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Whose Super Bowl Is It, Anyway?

The all-American circus is coming to town. Should we rejoice—or run?

At Super Bowl XIX in 1985, the 49ers defeated the Miami Dolphins beneath the glare given off by a comically large Lombardi trophy.


The last time the Bay Area hosted a Super Bowl was in 1985, at the dingy old Stanford Stadium, where the wooden bleacher seats were outfitted with souvenir cushions so that fans wouldn’t get splinters in their bottoms. An upstart computer company called Apple handed out over 80,000 butt pads, but the ploy didn’t help business much: Its stock would drop to $2 a share later that year.

Now the Super Bowl is back, and it’s ballooned almost as much as that little computer company. A game ticket, which would have set you back $60 in ’85, now regularly sells for $4,000. Last year’s game was the most watched program in United States history, with 114 million viewers. So much corporate money is spent on TV ads that a disturbed subset of the population has become obsessed with deconstructing them in real time on social media. And the interminable two-week wait between the last playoff game and the Super Bowl gives 5,500 media professionals time to set up a highly polished hall of mirrors, in which even the most idiotic event (Marshawn Lynch’s press conference, say) is reflected back and forth until it becomes a repository of infinite truth.

At first blush, the Super Bowl and San Francisco make strange bedfellows. America’s ultimate corporate blowout, the slick capitalist spectacle to end all spectacles, doesn’t exactly fit with a city that still takes pride in marching to Captain Beefheart. And it isn’t just aging hippies who may be less than enthralled about playing host to an event so full of itself that it employs a numbering system last used by Julius Caesar (though not this year—the ever design-conscious NFL has jettisoned the confusing “L” in favor of Arabic numerals). San Franciscans in general like to think of themselves as too sophisticated (some would say insufferably smug) to be impressed by an invasion of out-of-towners in bad suits. 

Back in 1985, Apple donated butt pads at Stanford Stadium. This year its outlay tops $2 million.

But the Super Bowl is also an enormous two-week party—and if there’s one thing that San Franciscans like, it’s a party. Furthermore, we know that it really isn’t a bunch of hicks from the sticks who are blowing into town—it’s the whole world. And no true San Franciscan wants to be a bad host. 

So, once we have finished our little dialectical no-yes dance, we’ll probably emerge pretty open-minded about having Super Bowl 50 in town. Too bad the 49ers and the Raiders won’t be in it, but we can always hope for a good game and maybe a few fun encounters in the local bars. And if we decide that we want to wash our hands of the whole thing, we can tell ourselves that it isn’t our Super Bowl anyway—it’s Santa Clara’s (even though CBS is likely to open every segment of its game-day coverage with a shot of that well-known South Bay landmark, Fisherman’s Wharf). So here’s to the Super Bowl, whose ever it is!


Originally published in the February issue of San Francisco

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