Going deep into the comfort zone 

While I don't follow -- or even understand -- pro football, Super Bowl Sunday is another matter entirely. Sitting around on my fat American rump while eating fried foods, drinking beer and criticizing the performance of men who are obviously my genetic superiors? I get that.

And so does House of Blues. This year, the venue made a valiant effort to turn its concert hall into a home-away-from-home for bloated armchair quarterbacks. The same sofas HOB employs in its "Living Room Jam" acoustic-music nights were set out in front of an enormous wide-screen TV, the better to pile-drive the Big Game's hard hits and overblown computer graphics into the skulls of sports fans grown heavy-lidded on a diet of discounted well brands and "stadium food." The latter menu included grilled hot dogs, Buffalo chicken drummets and barbecued-beef sandwiches topped with cheddar cheese; it was a wonder that any of us could hear the penalties being called over the sound of our arteries snapping shut.

With so much homey enabling going on, who needed to comprehend the NFL? Certainly not the woman I overheard admitting that she had no idea which teams were actually competing in Super Bowl XXXIV. "This is like talking serious politics to me," she shrugged as two men tried in vain to explain to her the elimination process that had led the St. Louis Rams and the Tennessee Titans to the field of honor. The photographer I brought along was just as confused, muttering, "I didn't even know Tennessee had a goddamn team." I was relieved that his utter ignorance of the former Houston Oilers' convoluted path to glory matched my own.

Where the La-Z Boys are

A full hour before game time, the seven couches and two easy chairs in front of the screen were already occupied, leaving the rest of us to make do with ordinary bar stools. What's the point of sloth, I wondered, if you have to be punctual to indulge it?

The woman sitting next to me -- an avowed Rams fan -- watched intently as her team took to the field, butting their heads together to dislodge any excess, unnecessary gray matter. She was in good company during the first half, wherein most of the cheers that resounded through the hall were reserved for rushes performed by the St. Louis athletes or field goals bungled by the Titans.

"Sounds like a Rams kinda room," I nudged her. "Any idea why that is?"

"The Rams are better," she assured. If only life were that simple or fair.

The St. Louis squad's dominance of the first two quarters pleased her to no end. As a less partisan observer, I was more concerned with grabbing the attention of the waitresses who seemed to have decided that any foray into our area would have them declared offside. However sporadic, their appearances were marked by a good cheer that was vastly preferable to the reaction one would have incurred by asking a buddy to "fetch me some nachos from the kitchen" while watching at home.

When the Titans rallied in the third quarter, the upstairs balcony exploded in huzzahs. Either some fair-weather fans were switching sides or the Tennessee supporters had arrived late. Maybe they weren't aware they had a team until that afternoon, either.

Who's got the remote?

The game's audio was pumped through the venue's full P.A. system, but was kept at a modest level throughout. It was a disappointment: Once you've seen Any Given Sunday, you expect the grunts and smacks of the gridiron to loosen your molars. The decibels only reached jet-plane amplitude during the laughable, millennially themed halftime show, which would have benefited from total signal loss rather than the musical reminder that "celebrating the future" means putting up with Phil Collins.

Even that spectacle was better received than the mostly lackluster commercials advertisers had paid the gross national product of Chad to produce and air. Using Christopher Reeve as a pitchman for investment opportunities was just sad, and when the game's resumption saw Titan Blaine Bishop take a scary blow to the head, I feared some Madison Avenue ghoul would run out and offer him an endorsement deal.

A nail-biter of a fourth quarter divided the audience into highly vocal camps. The guy in front of me became so carried away that he energetically mimed the ref's calls. Emulating a striped-shirted official instead of a player is ego projection of the most realistic order.

When the Rams earned their eventual triumph, even a non-football fan like me had to admit that this had been a pretty exciting Sunday. (And I had been ready to grade it on relaxation value only.) I'd gladly consider coming back for Super Bowl XXXV, especially if HOB buys a few more sofas. Who knows? Maybe Florida will have an NFL team of its own by then.

I know, I know. You don't have to write in and tell me.


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