Sunday evening around 91.6 million people tuned in to Super Bowl LV (that’s 55 for those who are not fluent in Roman numerals). Were they all watching to see the matchup between the old quarterback, Tom Brady (formerly of the New England Patriots), with the almost 20 year younger Patrick Mahomes (soon to be a new daddy)? Probably not since viewership of the event dropped drastically this year. People needed to be doing something while downing all those game day snacks. But regardless of why they tuned in, this Super Bowl wasn’t super for providing exciting entertainment. It was super for touching upon important societal issues. Let’s check them out.
Military Might. The United States may be facing problems with unemployment, the pandemic, and racial tension, but no one can question its formidable armed forces. Demonstrative exhibit #1 appeared as the National Anthem was ending and before the kickoff even occurred. Look! Up in the sky! A trio of bombers roared above the crowd in Raymond James Stadium to roars of wonder, delight, and approval.
In a first of its kind flyover, three Air Force Global Strike Command bombers filled the skies and deafened the ears of the fans assembled for Super Bowl LV. The composition of the aerial team displayed three generations of bombers, a testament to the air superiority of the good old USA. There were no bombs away, although it would be nice if these bombers could take out that pesky virus that keeps taunting not only our country but the entire world.
The oldest of the three bombers was the B-52 Stratofortress. Due to its age, it’s often referred to as a Stratosaurus. The nickname BUFF (Big Ugly Fat Fellow) is also attached to the B-52. The U.S. Air Force has 76 of these BUFF’s costing $84 million each and costing $70,000 per hour to fly. Can you imagine what it must cost to fill up one’s tank?
The B-2 Spirit which flew in formation with the BUFF looks like a flying triangle. Only 20 of these bombers are in the USAF inventory at a mere $1.157 billion apiece (that’s billion with a “b.”) The Spirit is a stealth aircraft which is nearly invisible to radar. Thankfully, it can be seen by the human eye or flying over Raymond James Stadium would have been pointless.
The third member of the tri-bomber group was the B-1B Lancer, nicknamed the Bone. This plane, of which the USAF has 62, can do tricks which the other cannot such as hitting supersonic speeds, flying inverted, and changing wing positions during operations. Whether it can roll over and play dead was not disclosed and may be classified information. Hopefully, the ability to do these “tricks” justifies its price tag of $357 million.
As if the cost of these bombers isn’t jaw-dropping enough, the coordination required to pull off this tri-bomber flyover is also astounding. The bombers took off from three separate Air Force bases (Ellsworth, Minot, and Whiteman) in three different states (South Dakota, North Dakota, and Missouri) at three separate times, managing to meet up and fly over the stadium in Tampa, Florida. Oh, and due to the flight distance, mid-air refueling was required.
The Role of Women. Bombers weren’t the only thing that was up for the Super Bowl. The role of women in sports ascended to a new height during Super Bowl LV. Bombers were in the air before the game, and a woman was on the field during the game. She wasn’t a sideline reporter or a physical trainer. She was part of the officiating crew. Yes, for the first time in history a woman officiated at a Super Bowl.
You weren’t seeing things if you thought you saw a blonde ponytail peeking out from one of the officiating crew’s caps. The seven person crew contained Sarah Thomas, a mother of three and pioneer for women in the sports world.
Thomas has broken barriers in her career in officiating. In addition to being the first woman to officiate at the Super Bowl, Thomas was the first woman to work a major college game, to officiate a bowl game, and to be a full-time referee. She has worked in the NFL since 2015, with her stellar efforts at her job landing her the honor of being on the crew for Super Bowl LV.
The appearance of Thomas in the officiating world has also led to some change in terms used. During the Super Bowl she was the “downs judge.” That position was previously called the “head lineman.” With a woman filling that role, the term was altered to become more inclusive. Looks like Thomas was knocking DOWN some barriers with her work.
Made in the USA. U.S. citizens are often encouraged to buy American. The NFL followed that suggestion when it came to the game balls used during Super Bowl LV. All of the footballs were handcrafted with the help of machines right here in the U.S. These pigskins were birthed at the Wilson Football Factory in Ada, Ohio. Yup, those babies were, as Bruce Springsteen would sing, “Born in the USA.”
Wilson isn’t making bacon, but it does produce over 700,000 pigskins each year, including the ones specially crafted for use in the Super Bowl and commemorative ones for fans. Each team playing in the Super Bowl receives 108 Wilson footballs. Fifty-four of these balls are used for practice and the remaining 54 are utilized in the actual game. With 216 balls out there between the two teams, that’s a lot of game balls.
Pandemic Protection. And, of course, nothing that occurs these days is out of the reach of the ongoing pandemic. Super Bowl LV was no exception. Health concerns were front and center of staging the game. The game had to go on, but it had to occur in a socially responsible way.
The number of fans allowed to be in attendance was limited to 22,000, roughly equivalent to 1/3 capacity of the stadium. This restriction allowed for some social distancing. And all fans were required to be wearing masks. Kind of takes the the excitement out of trying to be seen on TV when your face is hidden behind a mask. Hey, but health and safety are more important than publicity.
In a fitting tribute, the NFL provided free tickets to 7,500 health care workers who had been vaccinated for COVID-19. Even though vaccinated, they were still required to wear masks. Better safe than sorry, right? With that many medical professionals in attendance, there was no need to be concerned about finding a doctor in the house if any medical emergency arose.
A sporting event such as the Super Bowl does not occur within a vacuum. It takes place within society and mirrors issues and concerns of the times. Sure, the main focus is sports, but taking the time to take a closer look reveals some interesting commentary on the society which holds the event. The Super Bowl winner received a trophy, but an astute fan received the opportunity to observe things about the context in which we Americans live.
Did you watch the Super Bowl? Was the show of our country’s superior air power justified given the cost to exhibit it? Was it reckless to stage such a large public event when the pandemic is still such a health concern? What other societal tidbits did you glean from watching or reading about the game?