up and overcome their obstacles and persevere, we feel like we're doing those things with them.
One of the most basic human needs is to connect with other people. To find some common ground and feel like you're a part of a whole.
Being a fan gives us that year round, and being a part of the Super Bowl is the largest, truest expression of that feeling. As much as anything, we watch it and we follow it and we talk about it, because we know that everyone else is doing the same thing.
It's not just that we don't want to feel left out; it's that it's truly comforting to feel included. To be one with your common man. It's what makes us a society instead of just a random collection of disparate people. With so many things that pull us apart, we need things like this that bring us together.
Sure, it's just a game, but it's so much more than that. It's a common bond that allows us to know we're not alone.
Let's face it, life can be hard.
Especially in these times, there are so many things that bombard us every day letting us know that painful fact. We have to deal with jobs that can go away, family members who can get sick, husbands and wives who can leave us. We're faced with war, with poverty, with crime.
Sports in general, and the Super Bowl in particular, allow us to escape that harsh reality, if only for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon. We wash our troubles away with camaraderie and good food, and we revel in the fun and excitement of a game.
We need sports and events like the Super Bowl to comfort us and to teach us that adversity can be overcome, that hard work pays off, and that next year we might be on top.