I’ve been a football fan as long as I can remember. I lived and died with the Miami Dolphins of the late 1970s and early-1980s (Bob Griese, Nat Moore, Duriel Harris, A.J. Duhe, the Killer Bees, etc.). The 1982 playoff game against the San Diego Chargers remains the greatest professional game I’ve ever seen and one of my biggest heartbreaks.
And, where I grew up, I had the opportunity to watch Walter Payton every week on TV. I never saw Jim Brown play, so it’s no disrespect to him when I say that Payton is the greatest I’ve ever seen.
I loved football, even though I never played on an organized team. I grew up in a family that watched football every Sunday. We went to high school games on Friday nights. We watched bowl games all day long on New Year’s Day. Most of my family loved football, but there were a few important exceptions -- my grandma, mom and youngest sister most certainly did not. They mostly tolerated it, but didn’t love it or really understand it.
My grandma famously once described football as “they just line up, say charge, all fall down and line up and say charge again.” I tried explaining to her that no one ever says “charge”, but her point was made. It didn’t help that I grew up in Big Ten country when three yards and a cloud of dust WAS the preferred offense du jour. So, granny’s description wasn’t without merit.
These days it’s easy to forget there are plenty of non-football fans out there. In the wake of the first ever college football playoff, another Super Bowl approaches with the NFL’s popularity at an all-time high.
My grandma has long since passed as has my mom, but today my son shares a similar view of football. It’s just not his sport. He likes soccer and basketball but the two national past times past and present – baseball and football – aren’t on his radar screen, even though they’re frequently on my TV screen.
Still, he’s aware of the Super Bowl hype so there’s a certain amount of inherent curiosity. But not nearly enough to carry through 10 hours of pregame, a 5-minute rendition of the national anthem, a 30-minute halftime and a 3-hour game.
So, my challenge, like that of many, is to find a way to make the experience interesting enough that he gets a taste of the event everyone is talking about without demanding to change the channel. The simplest and most fun solution is to make it like your typical Super Bowl party, just with a few kid-friendly twists:
1. Talk up the party
Get them excited ahead and hyped up before the party kicks-off. Talk about how many of their friends are coming. Let them help pick out decorations and make treats. Maybe even have them write out a “menu” of the evening’s snack items and hang it on a large sheet of paper or on dry erase board. They can have a lot of fun creating names for their Super Bowl restaurant and football-themed snacks. Kids are always proud to show off how they’ve helped put together a party.
2. Give them a reason to cheer
Buy a handful of small prizes similar to what you might put in a birthday party goody bag and create little games and contests for the kids to play during the game. Assign different prizes for different events in the game – touchdown, field goal, interception, fumble, etc. Assuming they don’t have a rooting interest, assign them a team and, if their team scores a touchdown or snags an interception, they get a prize. To keep things even, switch up their assigned teams at the end of each quarter. Everyone’s a winner at a Super Bowl party!
3. Party during the halftime concert
Much like the Super Bowl turns into a concert at halftime, turn your event into a dance party. Crank up the kids’ favorite tunes and have the adults rate their performances from 1 to 10. Refill that plate and enjoy some great entertainment devoid of wardrobe malfunctions or lip-syncing.
4. Never miss a commercial
Love those Super Bowl ads? Keep the kids interested by challenging them with a simple game of toss. Much like a water balloon toss, pair them up and have them toss a soft ball back-and-forth throughout the commercials. Any teams who can last all the way through the commercial break without a drop get a point. At the end of the night, the team with the most points wins. Or, if you don’t have enough kids present for this, then challenge the ones who are there to toss the ball back and forth during the commercial and see how many throws and catches they can make without a drop during each break. Each commercial break offers a chance to beat their record while you try to decide which commercial is this year’s funniest.
The Super Bowl has reached near-holiday status and everyone can enjoy something about this event. So, prepare your party, line up the food and fun, and say "CHARGE!"
Jim Kelsey is a marketing professional and freelance writer based in Lexington, KY. His youth sports experience includes not-so-glory days playing tee-ball and soccer and five-plus years as a volunteer youth coach. Follow Jim on Twitter @jkels91.