This Sunday, almost 100 million people will tune in to watch the Super Bowl. Many will have too much to drink. Almost all will have too much to eat. Presumably, about half will be disappointed in the result. All will have the chance to feel a sense of belonging.

Most of the time, we watch with others who support the same team. This brings us a sense of connection and camaraderie. And woe to those who are watching with people who support the rival team. They become strangers in a strange land.

Military by proxy

The military overtones of football have always intrigued me. As spectators, we feel a kind of kinship with our would-be brothers-in-arms by proxy. I always imagine football coaches as reincarnated military generals, plotting offense and defense, anticipating the enemy’s move.

In football, of course, nobody dies. We have come a long way since the ancient days of arena sports. We don’t watch gladiators fight to the death. Lacrosse teams do not actually get slaughtered (only sometimes metaphorically). Yet the stakes feel incredibly high.

The thrill of the game

For those of us who tune in for the sport (not the commercials, or the halftime show), spectatorship can bring a kind of thrill. When we care about the game, our adrenaline spikes. Our team gets ahead, we have a little flow of endorphins. Our team falls behind, and cortisol surges. It’s a kind of torture, willingly undertaken.

I remember shouting from the sidelines when my kids played football. Never before would I have imagined I would yell, “Get him!” about another 9-year-old. And yet, that’s what I yelled. And wondered who I had become, and what had become of me?

A sense of belonging

This weekend as I settle in to watch the Super Bowl, I will relax knowing that this time, I really don’t care about the result. I don’t have any skin in the game. And so I will also be watching the people watching. I can feel their thrill and their pain. I know what it is like to care.

And to shout “Get him!” about another human being.

And wonder at the sense of belonging we feel when we are banded against an Other.

On Sunday, I will be glad that it is really only about football, after all.