From Scotland to Australia, game links global family of fans

Super Bowl pomp, action and cheerleaders attract nearly 1 billion viewers

January 27, 2001|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON - Down at the Sports Cafe off Trafalgar Square, they're getting ready for the Super Bowl, European style.

The NFL banners are hung, the team jerseys are out and the 120 television sets are adjusted. With pro football helmets lining the bar, and soccer uniforms, cricket outfits and rugby shirts hung on the walls, there's just one thing missing amid the world sporting curios:

No Ravens helmet.

The staff is not panicked by this glaring omission, as a sellout crowd of 600 British locals and American expatriates will pay $15 each to watch the Ravens-New York Giants' Super Bowl game Sunday night and Monday morning London time.

"No one will do the Super Bowl like we do the Super Bowl," says Carmel Hanafin, the bar's Irish-born general manager. "It will be so packed in here, you might not be able to get through the door."

The preposterously over-the-top sporting and cultural event might be a grand excuse for Americans to gather around a televised campfire and chase away the mid-winter blues, but around the world the Super Bowl has also grown into something of a big show.

It's not the Olympics, it's not soccer's World Cup and, to be truthful, the Super Bowl might not even have the pulling power of cricket's World Cup, which is hugely popular in parts of the old British Empire, such as the Asian subcontinent. For most of the world, football means soccer.

But, for a hardy band of American football fanatics, hangers-on and insomniacs willing to stay up through the night or skip a work day, the Super Bowl is an event to be celebrated, whatever the time zone. The international fans like the action, the pomp, the ceremony and the cheerleaders.

And the halftime show.

"I haven't got a clue what the blitz is. My tactical knowledge is rubbish. But I do understand the most important thing is to win," says Richard Bradford, the host of weekly football nights at the Sports Cafe.

Some people spin records for a living; Bradford seems to spin football, keeping the audience on its toes with scores, music and quizzes, as he tries to persuade British fans that football players are good athletes, though they're considered too fat to be good at soccer.

While he's not sure what to make of the Ravens, Bradford is sure the crowd that shows up in the bar Super Bowl night will be filled with fans rooting for Baltimore. "There's an anti-New York thing," he says.

This is stuff the NFL has got to love. For the league, the championship game provides a great opportunity to market the sport worldwide, encouraging both watching and playing.

Make no mistake: The NFL is willing to oblige its overseas fans, with the game broadcast to an estimated audience of 800 million in 201 countries in 26 languages, according to the league.

Whether 800 million actually see the game is open to debate.

"Americans tend to think their premier sporting event is the most-watched thing around the world," says Christopher Martin, a mass communications professor at the University of Northern Iowa. Martin and Jimmie Reeves, of Texas Tech, have argued in an academic paper that the Super Bowl might not be the world's most important sporting event, after all.

Thanks to different time zones, Martin says, "In a lot of the world, it's not Super Sunday, it's workaday Monday."

Of China's 1.3 billion people, nearly a fifth of the world's population, practically none will watch the game that will take place Monday morning. Few have heard of the Super Bowl, and most have only a vague sense of what football is.

"I don't understand it," says Hong Yan, the manager of a Delifrance bread and sandwich shop in Beijing. "It's quick, and then it's slow. Isn't it dangerous?"

Neither is there a lot of football fever in Russia, which has one football team named the Moscow Bears. They won the U.S.S.R. championship in 1991, but that was the only time the old Soviet Union had a champion, because the country disintegrated later that year.

Ilya Trisvyatski, deputy editor of Sovietsky Sport, said football will never be popular in Russia, because it's too "heavy" and because it has too many statistics and too many "calculations."`That doesn't suit us," he says. "We want something simpler."

Plenty of Super Bowl hot spots can be found around the world, such as Mexico, where the game is reputedly the most-watched event after the World Cup and where the sport is played by 10,000 teams of all ages.

Japan's NTV is making a big deal of the game, sending a crew of 30 to Florida.

Despite its being high summer in Australia, the Super Bowl packs a punch in pubs, according to Don Lane, an American entertainer who went to the country for six weeks in the 1960s and ended up staying. He's a Giants fan, recalling that he went to his first football game in 1939 at the Polo Grounds.

"Every pub in Sydney will be open at 10 a.m. and be jammed," says Lane, who will be broadcasting live from a sports bar in Darling Harbor.

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