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Chaos and Cotton Candy at Super Bowl LI

Things got intense in the stands in Houston on Sunday night

(AP Images)
(AP Images)

For the first time since as far back as I can remember, I did not get to watch one single commercial during the Super Bowl. That’s because, as it turns out, they don’t show commercials that air during the Super Bowl at the actual Super Bowl, which seems strange at first, but then less so if you think about it for more than a few seconds.

I suppose that’s a fair trade-off — not watching Super Bowl commercials in exchange for being at the actual Super Bowl — but I think it’s only temporarily fair. Were I put in a position where I had to decide between (a) going to every Super Bowl for the rest of my life but never again seeing a Super Bowl commercial, or (b) never going to a Super Bowl again for the rest of my life but being able to watch Super Bowl commercials, I can’t say for certain which I’d choose.

Does that mean anything? I don’t know. Probably not, but possibly so. What I do know is that I did not see any Super Bowl commercials this year. I was at the Super Bowl, and I saw lots of other things instead.

Before the game, the actresses who played the Schuyler sisters in Hamilton sang “America the Beautiful.” It was very well done, and I thought it was very great when they added the words “and sisterhood” at the end of the “And crown thy good with brotherhood” line. But that’s not the part that I’m going to remember in, say, 10 years. The part that I’m going to remember is that at the very end of the song, when mostly everyone in the arena was good and emotional and feeling very happy and proud, the cameras broadcasting on the Jumbotron cut directly from the Schuyler sisters to a zoomed-in shot of Bill Belichick’s crypt-keeper face. It was like the real-life version of that video where a car is driving along peacefully down a mountainside and then a zombie jumps out screaming. We went from 14,000-plus square feet of screen showing joy and harmony to 14,000-plus square feet of screen showing terror and doom. In hindsight, the whole setup was pretty good foreshadowing for the game.

Death always comes. So does Belichick.

How TF did the Falcons lose that game?

“Cotton candy” is the perfect name for cotton candy. It couldn’t be better named. I’m so proud of the person who came up with it, whoever that person is.

(I actually know who came up with the term “cotton candy.” I read about it on the internet after I wrote those first two sentences. It was a dentist named Josef Lascaux. He was from New Orleans. Here’s another thing I learned: Before it was called “cotton candy” it was called “fairy floss,” which is a way worse name. God bless Josef Lascaux for not letting that stand.)

I think second place in the Best Named Candy contest is maybe Gumballs, or Gummy Bears, or Pop Rocks, or possibly Almond Joy, though that last one is a bit too subjective to be a serious contender. I’m sure there are plenty of people who do not enjoy coconut-flavored things, so I would have to assume it’d be more accurate to them if that candy were called something like Almond Misery or Almond Dread.

Last place would be Nerds.

Anyway, what I’m saying is I ate a bag of cotton candy at the game.

Roger Goodell and Tom Brady (Getty Images)
Roger Goodell and Tom Brady (Getty Images)

Maybe as loud as any cheer or chant in the stadium all night was the “BOOOOOOOOOOOO” that erupted after the game, as Roger Goodell held the Lombardi Trophy and talked about whatever it was he was talking about (it was literally too loud to hear him) before handing it over to Robert Kraft. Kraft took a swipe or two at Goodell, and then just moments after the game a regional ad aired in which Tom Brady took a swipe at Goodell, too. I was rooting for the Falcons to win, but I cannot deny that the Patriots (and their fans) being deliciously petty about how everything turned out this season was a fun, interesting thing. Rich white men being angry at each other on a national sporting stage is almost always satisfying.

How TF did the Patriots win that game?

Which Patriots will go to the White House? Which Patriots won’t?

One thing that is secretly enjoyable about being at the actual game and not watching it on TV is that a lot of the experience — player names, certain stats, particular story lines, etc. — gets washed away because it’s not being lobbed into your face over and over by the announcers and graphics. I don’t think that I’d enjoy watching every single football game that way, but it was definitely very great and effective in helping this particular one turn from being a game into something bigger; something grander; something more profound. It felt more communal than usual. It felt like broader ideas were battling (Good vs. Evil; Flexible vs. Rigid; Art vs. Math; Love vs. Machine; Effervescence vs. Efficiency), rather than just teams. It felt like, “Yo, one time when I was a kid our house got foreclosed on and taken from us and now I’m at the Super Bowl with my dad,” and I know those three feelings aren’t all exactly the same kind of thing, but philosophically they are.

That might just be me being romantic, but it might not be. It might even be true, though it might not be. Which is sort of the point I’m trying to make here.

