There was a plastic tent in front of the aircraft carrier and a man in a black sport coat was shouting—with great authority—at a group of media people waiting to get inside the Madden Bowl party and out of the cold. A generator had just blown inside the tent, which was already filled to capacity to cover celebrity arrivals on the blue carpet. (I got an email listing all the celebs who would be in attendance, including Donald Trump Jr.!) No one else was allowed inside, but that didn't stop the media folks from inching closer and closer and closer to the opening flap anyway, like a herd of airplane passengers all ready to cut one another to get on board.
"We can't let anyone in right now unless someone who is already inside comes out," the man said to a bunch of groans.
One lady sneered at him, "What if you're a celebrity?" She was not a celebrity. (At least, I don't think she was. I think she was a handler.)
The bouncer, one of seemingly thousands guarding every orifice of the tent, shook his head. The lady walked off. I heard two cameramen laughing about it.
"One year the party was full and they had to turn Shaq away. They don't give a fuck."
"Does Shaq even count as one person? Shouldn't he count as two?"
If you think of the Super Bowl as a convention, you get a much clearer idea of it. The game is usually played in warm weather, but spiritually, it should be played every year in Cedar Rapids. All of the standard business convention hallmarks are there: people wearing lanyards, PR reps hawking random shit at booths, the same group of motherfuckers showing up at a new party location each night, etc. It's designed for you to complain about it. It's SuperCon: the culmination of a thousand event planners making a thousand little signs with a thousand logos on them. It's an empty event—you've heard it a zillion times before in "The Super Bowl is so vacuous and AMERICAN" columns like this one—but that doesn't mean people weren't working tirelessly behind the scenes to create that emptiness.
I was standing with the media folks trying to get into the tent while the bouncer asked what media outlets we were from. Immediately people began shouting out USA TODAY! and NFL NET! with great gusto. I retreated away from the pack and walked across 12th Avenue to an empty lounge that had an open bar and a staff ready on hand to accommodate whatever manner of Eurodouche might come stepping through the door. I got a club soda and a shot of Jack for $17.
The Madden Bowl is an annual Super Bowl week party, and this year it took place near the USS Intrepid museum. Not on the ship itself though; they probably didn't want anyone getting shitfaced and shooting themselves out of a torpedo tube. To get to the party, you had to go through the tent, past all the security checkpoints (there were many), and then up a flight of stairs and across a foot bridge that went back over 12th Avenue to a giant party tent. I walked across the footbridge and it was bathed in a cold Bud Light-blue light. I wanted to grab an axe and chase Shelley Duvall across it.
After you got past the footbridge, there was a coat check, which is always a lose-lose proposition. Either you drag your fucking coat around all night, or you check it knowing that you will stand in line for three hours at the end of the night to get it, and that you will need to give the lady a single only you won't have a single. That's how it works. I suck at coat checks.
At last, I got to the main tent, which was covered in Astroturf and dotted with bars offering free (FUCK YEAH FREE) Bud Light. All five kinds! Regular Bud Light for the bros; Bud Light lime for bros who wanna just chill; Bud Light Platinum for bros who want a touch of elegance, and the requisite Cran- and Straw-Brr-Rita flavors for bros who like colorful vomit. They also passed around hors d'oeuvre. Shrimp! Can't go wrong when you got free shrimp. Apart from the shrimp, the party looked exactly like any designated tailgate bullpen bar you see outside of a baseball or football stadium. There were lots of attractive women and lots of stern men with their arms crossed. And there were free bags of Funyuns.
I had a joint in my pocket (REBEL!) that I wanted to smoke inside the party (DOUBLE REBEL!) but there were too many bouncers. If you're a bouncer, standing around is boring. You need ACTION, and pummeling some hippie trying to smoke a j in the open is probably an easy way to get your beatdown on. I refrained.
