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Texas reeks of football. It's a state where the sport is more entrenched than anywhere else in the United States. Sunday's game will be a look at the future of American sports culture, with all of the supersized vulgarity that is a Texas trademark
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By STEPHEN BRUNT
  
  

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Saturday, February 5, 2011 – Page S1

DALLAS -- sbrunt@globeandmail.com

On one side of their helmets, the Pittsburgh football team wears a logo drawn not from the game, but from industry. It means steel, which once defined that city, and the link between civic identity and work and sport goes back to the very first professional games.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been the family business of the Rooneys since 1933, when Art Sr., who worked but a single day in the mills before deciding that he could do better betting on horses, bought the team for $2,500 (all currency U.S.) after a particularly good day at the track.

The Green Bay Packers were founded in 1919, and have been publicly owned by the people of that small Wisconsin city since 1922. Their nickname comes from the Indian Packing Company, a long-gone canned meat concern where their first coach and star player, Curly Lambeau, worked as a shipping clerk. Watching football in that plain, working-class town, in the modern stadium that bears Lambeau's name, is like a step back in time.

To this day neither franchise, as has been noted often this Super Bowl week, employs that newfangled invention, cheerleaders.

These teams even in their modern incarnations are links to American football past, American sports culture past, two great, historic narratives intersecting Sunday night when they kick off the 45th Super Bowl.

"When you look at this matchup," National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell said Friday at his pregame news conference, "Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers - that says football."

This place says football as well, a state where the sport at every level is bigger and more deeply entrenched than anywhere else in the United States, and has been for decades.

But in addition to the nostalgic and cultural overtones, the game that will take place here on Sunday night will also be very much a look at American sports culture future, with all of the supersized vulgarity that is a Texas trademark. (Cheerleaders? This is the place where they ... reimagined them.)

It's hard to remember a Super Bowl where the location has been so fundamental to the story.

Other than the post-Katrina return to New Orleans, this travelling road show and corporate schmooze-fest is all but impervious to outside influences. Some cities do it better than others, but essentially the event exists in a bubble; no one looks back at those roman numerals and thinks of Detroit or Tampa or Jacksonville.

Texas is different because Texans are obsessed with this game - not just the NFL, but at every level right down to Pop Warner.

Even Canadians, who know so well how a single sport can be tied inextricably to national identity, would find it hard to process exactly how much football means here, how much is invested in it, how high-school Fridays and college Saturdays and NFL Sundays are occasions of common pause.

Consider, for instance, that when bad weather forced the Packers to practise indoors this week, they shifted to a $4.5-million facility built for that specific purpose, which houses a local high-school team (as a point of comparison, there isn't a single team in the CFL that has one, nor do the Washington Redskins of the NFL).

Another suburban Dallas school is building itself a new stadium, capacity 18,000, cost $60-million.

And there are at least three others in the state bigger than that.

(Asked how he felt about being forced to move into high-school digs in advance of the NFL's championship game, Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy noted dryly: "High school is different in Texas.")

If this is indeed America's football capital, then the place they're holding the Super Bowl on Sunday is its shrine, or at least what the shrine would be if surrounded by an amusement park.

The new Cowboys Stadium, which cost at least $1.1-billion to construct and which will be host to a record crowd, is in many ways the answer to the major sports marketing question of the moment: How do you lure people away from their big-screen televisions and computers and the smorgasbord of sports content they convey, and drag them out to the ballpark or the arena, with all of the cost and hassle involved?

The answer, at least for Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, is that you overwhelm them, you construct something so lavish, so innovative, so over-the-top that it becomes part of the attraction.

Want to watch the game on television?

Come to the stadium and watch it on the biggest screen on earth along with 105,000 of your closest friends.

Everyone in the stands on Sunday, and a worldwide audience watching on television, is going to know exactly where this Super Bowl is being played.

The stadium may be a harbinger of what's to come, but more likely, given the cost, it will continue to stand alone, the biggest, flashiest and most expensive monument to the game in the place it matters most.

In other words, it's Texas-size; a state as an adjective.

Nowhere else could it be like this.

****

Poll: Americans favour professional football

What is your favourite sport to watch?

Football 41%

Baseball 13%

Basketball 12%

Auto racing 7%

Other 26%

No answer 2%

Has your interest in pro football increased, decreased, or stayed the same?

Increased 34

Decreased 15

Same 51

Overall, has the NFL become more, less dangerous, or stayed the same?

More 37

Less 17

Same 51

NOTE: NUMBERS MAY NOT ADD TO 100 DUE TO ROUNDING

THE GLOBE AND MAIL // SOURCE: AP POLLS


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