I was visiting Melbourne, Australia, when the Atlanta Falcons played in their first Super Bowl following the 1998 season. I decided I would hold a Super Bowl party and invite all the Aussies I met.
A call to the NFL office assured me that the Super Bowl was big in Australia and that it would be televised there. It would be no problem gathering a crowd at a local sports bar. I decided I would simply find a place with a TV that could pick up the game via satellite and reserve it for my party. I would then print invitations and give them to everyone I met.
Much to my surprise, nobody I met had ever heard of the Super Bowl, much less knew when it was or that the Falcons were playing Denver. In my search for a sports bar, I found out that the Super Bowl would be at 10:30 Monday morning Melbourne time. I could reserve any sports bar I wanted.
So, I reserved the Crown Casino Sports Bar, which seated about 400 people, and I started giving out my invitations. I gave them, for instance, to the players on the Collingwood Magpies Aussie Rules Football Team. I asked team captain Nathan Buckley if he was looking forward to the Super Bowl. He asked me if I was looking forward to the Grand Final. I told him I didn’t know when the Grand Final was, and he told me he didn’t know when the Super Bowl was either. Despite the lack of knowledge of the Super Bowl and the NFL, my Super Bowl party was packed and all who attended were looking forward to watching their first game of American football. When it started, I was a besieged by the same question.“Why are they having all the meetings?” They were befuddled by the huddles and the long breaks between plays. I told them to wait a while and there would be a longer meeting called a timeout. Somehow, I got the feeling that American football might not catch on in Australia…too many meetings.
Next September will be the 100th birthday of the National Football League. What started as a confederation of a hodge-podge of teams with odd names like the Decatur Stanleys, Dayton Triangles, Muncie Flyers and Hammond Pros has grown into America’s greatest sports showcase with the most popular teams, in the most popular league, performing in the biggest event with the biggest TV audience every year. More than 100 million people watch the big game, and the most important business leaders gather and pay thousands of dollars attend.
George Halas and his friends wouldn’t recognize what they started, much less could they possibly envision its biggest party – the Super Bowl.
The NFL should be a good lesson to us all about perseverance. Most teams initially failed, crowds were meager and there was very little news coverage when the league formed. Even when Jim Thorpe, the country’s greatest athlete, was named president of the league two years later, the newspapers of the day didn’t choose to cover it.
Put aside the early struggles and look at the juggernaut of the NFL today.
It takes a huge effort by any city that wants to host a Super Bowl. Also, it takes a new state-of-the-art stadium and an owner and community willing to chase the prize of hosting what must be the most massive one-day event in the world. The Super Bowl is not only a showcase for Atlanta with more than 100 million TV viewers, hundreds of media in town and advertisers paying $5 million for a single 30-second TV spot. It is a statement of the preeminence of Atlanta as a can-do city, as a city that can come together and do big things. The Super Bowl attracts the top business leaders in the nation, and it is an opportunity to show them that Atlanta knows how to do things right. It showcases that the world’s busiest airport is an easy 15-minute ride from downtown Atlanta, that there are 10,000 hotel rooms within walking distance of a brand-new Mercedes Benz Stadium and that Atlanta is a city with plenty to see and do for any visitor any time during the year.
The Super Bowl is a super showcase for a super city. It is the chance to show off to people who have seen the world that there is no better place to do anything that is this big and important than Atlanta