The American football faithful congregate for high mass at the Vienna Viking’s Superbowl party

With the Superbowl looming, I can barely contain myself. Everyone knows that Brits love an underdog, and so as the sweeping grandeur of Vienna’s Parkring comes into view, I’m bursting with optimism. Tonight is the screening of one of the world’s biggest sporting events, which this year will feature my once lowly team, the Carolina Panthers.

Passing by the gaze of TV cameras and ducking beneath security barriers, I circumnavigate the Marriott Hotel’s black-tie security to reach the welcome desk, where smiling girls hang my pass proudly round my neck. Tonight, my team’s the favorite: It’s our time in the sun. Or the moon if you prefer, seeing as the game will start at a very unsociable 1one o’clock in the morning.

The American football faithful congregate for high mass at the Vienna Viking’s Superbowl party.
The American football faithful congregate for high mass at the Vienna Viking’s Superbowl party.

Monday morning football

In the midst of vibrant team colors and a seller hawking his must-have team shirts for a mere “€65”s, I sidle along the bustling buffet queues and fill my first plate to the brim. Water is the best accompaniment for now, as the vast glass greenhouse is stifling hot. Women hold tightly to their escorts, balancing their plates. As people squeeze between bars toppling with cold beers to get a view of the huge central screen, the legends’ names stitched to their oversized -jerseys become visible. My pocket starts buzzing with friends asking whether it’s still possible to get in.

This is evidently the hottest ticket in town.

As the kickoff draws nearer, the bold blues and oranges of the competitors dominate amongst the fans. “How did you start supporting the Broncos?” I ask one huddled gathering. “I bet €50 on them! The Panthers are better though, they’ll probably win”. Friends shoot daggers of disapproval; perhaps he hadn’t been quite so forthright when they had all coughed up. “Well, you have to choose someone,” admitted another fan. He was kitted out like a squad member.

Whatever the bonds, the Broncos elicit the biggest roars from the crowd. I’m outnumbered as Denver’s orange jerseys (white for this occasion) take on Carolina in blue helmet to helmet.

The game lasts hours, passing by in flashes of nervous play, beer-guzzling blokes and advert after big brand advert. “Only in America,” somebody sighs during the much-vaunted half-time show. But contagious consumerism, or the beer, must have affected me too, as I straighten the extortionately priced blue T-shirt I’ve pulled on over my clothes.

Then as a Panthers kick floats up elegantly, and pings cleanly off the posts ringing like a tuning fork, my hope wanes. The writing is on the wall; it’s not my day. The Denver ticker tape turns the stadium orange; the only thing turning blue is the air, filled with expletives from Carolina’s sector. By now it’s 04:30 and I’m flagging. I slink out, scuffing through empty bottles and soaked program pages, wondering why. Why do I even bother with this stuff at all?

Telling it like it is

The quiet trudge home is a contemplative one, taking me up Weihburggasse along a deserted Graben. I feel deflated. Why do we do this? This heartache is too real.

But sport is encapsulating, it’s intoxicating (sometimes literally) and the highs feel real, too. Why else would thousands of people converge on a Vienna hotel at one o’clock in the morning to watch some boys in California throw a ball 30 yards down the field, running for their lives?

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Tom Middler came to Vienna in 2014 when he realized that as a freelance actor and writer, he didn't have to ask a responsible adult's permission to move to the world's "Most Livable City." You can regularly find him on stage with Open House Theatre, writing at his desk (mainly about all things sporting) or sipping a cold beer at Clash.