I tried and I failed. End result: ten snapshots from Super Bowl weekend, through the lens of a sick, exhausted, jaded, rapidly unraveling man who would rather cut off his right arm than put on another event wristband.
By the end of an incredible 20-minute sequence of events on Saturday afternoon, I was sure anything was possible.
It began with discovering a pop-up shop in the French Quarter operated by Starter apparel, which in itself could have been the non-Beyoncé news of the weekend. Then, upon entering, I learned that Starter was relaunching their satin jacket line.
Following that, and looking around, the collection of people in the room didn't make much sense. You'd expect stupid tweens like myself to be crawling, drooling over the opportunity to get a hand on these. Instead, the scene was a bunch of really old white people, some slightly younger white people, and really little white kids running around. What had we stumbled upon?
Grantland publisher and fellow tween-at-heart David Cho and I had stumbled upon the Harbaugh family. At the Starter pop-up. Nothing made sense.
And then Jack and Jackie Harbaugh, Jim and John's parents, walked into the room. I still can't explain why, but this felt like watching royalty make an entrance. I was already standing up, so I couldn't honor them in that way, but I felt the need to show my respect somehow. So I took off my hat.
And then we talked to the Harbaugh parents for 10 minutes. We were talking to the parents of the Super Bowl, among the family of the Super Bowl, in the shadow of satin jackets.
This was Narnia.
Something everyone should know about Jack and Jackie Harbaugh: These are the nicest people ever created. While I'm sure your parents are fine people, the Harbaughs make your mom and dad look like Joe Jackson and Joe Jackson. They have this innocent "Grandparents on Vacation" vibe to them that lures you in, but there's also this quiet confidence that screams, "WE ARE REALLY GOOD AT PARENTING, AREN'T WE?"
I love them, even more than that middle Starter Jacket that I warned management I would have stolen were it not behind glass.
Long live Starter. Long live the Harbaughs.
There are few things quite like the moment when you find yourself singing along with an artist you hate. Whether in a car, or a store, or as a commercial is playing in the privacy of your own home, it's traumatic. Chris Brown is a great example, for he is our worst human but still makes catchy music that, at times of extreme weakness, can cause even the most staunch #TeamBreezy enemy to throw up the deuces.
This was the scene as Pitbull began his long set at the Rolling Stone party on Friday night, one that followed another long set by Flo Rida. Yes, Pitbull and Flo Rida shared a bill. And yes, it was as terrible as you'd expect. And yes, after three hours, I was hooked.
Pop music, man. Nothing chips away at your soul like it, until all that's left is you, cold and shamed, lying naked on the floor at the Pitbull and Flo Rida concert.
I don't know what songs they did, but they did all of them. Flo Rida ended up shirtless, sweating on everyone he could. Pitbull wore a black suit and rapped in Spanglish. Everyone loved it.
I think this is the best way to sum up the evening:
That's Guy Fieri's head.
Because of course Guy Fieri was there.
There was Mark Cuban dancing, and Tom Arnold taking pictures with people who wanted to take pictures with Tom Arnold — all in the same VIP area. Elsewhere, at a different party a day later, Lil Jon sat at the same long dinner table as Gayle King, and then four hours later that same Lil Jon, in that same venue, could be seen DJing with Diplo. Where was Aaron Rodgers? In the VIP area, doing that thing where you tap someone on the shoulder and turn around, confusing the person tapped because they're all, "Who just tapped me on the shoulder?" Aaron Rodgers did that. Former Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers did that. Not far from this action: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters's Jeremy Renner. And then, one day later, en route to the Super Bowl, Busta Rhymes (with Spliff Star, natch) and Jamie Foxx were spotted walking with security. Oh, and Guy Fieri.
It's a lot to take in. Just give it some time.
Justin Timberlake, for four minutes, made Jay-Z seem like a mere mortal. That's how on fire he was on Super Bowl eve, performing a solid percentage of his catalogue as well as three new songs from his upcoming album, in a giant tent located in a giant field, all in the name of DirecTV.
