Monday, February 07, 2005

Patriot Games
Unlike last year, my Super Bowl viewing time was officially sanctioned and no silver-tongued deceit was needed to see it. What follows is a story I wrote and co-reported with a young Aussie reporter with the amazing name of Paris Lord for The Standard today. It's an admittedly unremarkable Super Bowl bar scene color piece that, except for the first portion, could have described the scene in any US town. And, US readers, forgive the Super Bowl 101 tone. Remember, I'm writing for many folks for whom it's largely unknown. What was irrelevant to the story was how the marketing flack at the second bar loaded me down with cheap Miller beer generic Super Bowl swag after noticing I was from The Press, and I had to get up at 6am to do it after going to bed at 3:45am because I got sucked into watching The Godfather on cable upon returning from work after midnight. But what's more American than beer swag, The Godfather and football? Still, I'm a minor mess today...
By Justin Mitchell and Paris Lord
A good Super Bowl party isn't always easy to find. An unoffficial national holiday in the United States, ``Super Sunday'' as it's known, is a major social affair usually featuring an orgy of alcohol, food and occasionally quarrelsome friends, fans and relatives.
It's become so big that the ritual has also spawned several urban legends, including one that the winning team is an indicator of whether the stock market will rise or fall and tales of metropolitan sewage systems crashing due to the enormous number of toilets being flushed simultaneously at halftime.
But overseas it's a hit or miss affair and, of course, no big thing for those who prefer their balls round and their athletes helmet- and Spandex-free.
In Hong Kong, though, the place to be is Dan Ryan's at Pacific Place where they've been hosting an annual early morning pigskin gala for 16 years since the San Francisco 49'ers triumphed over the Cincinnati Bengals 20-16 in Super Bowl XXII.
Which is why we began at the Kangaroo Downunder bar in Wan Chai for No XXXIX featuring the 2004 champion New England Patriots and Cinderella underdog Philadelphia Eagles. Resourceful investigative reporters that we are, we'd placed a pre-game phone call to Dan Ryan's that revealed it was booked to capacity. ``You can take your chances,'' was the succinct answer.
Not so at the `Roo, where our chances were unlimited. While it was Super Sunday in the US, at the Wan Chai pub it was more like Mortuary Monday where the atmosphere at 7.30am was underwhelming to say the least, and restrained at best. Two expat couples tucked quietly into breakfasts, and a sprinkling of solo American sports-minded males nursed coffees and beers while absorbing the pre-game hoohah.
Obviously still stinging from last year's Janet Jackson Nipplegate controversy, the NFL appeared to have taken a leaf out of the Chinese Communist Party's hints on how to rewrite history by deleting any references -- audio or visual -- to the dreaded ``wardrobe malfunction'' in its smooth salute to past Super Bowl halftime extravaganzas.
While generous footage and interviews of previous performers, such as U2, Aerosmith, Britney Spears, Kid Rock and Shania Twain was featured, there was nary a peep of or about Janet and her unindicted co-conspirator Justin Timberlake.
``I guess Janet never happened, never existed,'' one patron cracked.
After a lackadasical first quarter -- highlighted at the `Roo with an obviously bored and baffled Australian bartender's question to an American, ``How long do these American football quarters last, anyway?'' -- the game stood at a respectable 7-7 by half-time. While the atmosphere at the game's site in Jacksonville, Florida was festive as Sir Paul McCartney belted out three Beatles chestnuts and the post-Fabs Live and Let Die amid grand pyrotechnics, the sedate air was beginning to become stifling, so we made a break to Dan Ryan's where it was standing room only, packed as it was with several hundred partially inebriated and completely football-mad expatriates, tourists and locals alike.
``I've been coming here for 10 years,'' said Larry Robbins, a land planner originally from San Francisco who was rooting for the Eagles. ``It's my Super Bowl home away from home.''
A stuffed American bison head looked down over one of the three televisions, while in another banquet-style room folks dodging work and craving 4 /2 hour televised global communion tore into breakfasts, bloody Marys, beers and coffee while watching the back-and-forth struggle on mammoth wide-screen TV.
In a corner of the bar, a sign reading ``No working during drinking hours'' summed up the feeling.
Clad in a customized Philadelphia Eagles jersey bearing the name ``M.Williams,'' Mike Williams of Philadelphia was taking that advice seriously as he watched his team's hopes sputter and burn while the final seconds clicked down to the Patriots 24-Eagles 21 finale.
Williams, who works for a construction company in Shenzhen, was nursing a shot of Irish whiskey, his sixth drink since 6am, courtesy of a jubliant -- but sympathetic -- Patriots' fan with the same surname as New England's quarterback, Tom Brady. ``I'm in a whole lot of agony, but this helps,'' Williams said.
``His agony is my joy, and the Brady name does me proud!'' Boston resident Chris Brady responded. A tennis instructor, Brady said he was ``just traveling through'' Hong Kong on his way back to to the US.
While the two backed different teams, they said they bonded over a mutal love of football and alcohol.
``We're old-school football guys. We both come from drinking towns with football problems,'' Williams affirmed, while he and Brady hoisted their shot glasses in a toast.

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