“Let’s go ‘Niners!”
The call pierced the quiet dark on the Tel Aviv beach promenade just after midnight on Monday, as American football fans warmed up their vocal chords for the big Super Bowl game at Mike’s Place.
The venue was full – mostly with men, but with a few women scattered among the crowd. Those who arrived early managed to score tables, but the walkways were crowded to the brim.
“We arrived at 9:30 P.M. to get a table,” said Lauren Rosenthal, 22, of Fairfax, VA, who sat with five girlfriends at the only all-girls table in the pub. “We brought a deck of cards,” she added. They knew it was going to be a long night.
While the women were a minority, they were hardly the stereotypical females there just to watch the commercials. “We’re here for the game,” insisted Rosenthal. “This is the only place I know [in Tel Aviv] that actually plays [American football] games.”
“It’s not our typical scene,” said Caryn Ben-Hur, 24, of Cincinnati, OH. “But when we want a good all-American experience this is where we come.”
English was the language here, a mini-America for football fans dedicated to seeing the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers face off for Super Bowl XLVII.
Screens lined almost every wall of the pub, broadcasting the big NFL game, pints of beer overflowed in plastic cups, drowning out the sight of the wooden tables.
Buckets of chicken wings and baskets of French fries were the food of choice, with hamburgers, nachos, and macaroni and cheese making the shortlist. But there were no specially designed dishes that paid tribute to the competing teams – no Baltimore-influenced crab cakes or crab dip, and no San Francisco sourdough pizza bites.
There wasn’t much betting going on, either. “We don’t promote it,” emphasized Bobby Glass, general manager of Mike’s Place Tayelet (promenade) branch, but admitted: “They do it among themselves.”
That meant there were no prizes, and no giveaways, either. The patrons didn’t seem to mind.
“It’s fun just to see the game, drink beer and eat greasy food,” said Rosenthal.
“I tried to get these guys into a pool,” another patron said, “but they’re from Baltimore and they didn’t want to bet on their own team.”
One table was scattered with pages of pool questions, but few fans seemed to pay them any mind. By the third quarter, half of the viewers had left the pub to go home. Mini-America it may have been, but here in Israel, it was the middle of the night.
“We’ll find out tomorrow who won,” said one fan who had thrown down a bet.
The fans at Mike’s Place were filled with American pride. After the emotional pregame performance of “America the Beautiful”, sang by students from Sandy Hook Elementary School together with Jennifer Hudson, rang through the pub, the only table surrounded by women burst into a cheer that infected the entire room. Those cheers quickly morphed into a silencing “Shhh” as the crowd prepared for a heartfelt rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner”. No one at Mike’s Place got to enjoy Alicia Keys’ voice as she sang the U.S. national anthem, however, because they were busy belting it out themselves. Some stood on bar benches with their hand plastered to their heart, roaring the anthem with exultation.
No sooner did the anthem end, did cheers of “U.S.A., U.S.A.” fill the room, followed by “Let’s go ‘Niners!” At first, there seemed to be no Baltimore Ravens fans in the house; maybe they were too shy to show their faces among the passionate and vocal San Francisco 49ers fans. But that didn’t last long. When the underdogs took the lead early on in the game, the San Francisco fans were in a state of shock, covering their jaw-dropped mouths with their hands. Suddenly it became evident that the Ravens did have fans at Mike’s Place after all, when an entire row burst into cheers the moment their team took the lead.
As the game was on, the room was full of excitement at the endless possibilities of what was to come – and who was to win.
Some of the young American patrons told Haaretz that had they been back home, they wouldn’t have gone to a pub to watch the Super Bowl, but would have opted for a house party instead. “But here I don’t have cable TV,” Adam Levine, 21, of Seattle, WA explained. “ A lot of us don’t even have TVs. And it’s hard when your roommate isn’t American – you can’t have friends over to watch the game at night.”
When asked why he and his friends chose to see the game at Mike’s Place, instead of at someone’s home, Jonny Kuakauka, a 23-year-old from Los Angeles, CA, who moved to Israel when he was 18 to join the army and is heading back to the United States next month, simply said, “We’re American,” as though those two words were self explanatory. With a little probing, Kuakauka explained: “We’re not into football, but we’re American. The idea of being American drives everyone together,” he said. “Coming together for a football game gives us a sense of community - of culture - that we lost when we left the States.”
An impressive number of Israelis also attended Mike’s Place to watch the Super Bowl, making up an estimated 20 percent of patrons that night. “We come to Mike’s Place because at other bars we run the risk of them closing before the game is over,” one Israeli NFL enthusiast said. “Here we can be sure they’ll stay open until the game ends.”
Beyonce’s half-time show got patrons on their feet, bopping and smiling at the TV screens, but the rest of the mid-game break was a disappointment: Mike’s Place didn’t show the much-anticipated commercials. “METV reception here is horrible,” said one manager, explaining that that was the only station that broadcasts the American ads. So, instead, Mike’s Place tunes in to ESPN, which doesn’t show the hyped commercials. “It sucks,” said one female patron who, despite clarifying that she’d come for the game more than the atmosphere, was still looking forward to watching the commercials.
The manager explained that the only way Mike’s Place could show the ads without compromising the quality of the broadcast, would be to switch between ESPN and METV during every break in the game. “But we prefer to have the staff concentrate on serving the customers food and drinks than have someone spend the whole night switching between stations,” he said.
Just after half-time, patrons began drifting out of the pub, and by deep into the power outage, which paralyzed play for 34 minutes, there were plenty of empty seats in the house. By then it was after 3:30 A.M. and only the diehard fans remained. The party was over, it seemed; the vibe was dead. The waiters made a last call for food orders, and the kitchen started to wind up service.
But when the lights went back on at the Superdome in New Orleans, LA, it flicked a switch at Mike’s Place in Tel Aviv, reigniting the passion and fervor of the remaining fans on both sides, bringing them to their feet with a fresh round of cheers. The game was on and the 49ers were making a comeback. During this half, however, the atmosphere was different. The fans had woken up, and now they were serious. No more partying: It was time for business.
The game stretched on into the early hours, coming to a close at 5:45 A.M., just 45 minutes before the sun was to rise on a new day in Tel Aviv. But that wouldn’t stop 19-year-old Asher Linde from Baltimore, MD from partying on to celebrate his hometown victory. “I’ve got two bottles of Arak back home,” he said with a smile.