It may be heresy of the worst sort to the National Football League, but there are almost a billion Chinese without the faintest notion of what this Sunday is all about.
The Super Bowl, the behemoth of American sports, trudges across oceans and continents today when the New York Giants and Denver Broncos meet in Pasadena for the NFL championship.
Last year's Super Bowl drew a U.S. television audience of 127 million and was broadcast to 59 countries. A league spokesman says he expects both figures to be higher this time.
The game will be televised to such football hotbeds as Nicaragua, Iceland, Singapore, Saudi Arabia and Luxembourg, and to the U.S. military in remote outposts.
This past March some Chinese viewed a delayed, edited version of the previous Super Bowl. They call the sport "Gan Lan Qui" (olive ball) because of the shape of the football. The game featured the teams "Ju Xiong" (Giant Bear) and "Ai Guo Zhe" (Patriot).
But China, with a population exceeding a billion, still offers ample room for a wider television audience. T.L.I, the company televising the last Super Bowl to China, plans to do it again, along with nine other NFL games later on.
In Hong Kong, off the China coast, the Super Bowl will be shown live for the first time, beginning at 7 a.m. Monday. The American community in the British colony follows the game but not the Chinese, who make up 98% of the 5.5 million people in the world's third largest financial center. The football game faces tough competition from cricket and mah jongg.
"I don't understand what is happening but I find it very exciting," says Pablo Chu, who works in the accounting department of a small office in Hong Kong. "It is very powerful. They are all big strong men and it is very rough. I think they fight sometimes. We Chinese cannot stand that kind of football."
He says he may get up to watch the game, but two colleagues may prefer to stay in bed: "I don't know how to score points," said one.
In Japan, football has yet to catch on big although American colleges have played there the last few years. Because of the early morning hour at which the Super Bowl will be broadcast, a large Japanese audience is not anticipated. However, the Hilton Hotel is attempting to lure Americans with ads in local papers. A closed-circuit viewing of the game plus breakfast goes for $50.
The Super Bowl is a favorite among Americans in Singapore. For the past few years, they flew to the Philippines for the game. Now the Pavilion Intercontinental Hotel in Singapore provides a big-screen hookup. The hotel says it expects as many as 600 people who, for $90, can watch the game, eat breakfast and guzzle Bloody Marys.
The Super Bowl has made little impact in South Africa. At best, sports roundups in the newspaper note the result.
Said one Johannesburg correspondent: "Super Bowl? What's that?"
In England, American football has won a following. This past summer, mammoth lineman William (Refrigerator) Perry descended on the British sensibilities, and an exhibition game between the Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys played before a packed Wembley Stadium.
The Super Bowl, which will be shown live at 11 p.m., drew an average audience of 3.5 million last year, a spokesman for Channel 4 in London said. Daily newspapers have been carrying game stories. A new publication, Sunday Sport, runs a full page of articles each week.
Across the English Channel, the French have about as much use for the Super Bowl as a California chablis. The game is ignored and receives one paragraph the following day in the daily sports newspaper, L'Equipe. The only place to see the game live is at the government-owned Meridien Hotel, the only place in France authorized to receive foreign television.
It has become a custom for Americans to rent hotel rooms and stay up all night while watching the game and swilling champagne. Others drive 150 miles to the Belgian border to watch on satellite.
In Australia, where there is more concern at the moment with tacks than with sacks, the Super Bowl means nothing beside the America's Cup in Fremantle, site of the yachting extravaganza.
"I don't even know who is playing," admits U.S.A. skipper Tom Blackaller. "Is it a sprint or an endurance?"
Says New Zealand skipper Chris Dickson, who was eliminated by Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes: "We'll go with the Denver Broncos any day. We're real west people ourselves. I'll pick the Broncos by 7 for our boat, KZ7."
The Giants can claim fans aboard America II--the New York Yacht Club entry beaten by Conner.
"We don't have too much to cheer about these days," says Dyer Jones, an NYCC official. "Rooting for the Giants is about all we have left."
Steve Erickson of Seattle, a mainsheet specialist for U.S.A., has been too preoccupied for game analysis.
"We've forgotten what football's all about," he says. "All we hear about is Aussie Rules Football."