I wrote this about the 2008 Superbowl but I can’t for the life of me remember where it appeared.
Rome, February 3rd, 2008. It was a night when titans were set to clash, when history would be made, one way or another. It was the night of Superbowl XLII, which by any definition would end up being one of the greatest superbowls ever, though not for reasons that anyone outside of a couple of Giants could have predicted. The skies above Rome were suitably attired in dry fine lightning. But down in Trastevere in the expat bar where I was watching the game no one seemed to care. First off the bar was sparsely filled with natives and almost empty of ex-pats. I knew 3am was late but it was the SuperBowl for Christ’s sake and I’d been hoping against hope at least for a good solid showing from the expatriot crowd. After all we were near a number of study-abroad programs that catered almost exclusively to US youth but this year they must have pulled an X-Games type batch or someone. No one had shown up. It was me, one table of four in the back who would leave at the half and a pair of girls, one for the Giants, one for the Patriots seated two feet to my left. Throughout the game they talked primarily about how much weight they’d put on since they’d arrived in Italy. I could sympathize; I’d only been in Rome five months and I’d already packed on a walloping thirty pounds.
I should have been prepared for this Roman Superbowl, shouldn’t have been so disappointed. Last October when the Red Sox won their second World Series I had a similar experience of sports irrelevancy. The Sox had won their second world championship, broken the curse of the Bambino for a second time and no one in Rome gave a squat. Being in Rome that week while all the rest of my friends in Boston were celebrating was like living in alternate universe where baseball had never been invented. What’s the use, I ask you, of following a sport if you don’t have anybody to talk to about your obsession? That’s the part of sports I’ve always enjoyed the most, the community element. Blame the immigrant in me who having lost one community totally always seeks other. After that World Series I was so desperate to talk to anybody about baseball I stopped random people on the streets who were wearing any kind of baseball paraphernalia but no one had any idea what I was blathering about, who the hell Big Papi was. They would just shrug when I would grab at their t-shirst or when I would point at their fitted caps. Gifts, things they picked up abroad, not signs of any kind of devotion or affiliation.
If it’s possible Italians seemed even less interested in football than in baseball. During the game none of the natives looked up at the big screen, not even out of curiosity. I asked this one waiter if he understand the game and he put down my beer with a slam. Brutos, he waved dismissively.
Kind of ironic this indifference since Italians have reputations on the Continent as sports fanatics numero uno. In a world rife with sports fanaticism that’s a pretty difficult distinction to attain. It appears that despite all the claims of globalization, all the dreams and fears that we might all melt down into an unspecified pseudo-American gloop sports love travels poorly. It’s something that the US sports franchises with their global ambitions are discovering the hard way. If a country isn’t colonized to a sport it’s hard to get them to pay any attention to it. And football is viewed as so prototypically AMERICAN it’s like the sports equivalent of the coquí: doesn’t seem like it could exist anywhere but in its natural habitats (though in Mexico they’re giving the transplant a good college try.) The sign of US football’s failure to penetrate the Italian mind? About two minutes into the second quarter a lone woman asked a server to lower the volume on the game and the server did it! Turned the roar of the stadium crowd into a nothing of a murmur! I looked at the five others foreigners but they seemed more interested in lying low than in staging a protest.
The only time I saw the Italians excited was at half time. Alicia Keys came on and the Italians are knew the damn words! In Italy Alicia Keys has more pull than the entire NFL. You heard it here first. Tom Petty: not so much. As soon as he started his acted the Romans went back to studiously ignoring our great American sporting event.
It was as you all know one of the finest games ever. By the time it was over there were only three of us American types at the bar. No one was on the streets. It wasn’t like back in New York where the whole city exploded and my one friend nearly got her car tipped over. Walking home alone as I did through the winding streets of Trastevere you would have thought that the greatest and most dramatic upset in football history hadn’t happened. Because to the majority of the world it hadn’t.