Finally and we don't know what took them so long the National Football League has decided to give its championship game the name it deserves: XL. It's an appellation worthy of the most enormously important sporting/cultural/commercial-watching event of the year.
At last, we have Super Bowl XL, which stands for Extra Large. (Kickoff is Sunday at 6:25 pm/ET on ABC). XL represents not just the monumental importance of the football game but also the Veritable Bigness for which this country stands: our Extra-Large dreams, our Extra-Large appetites and the Extra-Large freedom that allows us as Americans to be comfortable in our Extra-Large underpants.
(No, wait a second. It has just been pointed out to us, by people calling themselves "editors," that the "XL" actually has nothing to do with the monstrous proportions of this particular Super Bowl. Instead, it's the Roman numeral indicating that this is Super Bowl No. 40.)
But it doesn't change the fact that all Super Bowls, regardless of their Roman numerals, are, aesthetically speaking, XL. Everything surrounding the game the price of advertisements, the number of cameras, the cast-of-thousands halftime shows (this year featuring the Rolling Stones) is larger than life, bloated and as unwieldy as the Goodyear blimp.
In short: It's bigger than you realize.
Even before he embarked on a career as a competitive eater and celebrity boxer and ballooned to the size of a breakaway Soviet republic William "the Refrigerator" Perry had immortalized himself as the largest human ever to score a Super Bowl touchdown. He hauled his 300-plus-pounds on a 1-yard scoring run in the Chicago Bears' 46-10 rout of the New England Patriots in 1986. The 6-foot-2 Perry, normally a defensive tackle, was brought in at running back just for the fun of it.
The tallest player ever to compete in a Super Bowl was 7-foot, 310-pound Richard Sligh, a reserve defensive tackle for the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl II. This piece of trivia was unearthed for ESPN's 40 Things You Didn't Know About the Super Bowl, airing Saturday night at 8 pm and hosted by sportscaster Mike Greenberg and ex-NFL lineman Mike Golic, a pretty big man himself.
Although he has no proof, Golic thinks Larry Allen of the 1996 Dallas Cowboys and Jonathan Ogden of the 2001 Baltimore Ravens may have had the most gigantic heads of any player in Super Bowl history. "Those were monster melons," Golic says admiringly. "If you look close on their helmets, I think there were welding marks."
EXTRA-LARGE SNACK CONSUMPTION
Super Sunday is the largest sales and consumption day for many foods particularly those that don't involve utensils. It's Domino's Pizza's biggest day of the year, selling more than 1.2 million pies.
The National Chicken Council estimates that Americans will eat 90 million pounds of chicken wings on Super Bowl weekend, which breaks down to 450 million individual wings.
The Hass Avocado Board says 49.5 million pounds of those avocados will be downed on Super Bowl Sunday. That'll make it the largest avocado-eating day of the year (ahead of the former champion, Cinco de Mayo).
As they like to point out, this would make enough guacamole to cover Detroit's Ford Field the site of this year's game from end zone to end zone in a chunky green layer 11.8 feet deep. (Whatever you do, don't mention this to Refrigerator Perry.)
"Super Bowl Sunday is when people make the stupidest bets in the world," says handicapper Wayne Allyn Root, creator and costar of Spike TV's King of Vegas. "People who never gamble any other time of year make these ridiculous bets about who will score first, whether a kickoff will be returned for a touchdown. It's like Christmas for the casinos."
Root says the largest single wager he's heard about came in 1995, when corporate takeover king Carl Icahn bet $2.4 million on the 49ers. When San Francisco beat San Diego, Icahn went home $300,000 richer.
EXTRA-LARGE TV AUDIENCES
Unless the new season of Survivor turns out to include actual cannibalism, the Super Bowl will continue to be the most-watched TV show in America. The 10 most-watched television programs in history are all Super Bowls. The largest audience came in 2004 when 144.4 million U.S. viewers watched the Patriots defeat the Carolina Panthers.
This is why advertisers pay such exorbitant rates ($2.5 million per 30-second spot this year) to get their commercials on the game. It's why sales of sofas, recliners and TVs especially impractical supersize TVs go up faster than John Madden's blood pressure in the weeks preceding the game.
The Consumer Electronics Association estimates that 2006 will be the first year that high-definition TVs outsell traditional square-screen sets. And both Panasonic and Samsung are marketing plasma sets with 100-plus-inch screens, 4 feet high and more than 7 feet wide. It's just sad that Howard Cosell never lived to see this day.
Shockingly, the NFL has never listed the official heights and weights of its halftime Super Bowl performers. But we believe that the largest halftime performers in Super Bowl history who are not named Al Hirt (the overinflated trumpet player) were John Goodman, Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi, performing as the Blues Brothers at Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans.
The largest number of "performers" would have been the 3,500 children surrounding the stage during Michael Jackson's singing of "Heal the World" at the Rose Bowl in 1993, site of SBXXVII. Also appearing that day, performing the ceremonial coin toss: O.J. Simpson. Michael and O.J. on the same bill. You can't get Extra Larger than that.
In the same way that rodeo cowboys wear giant belt buckles, Super Bowl champions decorate themselves with gaudy, oversize diamond-encrusted rings. Because tiaras would just be too much.
The largest, gaudiest Super Bowl rings of all time belong to the New England Patriots. To celebrate last year's repeat title, the third in four years, each player was presented with a 14-karat white-gold ring, with a total of 124 diamonds and three miniature renditions of the championship Lombardi Trophy. The Patriots' rings from the year before had a mere 104 diamonds and were worth more than $15,000 each. Or, as Carl Icahn might call it, "tip money."
EXTRA-LARGE AD RATES
Most of us watch the Super Bowl and consider only some of the pertinent numbers: points scored, yards gained, Doritos devoured. But for the past 21 years, Mike Bernacchi, a business-administration professor at the University of Detroit Mercy, has been obsessed with the ever-growing, wildly inflated price of a 30-second Super Bowl ad. Forty years ago, the tab was $40,000. This year, an ad costs $2.5 million. That's 62.5 times higher. "Suppose everything increased at that Super Bowl ad-flation rate," he wonders. "What would they all cost?" The notion inspired him to create his vaunted Super Bowl Ad-Flation chart. For 30 familiar numbers from the price of a stamp to the population of the world Bernacchi calculates how much higher the figure would be if we applied this whopping percentage. Think you're paying too much for gas? Based on the Ad-Flation chart, a gallon would now cost you about $20.62. "You'd be topping off every other block," Bernacchi says.
Additional reporting by Robert Edelstein