How we fill the voids in our lives tells volumes about who we are. There’s the void in our heart — the person filling that space is a living manifestation of our essence.
Then there are the voids of time and space, which the powerbrokers of San Francisco recently filled by hosting a week-long celebration of a sporting event that would take place 45 miles away in Santa Clara, contested by teams from nowhere-near-us, Colorado and North Carolina, in a devastatingly violent sport that has been medically linked to a wide variety of brain traumas, depression, and suicide. Yay, Super Bowl 50!
San Francisco was festooned with banners, 10 1,600-pound statues (of the number 50), a 200-foot-tall poster on the Embarcadero, impossible-to-miss television studios on Marina Green (ESPN) and on the Embarcadero across from the Ferry Building (CNN, NFL Network), the latter within a fenced compound christened Super Bowl City.
Meanwhile, over at the Moscone convention center, football players past and present blabbed with worldwide media, filling part of the void of entertainment. There was nearly infinite gabble-gabble about games of the past, and the single one coming up on Sunday. All that chatter was serving to “grow the sport” with the same marketing methods employed for any major-dollar entertainment product. Go get ’em, brain damage.
Let’s take a tour of Super Bowl City — but first, pass the black-clad SWAT officers wielding rifles, remove your belt and empty your coins and phone into a white plastic cup, pass through the metal detectors, and receive an “enjoy yourself” from the guy returning your belt.
Now you’re inside a fenced-in community, reminding this reporter of Baghdad’s Green Zone, or an upscale neighborhood in a third-world country. Almost 50 years after 1967’s Summer of Love, now we’re being fenced in, “protected” by armed guards, and (I have no doubt), scrutinized by teams of security experts in a windowless room nearby, examining live video from scads of cameras. Hooray, constant surveillance.
Finally, within Super Bowl City, we come face-to-face with die-hard football fans clad in teal (Carolina Panthers) and orange (Denver Broncos); these are the fans who empty their wallets to pay the salaries of the players, line the vaults of the team owners, and enrich the advertisers.
The Carolina and Denver fans express affection for the players on the teams they respectively support, assessing the chances of the team that was the betting favorite (Carolina) versus the underdog (Denver). They discuss in great detail and nuance past games and Super Bowls. They’re enjoying a sunny February afternoon, enjoying climbing on fiberglass sculptures of football players, and the notion, emphasized by the CNN and NFL Network stages, that they might be on TV.
At Super Bowl City, there’s an interactive game where you jump and wave in front of a tall monitor, thereby moving figures on a screen in an attempt to score a touchdown. And after a round is over, the long line of NFL fans is halted, as, now entering through the exit, in comes a quartet of people in designer clothes with special dangling badges: The One Percent shows itself.
With no hairs out of place, clothes pressed, the four One Percenters look like catalogue models. As the line of lumpy fans watches, without a peep of protest, the One Percenters jump and wave their virtual football players to touchdowns.
And over at City Hall, Mayor Ed Lee hosted the 32 NFL franchise owners for a private dinner. (There were concentric circles of exclusivity to Void Week.) In reaction to all the Super Bowl hoopla, protesters outside of Super Bowl City called attention to the vast issue of homelessness, which has been plaguing San Francisco since at least Super Bowl I.
The game itself, Super Bowl 50, proved to be excellent, and perhaps one of the 10 best, ever. The Broncos defense ferociously pursued the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton. Newton was so shell-shocked and beaten up that in the final minutes of the game, with his team down 16–10, after he fumbled the ball and it was loose on the Santa Clara grass in front of him, rather than suffer more Denver Bronco abuse, Newton shied away from diving on the ball. The Broncos recovered the ball, and won the game 24-10.
A hundred years hence, in 2116, or a thousand years hence, in 3016, some sleuthing historian will pore over images and video of the events of San Francisco’s Super Bowl week. And they’ll study where the money flowed, the amount spent on hotel rooms and VRBO, on dinners and Uber, on limos, on air travel, on parties, on escorts, on shopping. It’ll be a revealing portrait of San Francisco way back when. But will any of it seem glorious?