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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