The band was great, his backup singers were lively and entertaining (at one point doing The Jackson 5's "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)," classic dance move included — go to 1:56 right now), the lighting was semi-ravey (a huge plus), and, as we sometimes forget, since he likes to not make albums, Justin Timberlake can sing his face off.
The highlight of this show was meant to be a "surprise" Jay-Z appearance, for their collaboration "Suit and Tie." While this was great, it was not the moment. That belonged to JT's cover of INXS's "Need You Tonight." The song is so iconic, sensual, and perfect, it's basically uncoverable. But not for JT. He did the song over-justice.
Beyond vocal talent, there's a level of confidence required to make it believable for the listener. Ne-Yo can't make that cover work. On the scale of cool, Ne-Yo is closer to me than Michael Hutchence. Old D'Angelo? Probably. Justin Timberlake? 100 percent. I hope this becomes a mainstay in his live sets, because I've never been so impressed with him as a performer. And that's saying something, seeing as that "Bye Bye Bye" at the 2000 VMAs was a revelation.
Free idea for the next Super Bowl: Someone should set up a camera at the entrance to the stadium and record the pure elation on the faces of people whose tickets are successfully scanned, proving that their tickets are, in fact, real. I couldn't stop watching people's faces. It was the best type of joy. It makes sense, though, considering the hoops jumped through to score tickets, the traveling to New Orleans, and the staying alive until Sunday necessary. Then to push through the long line at the Superdome and have it all come down to that one scan.
It's sad knowing that there were most certainly rejected fake tickets. But that's part of the game. And it makes the sight of watching person after person push through that final barrier all the more enjoyable.
Perhaps the shocker of the Super Bowl was how underwhelming it was to watch and listen in the arena. I guess I expected it to be thunderously loud, but Alicia Keys's national anthem was so quiet, when the camera cut to Ray Lewis, who was sing-preaching along in the way only he could, the stadium got loud enough to make Alicia inaudible for six seconds. Jennifer Hudson and the Sandy Hook Elementary School choir had better luck, but it still wasn't the fill-up-the-stadium-with-sound event that I'd expected.
And then there was Beyoncé.
While she dealt with the same sound issues, watching her diva out in real life was just fantastic. When she moves, it's like she's saving the rainforest, the whales, and the music all at once. Visually, she's a commanding solo artist. And she's a powerhouse of a front woman with Destiny's Child. But there's no greater Beyoncé than when she's got the Beyoncé Army with her.
You know, the 100-woman, similarly dressed, similarly weaved, none-quite-as-talented-or-pretty crew that's ready to dance "Single Ladies" like it's the last time they'll ever piston their thighs. This crew is the greatest gift Beyoncé has given to us. The Army. Seeing it on TV on awards show has been beautiful. But in person I felt as if our nation, and subsequently our allies, were strengthened. Thank you, Mrs. Carter.
When it's not your fault, there's something amazing about things going horribly wrong. Like, nothing is better. That's what this blackout was: a giant screw-up that resulted in an entire stadium of people unsure what to do with themselves other than drink and boo and yell "I GUESS NEW ORLEANS WASN'T READY FOR THAT JELLY" and throw out electricity-bill payment conspiracy theories. It lasted about 30 minutes, but it felt like four hours and I wanted it to go on for three days.
Perhaps the oddest inconvenience of the blackout, beyond the football stoppage, was the ceiling power outage knocking out a considerable amount of the Superdome's power outlets. There was no rhyme or reason nor algorithm to figuring out which ones worked, so for the remainder of the game, there was a steady stream of people with phone chargers and dying phones hoping to luck out and find a power source. Being the first to plant one's flag and colonize new phone-charging land was a rare feat, though, because if a place had power, a community of cell phone users had already settled, waiting for their turn.
Complete chaos, on and off the field. I'm still mad I'm not in the Superdome right now.
Over the course of the week, I'd made the conscious decision to not be such a jerk while I was in New Orleans, with regard to my Falcons fandom. I brought a jersey and had the most serious of intentions to wear it every day. But I only wore it once, for a few hours, because no one likes a party pooper. It was weird being in a city plastered with the insignia of two teams you don't care about, especially when one of those teams could have been yours.
Somehow, I got over it.
