The last time the Steelers won the superbowl I was in a small town hotel in the middle of the Pyranees, yelling in bad Spanish for the night watchman to stop changing the station because our TVs were somehow channel synchronized. This time around I was in a Rumphi bar yelling at drunken rastas in moderately better chitumbuka, “chonde chiwawa!”
I was with my friend Lucy a British VSO who didn’t know the first thing about American football, but was kind enough to keep me company for the big game. I tried not to notice that she brought along a book, but I could see that she was unimpressed with the athleticism of American football players being a devoted English soccer fan. She kept commenting on how fat so many of the guys were. I could only defend them by saying, “You wouldn’t believe how strong those guys are, and they need that weight because there only role is to use their bodies to block the other team from getting to the guy with the ball.” Lucy was also utterly frustrated with how much of the time the players were just standing around between plays. Even I was surprised to hear myself explaining “Well you see football is really a thinking man’s game, and all those guys are really strategizing and trying to read what the other team is going to do in the next play.” I could see the disbelief on her face as in two seconds of action everybody smashed into each other, and the quarterback threw an incomplete pass and seemingly absolutely nothing happened.
Lucy was also shocked by how much of the night we were wasting watching advertisements. Again, I felt sheepish explaining that they were seeing different commercials in America, “that are actually so good that some people just watch the superbowl to see the best new commercials.” In fact I felt like I spent the whole first half just defending football and the superbowl experience not just to Lucy but every completely uninterested Malawian within ear shot. I even started thinking to myself maybe this game I spent half of my life playing is kind of silly. But I promptly forgot those self-doubts as I became a jumping and screaming mad man when James Harrison intercepted a pass on the one yard line and returned it all the way for a Steeler’s touchdown. I shared a smile with the guy behind us as he imitated me in his Queen’s English accent, “Go baby Go!”
At halftime I moved into the connected restaurant to get away from the drunks screaming over Bruce Springsteen. I mean, come on man a little bit of respect for the boss! We watched the remainder of the game with the owner of the place, who prompty fell asleep at the beginning of the third quarter. I found myself apologizing to everybody around me, who I was forcing to watch this game that they clearly had absolutely no interest in. I tried to explain, “This would be like if your favourite team was playing in the FA cup, you’d have to watch it right?” I began to express regret for not accepting an invitation to go and watch the game with other Peace Corps volunteers, explaining “I guess you just have to be an American to enjoy this.”
Then the forth quarter came and Curt Warner led the cardinals back into the game, which became exciting enough for some of the waiters to stop sweeping and take notice. The owner was woken up by my moans of misery as the Steelers gave up a safety making the game painfully close. But now everybody was transfixed by the tension of the game as I broke down the situation between each play “OK the team in red is worried about time now, so they’ve stopped strategizing between plays and are just running play after play, in what is called a no huddle offence. “This is so much more exciting. Why do they ever huddle” Lucy asked, “That’s just a conversation you’ll have to have with Peyton Manning.” She also saw the light of American athleticism as she marvelled at the poetry in motion of Larry Fitzgerld gliding through the Steelers secondary. I had a hard time finding the beauty in it myself.
But my spirits quickly changed play by play as the Steelers marched down the field. My screams attracted the owners wife to come in and see what the crazy Azungu was yelling about. “OK OK, now all they have to do is get within that line with the 40 on it, and they can bring in the kicker to tie the game.” But after the Steelers got within the 20 everybody was asking where’s the kicker, why don’t they tie it? “If they get in the red it’s a touchdown, they get six points! THEY CAN WIN! This time when Santana Moss made a spectacular catch in the corner of the end zone I wasn’t the only one yelling. My cheers were accompanied by congratulatory slaps on the back from the owner. “ I like when they score touchdowns” Lucy proclaimed, as we watched Haynes Ward run to Rothesburger with his ear to ear smile for a big hug. “I’m glad I watched the super bowl” Lucy admitted as we left, and I agreed “I wouldn’t have rather enjoyed it any other way.”
So congratulations to all you yinnsers out there in Black and Gold country. Raise an Iron City Beer for me, and know that I’ll be swinging my terrible towel the whole motola ride back to the village. I'm thinking about you Carrs, Conways, and Morans, I miss and love yins guys.