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Super Bowl a super event

By Steve Huffman

Salisbury Post

It was Super Bowl Sunday, so the usual gang was hunkered down in front of the TV at the home of John and Kim Russ.

It’s a tradition almost a decade in the making.

“It’s always exciting,” Kim said. “Even when we don’t care who’s playing, we still have fun.”

John and Kim live in the Summerfield subdivision off N.C. 150 west of Salisbury. This year, they had a crowd of 20 or so on hand for the Super Bowl matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears.

In years past — when the Carolina Panthers made it to the Super Bowl, for instance — the crowd was somewhat larger.

And more vocal.

But this year’s bunch was still plenty boisterous.

The crowd gathered at the Russes’ house is indicative of a tradition that spans the United States and — to an extent, at least — the entire globe.

Roughly 140 million viewers tuned in to some part of the 2006 Super Bowl. That’s more than voted in the 2004 presidential election (122 million), filed a federal tax return for 2005 (130 million) or went to church on any given Sunday in 2006 (on average, about 60 million).

That aforementioned 140 million figure is also more than 31/2 times the viewership for the highest-rated episodes of America’s top series — Fox’s “American Idol.”

Parties like the one the Russes throw on Super Bowl Sunday can be found at houses across the nation. In addition, bars report record crowds the night of the Super Bowl and churches also get in on the action — many staging Souper Bowl parties where attendees bring cans of soup for distribution to the needy.

Analysts who study such things say the Super Bowl is not just a game — it’s a party.

Unlike nearly every other TV program, tens of millions of people watch the Super Bowl in large groups, contributing to the perception of the game as an “event.”

That’s all well and good, but before we over-analyze things, let’s get back to the Russes’ get-together.

Ask the Russes and they’ll tell you that the Super Bowl simply represents a good opportunity to get together with good friends.

John coached football for years — everything from the local Youth Football League to a stint on the sidelines for Salisbury High School –and several of his coaching acquaintances are included on his Super Bowl party guest list.

(OK, technically, no such list exists. It’s not that formal a gathering. If you know either John or Kim, rest assured you’re welcome at their place come Super Bowl Sunday.)

Glenn Jones coached with John way back in the YFL days.

On Sunday night, he admitted he wasn’t rooting especially hard for either the Colts or Bears.

“I’m a fan of food,” Jones chuckled as he chowed down on a plate of Super Bowl delicacies — tasty offerings like buffalo wings and sausage biscuits.

While most of those at the Russes’ house said they weren’t longtime fans of either the Colts or Bears, there was definitely an Indianapolis bias as far as cheering was concerned.

When the Colts scored to go up 16-14 just before halftime, Tammy Pike hollered loud and long. “I just want Peyton (Manning, the Colts’ quarterback) to get the monkey off his back,” she said of his inability to win an NFL championship.

Liz Tennent brought with her a miniature Colts helmet that had been signed by Johnny Unitas — who quarterbacked the Colts during their glory days in Baltimore.

Tennent swore that the signature was the Real McCoy, and said the helmet had been passed down through her family over the years.

Dan Pike — Tammy’s husband — has coached high school football for years and became friends with John Russ while the two patrolled the sidelines at Salisbury High in the late 1990s.

Pike said he met Manning when he was quarterbacking the University of Tennessee about 10 years ago. Pike said that after being introduced to Manning, it’s hard not to pull for him.

“The persona he gives in commercials and interviews, that’s the way he is,” Pike said. “He’s an extremely nice guy.”

Information from The Associated Press and Washington Post was included in this story.

Contact Steve Huffman at 704-797-4222 or shuffman @salisburypost.com.

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