Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Super excuse to party

NFL’s title game gives many county residents a chance for food, fun and friends

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Christopher Anderson⁄The Gazette
Ken Brady, manager of Cluck-U Chicken at Largo Plaza, holds up a basket of wings. He says Super Bowl Sunday is their busiest day of the year and they could sell more than six times as much this Sunday as they usually do on that day.
Less than 30 minutes into the Jan. 20 playoff between his beloved New England Patriots and the San Diego Chargers, Kevin Lei started planning his Super Bowl party.

‘‘Everybody’s coming to my house,” he declared before his friends as they watched the game at The Greene Turtle sports bar in Laurel. ‘‘We’ll have HD TV, the works ... all that.”

Even without local favorites — the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens — vying for the Vince Lombardi Trophy, area football fans are planning to party as the Patriots take on the New York Giants this Sunday in Arizona.

‘‘Everybody watches the Super Bowl,” said Toby Rossell, a Laurel teacher and Green Bay Packers fan. ‘‘That’s the big deal.”

While they may not be in the same numbers as the local teams, fans of the final four playoff teams can still be found in the county.

The devotees easiest to track down are for New England, repeat champions who have gone undefeated this season.

‘‘It helps that they’re winning,” said Jason Koenig, who came out to the recent playoff gatherings wearing a New England jersey.

While he doesn’t describe himself as a ‘‘bandwagon fan,” he admits he’s backing the team for a different kind of loyalty: to wide receiver Wes Welker.

‘‘I was even a Dolphins fan when he was there,” Koenig said.

Other fans are transplants with long ties to their hometown teams.

‘‘I’ve been a Chargers fan all my life. I was born in San Diego,” said Richard Perkins of Laurel, who came out the Playoff to watch the Chargers’ loss to New England.

Even though his team didn’t make it to the Super Bowl, Perkins said he was happy it made it further than the Redskins did.

‘‘I don’t let it get to me,” he said, explaining that his friends often ridiculed him.

‘‘The season was a little disappointing at first,” he said, ‘‘but it’s turned out well.”

Wisconsin fans, who watched Green Bay lose in overtime to New York, also counted their blessings.

‘‘It’s been great. Not even the Packers thought they’d do this well” said Rossell, who added that he’d also root for the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

‘‘They’re too strong. And they’re in their element,” he said.

Regardless of rivalry, the Super Bowl has long had a tendency to unite people.

Since 2001, the Super Bowl has attracted more than 80 million viewers each year, according to the Nielsen Media Research Group, the national television tracking company.

In 2007, viewership hit a new record with 93.1 million people turning in.

‘‘It’s all about good friends, and good teams,” said Sarah Reichert, a Packers fan from Columbia.

Among the top 10 shows since 2000, Super Bowl games have attracted the highest number of viewers, taking the top eight spots. (Only the series finale of Friends and the first season finale of Survivor broke the trend.)

TV is key

And unlike other shows, Super Bowl games bring a crowd in the same room. Market research from 2005 found that less than 5 percent of people watched the big game alone.

‘‘I remember once when my baby was on the way, I was putting a crib together with the game on in the background. That was a weird feeling,” said Dave Mimms, a football fan and television salesman from Laurel. ‘‘It was the worst Super Bowl ever.”

If the trinity for the football’s biggest day is TV, friends and food, Mimms can supply the first element.

As manager at Audio Visual Solutions in Laurel, Mimms has helped thousands of homeowners deck out their basements and living rooms with big-screen TVs, stereos and the like.

And football is a driving factor in the decision, he said.

‘‘Almost 100 percent are football fans,” he said. ‘‘Part of that excitement is having that big screen.”

Though large TVs often sell for more than $2,000, it’s a cost many are willing to bear for a game, said Mimms, who also said more than 10 percent of the company’s annual sales come from the run-up to the big game.

Marketing plays a role as well. Most major manufacturers start offering deep discounts on television equipment right after the holidays.

Add that with no-interest finance plans, and there’s a deal that many prospective buyers are up for.

Recent broadcast switches to high definition have also upped interest in recent years, giving a new element to games.

‘‘It’s really brought a lot of excitement,” Mimms said. ‘‘You can see the blades of grass on the field, the scratches on the guys’ helmets.

‘‘If you get a projector and put it up in a big room, it’s like being at the game.”

Pass the food

Splurging is a natural part of the day, fans say.

‘‘It’s like having a New Year’s party all over again,” said Rossell.” It’s a big cavalcade of fun, where everybody’s spending an exorbitant amount.”

And area cooks are happy to provide. At the Cluck-U Chicken franchise in Largo, manager John Scott knows it’ll happen again in a few days.

‘‘Super Bowl is our biggest day of the year, definitely,” he said. ‘‘We’re talking triple — sometimes even six times the business of a normal Sunday.”

Crew at the eatery start arriving at 7:30 a.m., five hours before they open, to get ready prepping chicken limbs for quick frying and saucing.

Scott said he expects his location alone will serve up more than 1,000 pounds of wings in the hours leading up to the game, and those are just for pick-up.

‘‘I don’t know where it came from,” he said, ‘‘but everybody wants their wings.”

And he means everybody. Scott recommends that hosts consider ordering well in advance to avoid the ‘‘insane” rushes in the three hours before kick-off.

‘‘And that’s for any food, pizza, wings, anything. We run all afternoon, and then it just drops off,’ he said.

If freshness is a concern, consider getting the wings with the sauce on the side, he said.

‘‘They reheat the best that way,” he said.

And if the game and food aren’t your thing, it might be a good time to hit the movies.

According to Nielsen ratings, box office receipts the weekend of Super Bowl Sunday are usually 30 percent smaller compared to the average winter weekend.

E-mail Daniel Valentine at dvalentine@gazette.net.