Sunday, January 28, 2007

Eat the Football

Superbowl Sunday is nigh. It’s not enough that we put our lives on hold for the playoffs and the final big game. It’s not enough to paint ourselves purple and gold, or put our team’s flag on our cars like a diplomatic entourage. It’s not enough to get the big flat screen TV and invite the gang over for chili. We must do all this and more—we must eat the football too.

In the weeks before Superbowl Sunday, the newspapers contain thick packets of glossy advertising that spill out inconveniently. Inside we find scenes of drama, ritual blood-letting and cannibalism. This is the great intersection of football and food styling where simple staples like processed ham and chocolate frosting are turned into edible, celebratory art.

Cheese spread shaped into footballs. Goalpost canapés of pretzel sticks glued together with cheese. Dips and chips arrayed into a football diorama with stadium seating. Pizzas shaped like football helmets. Cakes portraying our fields of dreams, right up to the endzone. Even foccacia footballs. Like a consecrated host—this is Sunday after all—we can break bread with millions of fellow worshipers and partake of the body and blood of our culture.

I admire the internal consistency of using pork products to depict the pigskin. A cheese spread football coated with bacon bits and stitches of ham. A football-shaped ham salad. A pizza football covered with rondeles of pepperoni. Cocktail wieners fastened into goalposts.

There is a primal human urge to absorb the strength and power of our adversaries. Early man may have split open the skull of an enemy to ingest his brains at a post-war potluck. We enact the same ritual when we serve edible football and gridiron sculptures in our dens.

Pizzas become a canvas for an extended palette of peppers, anchovies and olives. Teams of mushroom caps and cherry tomatoes rush each other for a first down. Pepperoni piles up in man-to-man coverage but the onions break out and run for daylight. Uh-oh, a fumble, and now the snack mix has possession. Corn Chex passes to Wheat Chex, but the pretzel throws a flag because of peanut interference. Ten yard penalty—oh, the heartburn!

After the halftime show, the sheet cakes comes out, each decorated in the team’s colors. The Pack has the home field advantage because green and yellow food coloring is hard to screw up. Vikings come out too pink or too blue, and ‘da Bears—well, navy blue is just tough to do. One cake presents the gridiron fully populated with Hershey’s Kisses and Reese’s Pieces. Another attempts the hallowed ground of Lambeau Field with blocks of Twinkies and lots of frosting.

But the best one is all elegance and simplicity—the chocolate football cake. No tricked-out tableau of combat, no gaudy excess of cheese, just the iconic brown symbol of our oval god. It’s all that’s really needed for our Sunday worship—a football-shaped chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and a little squiggle of white icing—everything else is over-salted frippery. As our tribe gathers around the cake, full of the stories of our heroes and cleansed by ritual high-fives and chest butts, we are ready to eat the football. This simple chocolate cake says it best.
It says— “Bite me!”

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