Each year the Super Bowl means two things: the ultimate face-off of the two best professional football teams of the season, and the ultimate chance for car companies, movie studios, tech companies, and snack entities to spend money to make money.
This year the Super Bowl face-off was between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers, and the going rate for one of the prime commercial spots during football’s biggest night was between $3.7 million and $3.8 million, according to Advertising Age. While the massive flood of corporate sponsorship and over-the-top commercials might seem like capitalism gone wild, it’s also become an art unto itself, with each Volkswagen ad being just as primed for water-cooler conversation as each massive kickoff return.
Think of it this way: Do you know who won the Super Bowl in 1984? Maybe, maybe not. (It was the Los Angeles Raiders, but we had to Google it.) But have you ever heard of the “1984″ Apple commercial that introduced the Macintosh? Chances are that bit of pop culture awareness has long outlived the outcome of Super Bowl XVIII, or at least it has for culture wonks.
Rob Vito stood at the front of a hotel conference room in Phoenix one day last August, a custom Kevlar vest strapped over his blue dress shirt. Vito is a large man, and the shiny black suit of armor strained to cover his belly. But he wasn’t concerned about fashion, or even looking good. He had a point to make, and wanted to make it with flair.
He raised a carbon-fiber hockey stick over his head, looked out over the 150 or so members of the Professional Hockey Athletic Trainers Society gathered before him and challenged any one of them to whack him with it.
A murmur went through the crowd. People looked at each other. These were professional trainers, and they knew what a shot to the gut could do to a man. But Vito had just spent 10 minutes telling anyone in shouting distance that Kevlar is a miracle material capable of stopping a .44 caliber bullet. Finally, two members of the Edmonton Oilers training staff took the bait.
“Are you serious?” one of them asked from the middle of the room.
“Dead serious,” Vito replied, waving the stick as if to taunt them. “I want you to hit me with this hockey stick as hard as you can.”
One of the men stepped up and hit Vito with a tepid cross-check. Vito didn’t flinch. “Come on,” he barked. “Harder.” The trainer obliged, hitting Vito so hard the stick nearly snapped in two. Vito’s belly shook and quaked as he doubled over. The crowd gasped. But after hamming it up a moment, Vito stood up and roared with laughter.
“Is that all you’ve got?” he asked the trainer. “No wonder you guys lose so much.”
The room erupted with laughter, but the trainers from Edmonton were all business. They placed an order for Vito’s Kevlar pads on the spot.
More from “Armor on the Field: The NFL’s Headlong Race to Build the Unbreakable Linebacker” @ Playbook.
[Photo: Bryan Derballa/Wired]