Sunday, 27 March 2011

Wisconsin - Packers and Steelers at the Super Bowl

One of the first subjects that has come on to my radar, in relation to Wisconsin, is the Green Bay Packers.  At first I thought they were some kind of food company (I'm still looking for a good Wisconsite recipe!), until an American friend told me that they are, in fact, a very famous football team and have just won the Super Bowl (Homer-Simpson-style, doh!).  My knowledge of football (or American football, as we call it in Europe) is pretty sketchy.  Despite having watched a million American movies or TV programmes, with references to quarter-backs and touch-downs, images of heavily-clad players wearing helmets with visors, I'm none the wiser.  I need to start with the basics of American football and try to figure it out as I go along!

American football seems to have grown out a college football game (which is probably why we see it so often in relation to high schools) - it's a mixture of rugby and soccer, with lots of new rules thrown in.  The team which is playing in offense needs to advance the ball into the opposing team (or defense)'s end zone, where they can score points, depending on how they've managed to get the ball there.  The best way seems to be by running really fast and crossing the line before anyone from the defense can catch you (a touchdown).

Football sticker from WHS archives
 In many ways, the Green Bay Packers is a good place to start.  They're the oldest professional football team in the National Football League (NFL), as they were set up in 1919.  They're pretty unique in terms of the NFL, in that they are the only major football team that isn't owned by an individual or corporation, but belongs to the people of Green Bay and Milwaukee, where the team originated.  The fans regularly sport fake cheeses on their heads, in keeping with their nickname, cheeseheads. It's also the only major team to be based in a small city - all other NFL teams are from one of the major US cities, eg the Dallas Cowboys or the New York Giants.  It's not the first time they've won the Super Bowl, in fact, they have won it more often (13 times) than any other team in the league, but it's still something of a victory for the underdog, when the only grass-roots team can bring home the Vince Lombardi Trophy, in defiance of the other, more commercialised, football giants.

There are 32 teams which currently compete in the National Football League.  In a combination of matches with rivals in their (more or less) geographical groupings, they finish the football season in early February with a final match called the Super Bowl, probably the largest televised sports event in the entire world!  The Green Bay Packers are grouped with the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings and this year, at the Super Bowl, they faced off the Pittsburg Steelers 31/25 to claim the 2011 trophy.  Each Super Bowl is given a Latin number, rather than a year (which I guess adds a sense of drama) and this year was the Super Bowl XLV. 

It seems to be a massive event for most Americans and this year attracted a TV audience of more than 100 million and a physical audience of more than 100,000 spectators.  The game itself doesn't seem to last very long (not compared to cricket anyway!) and the mid-game entertainment at the Super Bowl has become a phenomenon in its own right - whether it's Gloria Estefan with Olympic Figure skaters or Justin Timberlake with Janet Jackson's 'wardrobe malfunction', the entertainment never fails to surprise, shock or, well, entertain!  This year it was the turn of the Black Eyed Peas to entertain the masses at the interval and the national anthem was sung by Christina Aguilera! 

Packer fans by drsethery
 With such a large television audience, it's also hardly surprising that the ads featured during the Super Bowl have also attracted a lot of attention.  Ridley Scott directed the famous Apple Mac ads in the early 80's.  This year, the car manufacturer, Chrysler, took centre-stage, with backdrops of Detroit and visuals of Eminem driving around the city!  It's such a big event that the major television networks (CBS, Fox and NBC) are given the broadcasting rights in rotation (this year was the turn of Fox).  Unlike the English FA cup, which is traditionally played at London's Wembley Stadium, the location of the Super Bowl changes from one year to the next.  Super Bowl XLV took place at the Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.  Next year it will be the turn of the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis to host the event.

All of this is completely new to me and, when the Super Bowl XLV took place last month on the 6th of February, I was blissfully unaware that it was even happening!  I promise to pay more attention next year, now I know the background of this league final.  It's also surprised me to learn how popular (American) football is in other countries.  There are 14 teams playing in the Irish American Football League, including the Belfast Trojans and the Dublin Dragons.  The British American Football Association (BAFA) has no less than 70 teams grouped into three divisions.  It's definitely a sport which is catching on here in Britain and Ireland, as well as many other countries in Europe, Asia and beyond!

Image credits:

The image of the Green Bay Packers sticker has been provided copyright-free by the Wisconsin Historical Society in their Visual Materials Archive, which is also available on their flickr photostream.  It's a fascinating archive and I think it's great when historical societies preserve images in this way and make them available online to educate future generations! 

The image of the football fans celebrating the Packers win at Super Bowl XLV was provided by flickr user drsethery aka Seth Carlson, a freelance multimedia designer who is originally from Park Falls in Wisconsin.  You can see more of drsethery's photos on his photostream

The sheer joy on the faces of the fans is surely worth all the hard work that a team like the Packers puts into the game?  Thanks Seth for sharing this image with us, using the Creative Commons license.
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