Detroit Superbowl XL

Detroit Renaissance Center 2I was fortunate to be living in downtown Detroit when it hosted the Superbowl. For the uninitiated, Superbowl is the championship game of the National Football League (NFL) in the US. Superbowl Sunday is a de-facto national holiday. It is the most-watched television broadcast of the year, and the second highest food-consumption day in the US, after Thanksgiving.Detroit Aerial

Detroit, the motor capital of the world, is the poorest city in the US. More than one-third of its population lives below the poverty line. The 2005 unemployment rate was 14.1 percent, more than two and a half times the national level. Still, after having lived there for a while, I began to identify with the city. I was working at General Motors World Headquarters, and living opposite it. From my 16th floor apartment, we could see Canada opposite the Detroit River. (The view at the right is from my apartment.) I started caring for and feeling proud of Detroit (alluding to my comments in an earlier post), and was excited that it was chosen for hosting the largest sporting event in the US.Detroit Renaissance Center Superbowl 2

How did it turn out? Well, they spent $17 billion on a makeover. And hosting the Superbowl got them $274 million. I guess it’s still a long way to go. And it was disappointing to see that they had to fake the skyline, when bidding for hosting the event. That’s not surprising in a way: Ever since the selection committee announced in 2000 that Detroit would be the ’06 host, critics have carped: The city is too downtrodden, too crime-ridden, and too darned cold, they said. (Perhaps that’s because the last time the game was played in the area, in 1982, temperatures dipped to minus 27 with wind chill.)

But consider this: Detroit metro area has about 31,000 hotel rooms. Compare that with 92,000 – the total number of hotel rooms in India, and 2,500 – the total number of hotel rooms in Pune, which is hosting the 2008 Commonwealth Youth Games.Detroit Superbowl Ice Sculpture

I do not understand American football. But I did try to read and understand the game. And I did enjoy watching it on TV. This is the time when companies spend millions of dollars on lavish new advertising campaigns. The city was bubbling with all sorts of events designed to entertain the hundreds of thousands of visitors.

The 2005 Major League Baseball Game was played in Detroit in July 2005. To celebrate that event and show the whole nation that it was ready for the Superbowl, GM decked up the Renaissance Center with an image of a baseball smashing through its glass exterior. It was a magnificent sight. The 4612ft refers to the actual distance a ball would need to travel from the ‘home plate’ of Comerica Park in downtown Detroit (home of the Detroit Tigers) to the point where the ball is smashing the tower. Can you guess how it was made?

Detroit Superbowl Motorola BoothThen there were ice sculptures of automobiles, the logos of the various football teams, and other stuff. There were music shows on stage. There was a food court with cuisines from every imaginable place on earth. There were an innumerable number of booths sponsored by various companies, each featuring something unique. Motorola had created Hawaii in one booth – complete with sand, surf, and garlands! It featured an artificial wave generator machine and folks were actually surfing on it.

I have never rode in a Mercedes or a Rolls Royce. And frankly, I don’t care. Because the highest point of my automobile experience was when I was fortunate to ride in a Model T. One of the earliest automobiles in history, and the first one to be produced on an assembly line.Detroit Superbowl Model T 2

Here we were, an Asian couple in a foreign country, standing in a long queue in inclement weather, waiting for our turn for the free ride in the Model T. It was snowing and raining. It was bitter cold. The queue was very long. There were about a dozen Model T cars for the free ride. I was just too stunned to believe where I was and what was happening. I just couldn’t believe that these cars, manufactured almost a century ago, were functioning in this kind of weather. That I was going to ride in them was a distant science fiction fantasy in some galaxy far, far away. Yet we moved in the queue, watching how people were being accommodated in groups inside each car.

Detroit Superbowl Model T 1We were wary. I wondered how they would treat us, a brown Asian couple. After going through the discrimination at airport security checks, you get used to these things. Would they refuse the ride? I hoped not. I prayed that we would be seated in a crowd, crouching in between strangers, or worst, separated with one in the front seat and the other at the back. As we approached the ‘finish’ line, the attendant asked “how many?”. “Just the two of us”, I replied.

Seeing a romantic (we were hugging because of the cold) couple, they gave us a Model T all to ourselves! We just couldn’t believe it. And we had the ride of our life. It lasted about 7-8 minutes, but for me, it was more thrilling than any roller coaster ride in a deep, profound way.

The driver informed us that that particular model was manufactured in 1917, and there was no major engineering overhaul. Just plain, basic, simple maintenance. He was also impressed with my knowledge of the Model T (I’d done my research before going for the ride), and was glad to have someone from faraway India who appreciated the Model T so much!

I wonder how Pune and Delhi are going to prepare themselves for the upcoming Youth Commonwealth Games in 2008, and Commonwealth Games in 2010 respectively. How do we fare as a tourist destination? I witnessed first-hand the complete makeover of downtown Detroit in preparation for the Superbowl. I read about the CGF praising Pune’s capability and infrastructure facilities. Living in Pune, I don’t know what the hell that means.

The demand-supply gap for budget-hotel rooms in India is already over 50,000. I read about thousands of crores of rupees being earmarked for revamping Pune and Delhi’s infrastructure. Will these funds really gain fruit? The Commonwealth Games in 2010 is expected to increase India’s share of global tourist arrivals from 0.52 percent to 1.5 percent. This means an increase of hundreds of thousands of tourists. In this context, our politicians are reducing the budget for Delhi.

How will it all turn out? We have to wait, watch, and see.

(All photos taken by me in Detroit)

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  • Cool pics. Glad to see you have started posting pics! Nice write up too, although I admit I am not much of a sports person.

  • Thanks! I added a significant India-specific content probably after you commented…would love to hear your views!

  • Being from Detroit, I definitely remember this event. I have mixed feelings. On one hand, it was a nice stimulus to fix up some of the city, which was much needed. There are some parts of Detroit that are definitely getting nicer and where people can actually walk around and hang out, which they couldn’t in the past. On the other hand, it’s sad that it takes an event like the Super Bowl to encourage the city to be fixed up. It’s also sad that some of the city wasn’t actually fixed up, but simply that areas that weren’t nice were hidden from view. Overall though, I think Detroit did very well hosting the Super Bowl and I think most observers agreed. Thanks Mahendra!

  • Howard – thanks for the comments. Yes, I empathize with the mixed feelings, but as you say, I think Detroit did pull it off quite well. The crowd’s response was enthusiastic in spite of the weather. It was indeed a memorable event!

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