If you’re any sort of sports fan, you know that this Sunday, Drew Brees and the NFC Champion New Orleans Saints will make the first Super Bowl appearance in team history as they take on Peyton Manning and the AFC Champion Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. If you’re not a sports fan, you probably don’t care. But you should.
Why, you may ask? Why bother watching two groups of hulked-out men bash into each other when there’s better things to do like that big sale at Bed, Bath & Beyond? Lots of reasons—many of which have nothing to do with asserting your hometown’s sports-related dominance over another zip code.
You could tune in because this should be one of the better games of the year. The Colts are favored to win, but only by 4 points. You could tune in for the entertainment factor: Carrie Underwood will be singing the national anthem and The Who will be performing the half-time show.
Or you could tune in for the simple reason that it allows you to commune with your fellow man. You see, in these increasingly fractured and schismatic times, human beings have fewer opportunities to share common experiences. Way, way back in prehistory, mankind lived in small, tribal groups. That meant everybody in your cave got together on a nightly basis, huddled around the primal fire and shared stories of gods and monsters and the purpose of that great big fiery ball in the sky. As a result, everyone knew more or less the same stories. Walk up to anyone and say, “So how about that mammoth hunt on Sunday?” and they’d know exactly what you were talking about.
But in the last 50,000 years or so, we’ve lost touch with one another. Since the dawn of the media age, we’ve drifted even further apart. You’d think with the 24-7 information bombarding us, we’d all be on the same page. Didn’t we all suffer through the same unending coverage of Michael Jackson’s death? Yes and no. With thousands of TV stations, radio stations and Internet sites, we’re able to customize our own information experience. Although we might all receive the same message—“The Gloved One is dead,” for example—we all experience it in individualized ways. Maybe we watched old M.J. concerts on MTV. Maybe we dug through the celebrity dirt on “Larry King Live.”
And about the only time we have that opportunity is when tragedy rears its ugly head: 9/11, the Gulf War, the aftermath of Katrina. It’s rare that humanity (the English-speaking parts anyway) has an opportunity to come together in harmony. (Or at least in the mock, ritualized combat of professional sports.) On the Monday after Super Bowl, around 90 million people will show up at work with at least one common experience. Strangers gathered around the office water cooler will be able to strike up conversations with a simple, “How ’bout that game on Sunday?”