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Book Review: The Billion Dollar Game: Behind The Scenes Of The Greatest Day In American Sport – Super Bowl Sunday by Allen St. John

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February 3, 2008 was the date of Super Bowl XLII. The undefeated New England Patriots were set to wrap up a perfect season against the New York Giants, who were in the big game despite a 13-6 record. It was a great contest, and somehow the Giants managed to pull off one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history.

The game provides the perfect conclusion to The Billion Dollar Game: Behind The Scenes Of The Greatest Day In American Sport – Super Bowl Sunday, by Allen St. John. The author caught a lucky break — the game itself was a memorable one. But the contest on the field is actually of very little consequence to the overall story. The Billion Dollar Game is about almost everything but  football, chronicling all of the various elements that go into the making of this de facto national holiday.

According to the author, the day after the Super Bowl is the first day of preparations for the next one. With this in mind, he followed all of the essential ingredients of XLII throughout 2007. What emerges is a fascinating document of what actually goes into making the event a success. As a contributor to multiple periodicals, and sports writer for The Wall Street Journal, Allen St. John was given access to a plethora of heretofore unavailable backstage areas.

A huge aspect of Super Bowl XLII was the stadium that was built to host it, designed by world-class architect Peter Eisenman. It is called The University Of Phoenix Stadium, but the designation is a corporate sponsorship like Staples Center or Safeco Field. The UOP Stadium is an investment in Phoenix's future. The Cardinals may play there, but the real intent is to host the Super Bowl on a regular basis, in as hospitable an environment as can be produced.

While the UOP Stadium story is unique to the 2008 game, many features St. John discusses would have occurred no matter where it was held. The incredible amount of energy that goes into planning the promotional pre-game parties is an example. He compares and contrasts the soirees held by Playboy and Maxim in particular. I think this chapter is just an excuse to brag that he actually went to both exclusive events. Then again, maybe I’m just jealous.

Other behind-the-scenes tales include the bizarre phenomenon of the commercials being almost as important as the game itself, and how half-time at the Super Bowl has become the biggest gig in music.

My favorite moment of the book is when St. John tells the story of a blue-collar Giants fan who busted the piggy-bank to bring his two sons to the game with him. It is a hilarious story of fandom run amok, and the gentleman’s spouse must be the most understanding wife in the world.

The Billion Dollar Game is a lot like the Super Bowl itself. It contains enough information to keep a semi-rabid fan such as myself sated, while providing plenty of entertainment value for the non-fan.

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