There was a very clear moment — this was some time in the fourth quarter, when it was 28–12 and the Falcons were punting the ball back to the Patriots — when, all at once, it felt like there was no way that the Falcons were going to hold on to that 16-point lead. I want you to know that it was an incredibly dispiriting feeling, but also a decidedly exhilarating one. I leaned over to my dad and said something like, “Dad, we’re about to watch the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history happen.” A part of me was hoping that he’d shoot down the assertion, that he’d unravel my fears or nervousness. But he did not. He only responded, “I know.”

Tom Brady is incredible. We will never see another quarterback like him in our lifetimes. He was down 16 points in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl — down 25 in the third — against one of the most prolific offenses of the past quarter century and his Pats might as well have been up 20 with a minute to go against a team of ninth graders. Tom Brady is incredible.

Is there no “Kiss Cam” at NFL games?

During timeouts, they’d show famous people in the stands on the big screen. Vince Vaughn was there. Chef Gordon Ramsay was there. Chrissy Teigen and John Legend were there. (Did you know John Legend’s real name is John Roger Stephens? That was a good pivot by him to go from John Roger Stephens to John Legend. I wonder what other names he stepped over to get to John Legend. I wonder if John Legendary was ever in the mix. I also wonder why Tank, this other R&B singer, decided to go with “Tank” as his singer name. It’s such a weird name. Tank. Tank. Lol. I wonder if that was the only armored vehicle he considered naming himself after. I hope there was at least a tiny amount of time when he considered going by “Brink’s.”) Young Jeezy was there. Ludacris was there. Guy Fieri was there. Mark Wahlberg was there. André 3K was there.

Oh shit. I just realized right now that two of the four brothers from Four Brothers were there.



All of the game’s incredible moments were followed by equally incredible responses from the crowd. The very best was when they showed the slow-motion replay of the Julian Edelman catch on the giant, giant screen.

Julian Edelman (Getty Images)
Julian Edelman (Getty Images)

As the play happened in real time nobody knew anything about anything (WAS IT A CATCH? AN INTERCEPTION? AN INCOMPLETE PASS?), and so nobody knew how to respond. The refs ruled it a catch and the stadium went yo-yo, both with glee and with anger, though neither side knew whether it was right. The Falcons finally challenged the play (it felt like hours) and so the replay process started, but they didn’t show the replay on the big screen immediately. It took a few moments (this also felt like hours). When they finally began showing it, everyone watched, and whoever it was that was running the replay in the stadium — that goddamn genius of a person — paused it at the exact right moment for the Patriots fans to see that it was, by just millimeters, a legit catch (FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU!!!!!!!!!!!!) and for the Falcons fans to see that it was, by just millimeters, a legit catch (fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu ……………). I promise — I PROMISE YOU — there were 70,000-plus people in there but for a good two seconds after that replay paused you couldn’t hear a single one of them.

It was unbelievable. I’ve never seen or experienced anything like that. It was real and true all-caps SPORTS SHOCK, which is the most elusive of all the feelings that can be squeezed out of your body during a game.

In the row in front of us, there was a very excited, very exciting Falcons fan. He was a sturdy guy — maybe 6-foot-1, something like 200 pounds. He had a goatee and a broad chest and cargo pants, because guys with goatees and broad chests always got on cargo pants. He jumped and he screamed and he clapped and he cheered and he danced and every time the Falcons did something good he would flap his pretend wings. It was great. He appeared to be there by himself, which made his histrionics seem all the more grandiose.

Our section was, I would guess, something like 85 percent Patriots fans, but it was of no matter to him. By the time the third quarter had started, he was our area’s Alpha Fan. His confidence glowed so bright that it enabled the other Falcons fans near us, outnumbered and overwhelmed, to glow too. There was a moment, I think it was after Atlanta had gone up 28–3, when he shouted at a young kid in a Falcons jersey a few rows ahead of him. The kid turned around, the guy raised his hands in the air, then the kid pretended to throw a football to him. The guy pretend-caught it, then pretend-spiked it, then flapped his pretend wings, then yelled at himself and everyone else in triumph. It was ideal.

It wasn’t but 40 or so minutes later that he was all the way dead, slouched over in his seat, staring forward in disbelief and devastation as the others in his row high-fived each other over his corpse. Someone a couple of rows back shouted, “Hey! Hey! Why ain’t you flapping your wings anymore?!” at him, but he didn’t even bother to turn around. He just sat there, broken, trying to figure out what had happened, trying to figure out what to do in that moment, and probably with the rest of his life, too.

He waited a moment, then he just got up and left. His eyes weren’t crying, but all the rest of his body was, if that makes any sense. I wanted to give him a hug. It was rough. Going to the Super Bowl was great. Even that part was entertaining, in a weird way.