And then the actual game took place, and those weird, rude feelings of neutral unhappiness returned, only this time much stronger. Even before either team scored, it became clear that in order to have an enjoyable time I'd almost have to become an imposter. Between my dark-pink shirt and the fact that I was placed in Ravens territory, I had no choice in the matter. I was now a Ravens fan. It felt icky, but it was right.
As the game trucked along, the high-fives and embraces in my section grew more intense. I didn't have a jersey, and clearly wasn't as emotional as everyone else, but I wasn't cheering for the 49ers, so I was welcome. And by the time the Ravens were convincingly ahead at the half, I was joining in with their cheers, and all-in with what looked to be a Ravens Super Bowl win.
And then it started happening, the Niners comeback, and the weird, unsure, jerklike feelings returned. Were the 49ers going to do to the Ravens what they did to the Falcons? And if they did, which result would make me feel better: Baltimore feeling my pain or the Niners having their soul-crushing ways stopped once and for all?
Neither was ideal, because now all I could think about was the Falcons game, a scenario I had worked so hard to forget all week. But it was back. To torture me.
When the Ravens held off a Niners drive that, with a touchdown, would have given them the lead with less than two minutes left, my section became ecstatic, then quiet. Well, everyone was quiet except for one fabulously drunk girl who drove 18 hours to New Orleans from Canada. She was picking fights with anyone she could fall on, and was quite good at standing up, yelling, plopping back into her seat, taking a swig, and occasionally crying. When the Ravens got the ball back, with time still left in the game, she stood on her chair, turned to face the Ravens faithful, and yelled, "WE WON THE SUPER BOWL!"
Never in my life have I seen someone get universally Shhhhhed. Everyone was so angry at her, because she had surely just jinxed the Super Bowl. It was not a pretty sight.
For me, watching the nerves was incredible. I loved it. I loved watching the Ravens fans squirm and the Niners fans slump with depression. For those five seconds, I was the happiest person in the Superdome.
The jerk was back.
And then, a minute later, the Ravens won the Super Bowl. Not even I could find bitterness in their joy.
Why waste time on words:
Ravens purple, gray, and white camo pants won the streets of the Super Bowl. This landslide victory is twofold, for being the coolest, most practical piece of battlewear seen exiting the game and for the sheer number of people seen wearing the trousers. In a 10-minute span, I counted 32 Ravens camo pants-wearers. And I was surely missing some, because I kept distracting myself by approaching these fashionistas just to say, "Congrats, I like your pants."
As the shirt of the young man in front of Ray Lewis Camo Guy casually says, "Rule #1 Don't Fuck with Baltimore." One has to assume this is as much about fashion as it is about football.
After a spectacle like the Super Bowl, the instinct is to blow town as fast as possible. While smart, travel-wise, the trade-off for getting out of Dodge too quickly is missing the glory that is the morning after.
I spent the majority of the week in a Wyndham Hotel stripped of all its Wyndham-ness and temporarily renamed The Bud Light Hotel. For the previous 100 hours, from sunup to sundown, the lobby and patio area operated more like a club than a place of residence, with Bud Light and all of its cousins available for consumption, at all times, all under a haze of dubstep.
Entering the area Monday morning, post–Super Bowl, it was like that moment when the bar turns the lights on after last call and everyone finally gets an in-focus look at the people they've been bumping into, followed by a wave of shame.
Seeing the area — once filled to the brim with beer and loud music and loud people — replaced by a coffee station and soft jazz and lost souls was my sign that it was time to go home. New Orleans and the Super Bowl had defeated me. The fun was over. Back to reality.
I exited the hotel and walked to a major street with hopes of flagging down a cab. A charter bus pulled up in front of me. The passengers: 40 new arrivals, with suitcases and beads, headed to a hotel.
The Super Bowl was over, which meant it was back to the main event: Mardi Gras.
For 10 seconds, I considered turning around and asking the staff of the Wyndham formerly known as the Bud Light Hotel formerly known as the Wyndham what their rates were like during Mardi Gras. While my body begged me to just go home, New Orleans had stolen a part of my soul and made it its own. I love this lawless, delicious place.