On the stage, there were eight EA-branded recliners and four TV monitors set up, plus Madden Bowl dancers shimmying around and/or doing that hot girl pose where you crouch down and look around, LIKE A HUNGRY TIGER. In front of each monitor were nameplates for the NFL stars and future stars in attendance: Cam Newton, Eddie Lacy, AJ Green, Teddy Bridgewater (already a glory boy!), etc. The Madden Bowl pits these players against each other in a miniature Madden tournament. Behind the stage was a huge Jumbotron so you could watch the players as they played each other. I assume all the athletes who showed up got paid to do it, but it was clear that, at any event like this, the coolest people are the ones who don't bother to show up.
Before the tourney, host Trey Wingo announced to the crowd that he couldn't find Bridgewater, and that Teddy needed to come backstage. TEDDY WAS MISSING. I pictured him kidnapped by Lois Einhorn. Anyway, they found him in time to play the games. Bridgewater picked the Broncos to play with, which makes him a damn frontrunner, far as I'm concerned.
After the tournament, the Roots were scheduled to play, and I was like, "Hey, The Roots! Nice! I like The Roots!" Then I realized that I don't actually listen to any of The Roots's albums, and that maybe I only like them as people. Then I felt bad for not devoting more of my time to The Roots.
There was a platform above the main floor with cushy seats and shit. This was the VIP area, so I went up to the bouncer near the staircase and asked, as a member of the coastal elite media elite, if I could go up.
"What color is your wristband? Pink and gold are the magic colors."
"Mine is blue."
"Not the magic color, my friend."
I walked back to the shrimp guy. I bet The Donald Jr. was up that staircase. When you're a VIP, you get to look down at all the little people. They are your set dressing. That's the deal when you hit up shit like this: you're the unpaid extra. You are part of a made-for-TV event that isn't actually televised.
The tournament began and I tried to figure out if the players in attendance were actually just FAKING their gameplay and watching pre-played virtual simulations. After all, Madden is fucking hard now. I bet at least one of them was utterly clueless about how to play. Maybe they had to take a seminar before playing on stage. "Cam, this is the triangle button."
I went to a wedding at a country club a couple summers ago and got real shitfaced. And while the guests were out on the floor dancing to Beyoncé covers, a friend and I snuck out onto the golf course and got shitfaced on a putting green. You could see the dark outlines of the trees lining each fairway. You could hear the distant sounds of people singing and dancing. I stood there in the dark with my friend and we shot the shit about kids and football and all that other crap, and it was perfect. That's what happens at a good party. You find the niches. You find the little spots where you make a party of your own within the party. You escape.
But this was not that sort of party. This was one big room and you were either inside being pelted with the music or you were pissing or you were leaving. You weren't sneaking nowhere. Take away the athletes and The Roots and replace Trey Wingo with your company's chief corn lobbyist and you would know where you were: In a meeting. A meeting with shrimp, but a meeting nonetheless.
Apart from the usual reasons—drinking, potential sex partners, work—you might wonder why people would bother showing up to events like this… why we're drawn to big crowded events with big dudes with earpieces making sure you don't go somewhere you're not allowed to go. And the reason why is because we're a magnetic species. You ever go to a stadium and walk the concourse before taking your seat and peek through the entrance ramps to get a flash of the crowd inside? You feel the crowd. You can sense them nearby. There's some sort of internal HEY BIG SHIT IS GOING ON IN THERE feeling that's impossible to resist. And then you walk into the arena and have your breath taken away by its vastness.
When I first showed up outside the Madden Bowl, I saw crowds of well-dressed people trudging through the cold to these two massive ships—the Intrepid and the Bud Light Cruise Ship—that were lit up with that cold blue glow. You could hear their voices in the distance and watch them flow like the pack of ice crowding the banks of the Hudson. I know exactly how inane events like these are, but I took in the scene from across 12th Avenue and I thought it was fucking gorgeous. I just liked beholding it. All those people. Sometimes I'll be driving and I'll see a spotlight roaming the skies and I will always want to drive toward it. There are people there. I want to be near them.
I left the party and walked along a deserted 44th street. There was a hidden space next to some dumpster, so I huddled into it and smoked my joint. My own little party. You can always find your spot if you look around.