Bowled over by one Super party
Friends Luca De Angels, 20 of Red Hill, Jack Pendleton, 21 of Hackett and Myles Holcombe, 21 of Lyneham at Smoque restaurant to watch the Super Bowl on Monday. Photo: Melissa Adams
The bison (his big hairy head fixed to a plaque) showed no emotion. But every other face in the Smoque BBQ restaurant in Civic showed great excitement on Monday as on big TV screens Baltimore's Jacoby Jones sprinted 108 triumphant yards for his historic touchdown.
Jones' feat early in the second half, something called a kickoff return (rugby league fans should imagine a kind of end-to-end try) was the longest such kickoff return touchdown in Super Bowl history. No wonder the 120 American football fans wedged into the very authentic American restaurant to watch the Super Bowl final from New Orleans went wild. From high up on the wall the bison looked down on them unmoved.
In the US at the very same time an estimated 110 million Americans were glued to their TV screens, watching the same thing (it has the biggest audience of any one-day sporting event on earth) and an estimated 70 million of them were at Super Bowl parties a bit like yesterday's in Civic. The Baltimore Ravens withstood a siege from the San Francisco 49ers to clinch the Super Bowl by three points.
Earlier, at half-time (and as superstar Beyonce gave a titillatingly indecent performance in a garment that somehow managed to be made of black leather but to be lingerie) Gang-Gang took the restaurant's owner, Grant Kells, away from the noise and out into Petrie Plaza for a chat. Along the immediate stretch of the plaza young men who had spilled out of the small, dark, establishment for some half-time fresh air played a boisterous impromptu game of (non-contact) gridiron. The hurled ball sometimes went up through the leafy branches of the plaza's pin oaks.
Kells, an Englishman but resplendent in an American football guernsey and wearing a three-string necklace of red, white and blue stars, is the largest human being I have interviewed. If ever there is a Canberra stage production of the Biblical saga of David and Goliath, Kells will make a good Goliath; although, affable as anything at the moment, he would need acting lessons to make him authentically scary.
''We're having a big Super Bowl party,'' he rejoiced.
''Obviously ours is an American restaurant. We serve southern American BBQ food.''
Yes, the menu board on the wall near the bison head boasts such high-protein dishes as Carolina Pulled Pork, Texas Brisket and Memphis Pork Ribs.
''So, being an American place, we decided to open up and have a big Super Bowl party. Never done it before. But it's crazy, so obviously American football is very popular here in Canberra. It's just like being in a sports bar in the US, even though it's a Monday morning here.''
Almost all yesterday's revellers were part of the small but intensely enthusiastic Canberra American football community.
''Do you play? You seem to have the physique for it,'' I wondered, marvelling at Kells' tree-trunkish arms.
''Yes, I play. We have six teams in Canberra. We play every Saturday morning. It's like a rotating league. When we're not playing we're the referees for the other games. I'm English. I've been playing since I was 12.''
Why on earth, I wondered (for in my experience of watching it American football is as exciting as watching a glacier taking centuries to come down a valley), would an English boy play gridiron when he can play any one of the codes of football in which there's action, and action that swirls excitingly to and fro?
''Well I couldn't run fast enough for rugby,'' Kells owned up, but then went on to sing the praises of gridiron as a game full of nuances and requiring infinite patience and tactical nous.
''I love it! I think it's a great sport!'' he enthused, his star-spangled necklace glittering attractively in the Petrie Plaza sunlight.
Then it was time to plunge back into the crowded, noisy gloom of Smoque, premises decorated not only with its bison head but also, to add to the southern American ambience, with big cactus plants.
Lots of the merriment in the room was assisted by servings of an American-style beer called Fat Yak. Given the attractiveness of its name this columnist yearn to try it but my calling's fabled Code of Ethics forbid me and all reporters from drinking while at work.
American football seems so dull and uneventful that Beyonce's dynamic, action-packed half-time song and dance seemed to utterly eclipse the first half's slow, fitful football.
But then, the second half was barely under way when even Beyonce was eclipsed by Jacoby Jones' spellbinding sprint. Now those of us who thought the sport dull will have to think again.
Smoque's cactuses and things on plaques (as well as the taciturn bison there are lots of deer skulls) were rattled by the patrons' shouts and cheers.
One had that lovely sense that one sometimes has at happy occasions of being where the action is. There is a sense of global camaraderie about being, as we were in Civic on Monday, part of a TV audience of an estimated 1 billion souls.