It’s no easy trek to get around the Concourse about an hour before kickoff and at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Philadelphia and New England fans are smashed together like sardines while they jockey for a route to their respective seats.
Not only was this the first nonpreseason NFL game I ever attended, it was also the 2017 Super Bow. I was there as a reporter for KSL-TV, so any loyalty to any team or any player ended with the conclusion of our family’s fantasy football league.
I was an observer and here I saw – men and women, young and old, decorated in the colors of their team – green for the Eagles and blue for the Patriots. They perform their kind of high-fives as if they are family devotees kneeling at a reunion, bypassing the opposition.
This is a moment where politics, religion, ethnicity and financial status in life are thrown aside, and replaced by a one-for-all and one-for-all mindset. It’s a feeling that hot dogs and drinks are too much for everyone, and nobody cares, despite the fact that some are reached by limousine and others by city bus.
I put myself on the sidelines and watch this mass of humanity rally around each other and that’s when it hit me – the true power of the game isn’t in the Super Bowl itself, but in the way it can be imparted to one person, one community. social identity. One state and, as we see across the country during the Olympics.
Nothing out of tragedy can bring a community together more quickly and with more enthusiasm than a sports franchise. This is the reason why politicians are willing to shell out tax money to build and maintain the arena because there is no better way to voluntarily unite people for a cause.
Utah saw it first when the Jazz reached the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998, and again when the state hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics. It didn’t matter what religion you supported, which candidate you voted for or which college team you supported, on those occasions it was one for and one for. And it was good.
In recent years, Las Vegas has used games to reinforce or at least expand its identity beyond gambling. The birth of the NHL’s Golden Knights and the Raiders’ relocation to the NFL not only led to growth (T-Mobile Arena and Allegiant Stadium), but it also gave locals something they could hang their hats on—or at least a hat. Could buy and install it. , In Logan, Utah my 6-year-old granddaughter proudly wears her Golden Knights hat.
Las Vegas will host the sold-out BYU-Notre Dame game on October 8, the Super Bowl in 2024 and the Las Vegas Review Journal reports that the city is a finalist to host the Final Four between 2027 and 2031 – all three events in one. The bars were as immeasurable as the return of those 99-cent shrimp cocktails in the gambling mecca.
Still waiting on the shrimp.
During my 20 years working for KLAS-TV in Las Vegas, megaevents included boxing and convention, with a marketing focus on nightlife. This left little for the locals, a melting pot of trickster to begin with, to rally behind, especially when Runin’ rebels ran out of gas. While its flaws still have their place, a very strong one, the game has given Las Vegasans more to offer – and more to identify with.
Of course, just like in sports, there are always hits and misses.
Three years before I covered the Super Bowl, I was in Sochi, Russia, to report on the 2014 Winter Olympics. Many people, including me, were of the opinion that the Games should never have happened.
For one, the city of Sochi is a resort town with a subtropical climate in which only snow is visible when you come out of the machine. Most of the snow used in mountain sites was also sculpted. Second, Russian President Vladimir Putin spent $50 billion in an effort to show the world that he was not only dear to his people, but that he was still a player on the global stage.
Putin attended events one after the other, smiling and waving. The pop-up venues were state-of-the-art, and, on television, the games were presented as Russia’s finest hour—particularly by non-NBC outlets that were broadcasting to the rest of the world.
The real moment for me came when I stepped out of the spectacular ice hockey arena and saw smoke billowing out of the houses on the hill nearby. Without electricity, they had heat coming out of a chimney. It became quite clear, this Russian renaissance I was seeing was fake.
Even with deep pockets and national athletes, Putin still couldn’t change Russia’s identity and when several of those Olympians tested positive for doping, it made things worse.
As a side note, on my way to the airport to fly home, I saw an endless convoy of military trucks transporting Russian soldiers from Sochi to their next assignment. By the time we arrived in New York, there had been talk about Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
The fun and games were over and his chance at a new identity turned into an identity-crisis and eventually an international crisis.
I asked a group of Russian college students who were providing volunteer work on a skeleton/bobsleigh track, do they still recognize the United States as a place to be? One young woman said without hesitation, “Oh yes! My goal is to graduate and get to America somehow.”
Sorry Mr. Putin, $50 billion didn’t change his opinion. This is quite a mistake.
BYU and Utah football programs are no strangers to an identity crisis. Historically, it seems that when one team is up and full of itself, the other is down and as fans, we take it personally because it affects us socially.
BYU enjoyed “king of the hill” status in the WAC, while Utah closed the gap between them in the Mountain West Conference. With the Pac-12 Invitational in 2011, the Utes cemented their identity with a P5 position and enjoyed a nine-game winning streak against BYU.
The Cougars went through an in-state skid and fought to stay relevant as an independent for 11 years. But, the Big 12 invitation on September 10, 2021, and the BEU’s 26–17 victory against Utah the following day, immediately recharged the BEU’s identity like a Red Bull firefly.
In recent weeks, with the announcement of USC and UCLA moving to the Big Ten, the Utes are looking at a new crisis. What will happen to them if the Pac-12 falls? As unimaginable as a month ago, it was top of mind at last week’s Pac-12 Media Day in Los Angeles, and Identifies nothing more than uncertainty — just ask Jazz.
The Cougars, Utes and Jazz are all facing uncertainty and all at the same time. One team is making changes to its roster, preparing to move to a new conference, and the other trying to keep its existing league together.
Fortunately, for fans who are powerless against money and the politics of the game, even at the collegiate level, simpler, more enjoyable times are coming back.
In just a month, we can again wear our respective team jerseys, blue, red or whatever color Jazz has worn, and throw high-fives to complete strangers and witty one-offs on social media. Liners can post as another season begins. Or tipped.
Competition and judgment-free fellowship is what we thrive on — it’s our social identity — and it’s why we don’t mind buying those overpriced hot dogs and beverages.
Dave McCann is a contributor to Deseret News and studio host for “After Forward Review”, co-host for “Countdown to Kickoff” and “The Postgame Show,” and the play-by-play announcer for BYUtv.