Opinions, Column, Featured Column

The True Scourge Of Super Bowl XLIX: #ConflateGate

Here are the facts: I do not care about sports. Not so as to credibly label myself a “fan” of any team, at least. I watched the Mariners a few times over the course of my childhood (R.I.P. Kingdome), my family has literally (and I use that word in the literal sense) never sat down together to watch a televised sporting event, not even the Olympics, and I’ve made extraordinarily poor use of the Gold Pass that I purchased in a fit of school spirit this year, having attended a grand total of two—count ‘em, two—games.

The Super Bowl takes that disinterest up a notch to distaste, as the glorious culmination of all I’ve grown up disliking about America—the blatant, exalted commercialism, the sheer excess, the manufactured rivalry, and the sport itself: uber-muscled men paid large sums of money to risk injury for the mindless entertainment of millions. This is the killjoy party line, and I’ve walked it for years.

And yet, as I sat on the floor of an Iggy dorm last Sunday switching my attention between the television screen and my Twitter feed, I found that I cared about the outcome of Super Bowl XLIX far more than I expected to—i.e., a lot. My two homes, Seattle and Boston (okay, “New England”), were engaged in a proxy battle, and as much affection as I hold for Beantown, I had clambered onto the Seahawks bandwagon and was not looking back.

While I’m not from Seattle proper (I hail from the smallish city of Mercer Island, which is to Seattle as Chestnut Hill is to Boston), I identify strongly with my Pacific Northwest roots. Life at Boston College has only sharpened that sense of connection—upon trundling over to the East Coast nearly four years ago, I noticed my new peers comparing me against a checklist of traits associated with the land of houseboats and granola. Vegetarian? Obviously. Liberal? Goes without question. Atheist? Let’s not get into that. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Now, almost everyone goes through this—no matter where people grow up, it seems, they arrive at BC all set with preconceived notions about how certain places connote certain personalities. You expect different things from a Texan than a New Yorker; a California dude is bound to be distinct from a Jersey guy; and so on and so forth. (The only ones nobody seems to know what to do with are those who grew up in Massachusetts—they’re unpredictable.)

And while a lot of people reject the stereotypes and assumptions that they’re faced with, just as many embrace them; it can be nice, especially freshman year, to have a prepackaged set of characteristics waiting. It sets you apart from the mob, just a little, while providing a basis for connection with anyone from the same neck of the woods. This flash of kinship can come from anything; to stick with the theme, my favorite artifact from last year’s Super Bowl is a 26-second YouTube video in which raucous, jubilant Seahawks fans staunchly refuse to jaywalk. As someone who will remain planted on the street corner, patiently waiting for the little blue man to appear—even if the person I’m with has already crossed and is on the opposite corner staring at me in disbelief—I had an almost giddy sense of recognition when the clip popped up on my newsfeed. Much as I (like any true American, natch) prize individualism, there’s something comforting about common ground—even if it’s just a sidewalk.

So perhaps it’s not too surprising that I got slightly, well, territorial about this Super Bowl, surrounded as I was by people who actively wanted the Seahawks—and by extension my home—and by extension me—to lose. This triple conflation of team, city, and individual became obvious last week in the form of an atrociously rude column about Seattle and its denizens by The Boston Globe’s Thomas Farragher. He calls out the Emerald City for its lack of history, makes the usual, tired cracks about dopey baristas and fancy coffee, strongly intimates that the city is full of Communists, and, most confusingly, claims that Seattleites consider Amazon’s Jeff Bezos a sex symbol. (You can’t have it both ways, Farragher—either we’re softhearted socialists who flock to local businesses, or we worship the book-bundling behemoth’s piles of cash. Make up your mind!)

All in all, the column was so weak and bitter that it’s probably being served at Dunkin’ Donuts (ba dum tss). But see? This is what city rivalry does to a person; I’m leaping in to defend the honor of coffee, when I don’t truly give a flying fig where you get your java. (So long as it’s fair trade, of course.) It seems so trivial to equate a team’s success … or heartbreaking, last-minute failure … with the merit of a place, and of the people who call it home. It can’t be healthy. Right? #ConflateGate2015!

But it’s a lot easier to make that claim from the losing side. I’m sure I would’ve been gleeful if Seattle’s 12th man had triumphed over the Pats’ No. 12—how could I not be? Far from the Cascades, in a roomful of people with similar stakes in the game, a Seahawks win would’ve felt like a personal vindication. The loss was simply a nudging reminder that, even senior year, Boston still isn’t quite home. (A jovial assertion from a fellow spectator that Seattle’s “just a second-class city” didn’t help.)

So I can’t in good faith bemoan conflation and simultaneously rue the Hawks’ loss; I’ll try to one-up Farragher by remaining logically consistent. (Harsh, maybe, but he should’ve known that Commies love to hold a grudge.) I admit—while I wasn’t in the mood to watch up close, there really was something great about Bostonians’ absolute joy after their win; like the vibe on campus after last fall’s USC game, it’s a feeling of collective triumph that just doesn’t come from anything besides good ol‘ sportsball.

Does this recognition mean I’m going to get any more use out of that Gold Pass this semester? Doubtful. But, ensconced in my bandwagon Sunday night, I have to say I was glad to be any kind of fan at all.

Featured Image by Charles Krupa / AP Photo



February 4, 2015