America's fifth largest city prepares to put on its A-game for Super Bowl XLII
BY JIMMY MAGAHERN
Published by: Arizona Republic Special Features, January 2008
The name of the contest itself has grown synonymous with the term, “the greatest.” Championship matches in pursuits ranging from bass fishing to underwater robotics have taken on the title “the Super Bowl of” as a way of asserting their significance and magnitude within the sport. Big-stakes challenges in business and in politics, where the nickname “Super Tuesday” has been given to the biggest presidential primary, are cast in the iconic shadow of the NFL’s championship game.
But only pro football has the Super Bowl, period. The biggest day in sport. The cultural phenomenon reliably viewed by more people each year than any single television broadcast. America’s unofficial national holiday, trailing only Thanksgiving as the second-biggest day of food consumption in the U.S.
Stars in other sports envy football’s season finale. Amare Stoudemire, the Phoenix Suns power forward and two-time NBA All-Star, has shattered records, lead his team to the playoffs and this summer will join the U.S. national team in the Olympics for a second time. Still, the Florida-raised basketball superstar asserts the “most exciting day” of his professional life was the Sunday spent watching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers win Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003.
“I can't wait until Cadillac Williams wins us another championship,” says Phoenix’s newest celebrity restaurateur, lapsing into a gushing gridiron fan at the memory. “What’s up, Cadillac! Love is love.”
Only Muhammad Ali, the athlete the world calls “The Greatest,” who recently settled into his new home in Paradise Valley, may feel confident enough in his dominance of the sports world not to feel humbled by the event (he declined comment). Clearly everyone else in the greater metro area has already conceded that the 2008 Super Bowl is the biggest thing to happen to the city since . . . well, the 1996 Super Bowl – Number XXX, played in Tempe’s Sun Devil Stadium.
“Phoenix and Arizona have grown a lot since 1996, but I suspect everyone would be hard-pressed to identify a single event since then that had more impact in turning people on to Arizona,” says Mike Kennedy, Host Committee chairman for this year’s event and a Phoenix attorney who also served on the committee for the 1996 game.
“There’s something about hosting a Super Bowl that can make a community experience a sense of pride like never before,” he says. “You know 232 countries will be tuning in, and that really makes a community want to put its best foot forward.”
Indeed, all of the many communities that make up the sprawling Valley of the Sun have united in their love of the game. Glendale feels lucky to be hosting it. “Glendale is now one of the very few cities in the U.S. that can boast it is now home to three major league sports franchises, an annual bowl game [the Fiesta Bowl], and this year, the Super Bowl,” says mayor Elaine Scruggs. Downtown Phoenix, where the Hyatt will serve as the NFL's headquarters, wants to throw its biggest party. “All of the sports networks will be here, and that’ll draw the players and coaches,” says Brian Kearney of the Downtown Phoenix Partnership. “There’ll be a tremendous amount of things to do here.” And Alice Cooper, the Valley’s most famous homegrown rock ‘n roll star, just wants to play it.
“I never played a Super Bowl before, but I’d love to play this one,” said Cooper at the start of his current North American tour, before the entertainment had been decided. “Although I think they’ll go with a much more commercial act than me. I think they should just get all the pop girls out of jail – Lindsey, Paris, and Britney, who’ll probably be in jail by that time – and do something with them. Just please don’t tell me it’s gonna be the Spice Girls!”
If he doesn’t get to play it, at lease Cooper, rock’s greatest golfer and a diehard enthusiast for all sports, can guarantee he’ll be somewhere in the bleachers.
“Oh yeah, especially since it’s in our back yard this year!” he says. “Although one of the most fun things about the Super Bowl is watching the commercials. And that’s the thing you don’t get in the stadium.”
Don’t be so sure, Alice. Whether or not the University of Phoenix Stadium decides to simulcast the commercials on the facility’s high-tech big screens, there’ll be plenty of commercials around in the form of promotional tie-ins that Valley businesses have been jockeying for in the past few months. Fans will be drinking from cups and sitting on seat cushions emblazoned with the logos of the city’s highest bidders.
“It becomes very competitive, and very expensive,” admits Kennedy, who adds that even companies who don’t score sponsorship deals will be looking to bask in the Super Bowl’s glow.
“Come February, I suspect the whole community will never be in better shape to be observed and occupy center stage,” he says. “And that’s pretty exciting in itself.”