If yesterday’s Super Bowl LVIII extravaganza — from the pregame to the broadcast to the game itself — left you a little cold, you were definitely watching the wrong telecast. Sure, nothing changes the fact that the entire game consisted largely of trading field goals and then ended exactly as we knew it would all along, but I’m here to tell you that the right team in hockey can make all the difference . And I’m not talking about Jim Nantz and Tony Romo.
If you didn’t flip to the Nickelodeon feed during the game, you only have yourself to blame. This isn’t the first time we’ve gotten a “kid’s” game about Nick, but this was the best yet and the most entertaining, thanks in large part to the actors playing Spongebob Squarepants and Patrick Star (Tom Kenny and Bill Fagerbakke , respectively) in the booth with the more, uh, traditional announcing team of Noah Eagle and Nate Burleson.
The conceit of the entire broadcast is that the Super Bowl didn’t take place in Vegas, but Spongebob’s hometown of Bikini Bottom and whoever was in charge of the graphics made sure you didn’t forget that. They let the bubbles and floating jellyfish drift lazily across the screen every now and then, often in particularly hilarious situations, like Andy Reid frantically chewing on his mustache as adorable sea creatures gently drift by. The entire broadcast kicked off with a rousing performance from the much-loved “Sweet victory,” and if you have never seen that episode of SpongebobI’m not sure how to explain it to you, except that the rock anthem has become a musical juggernaut among Millennials and Gen Z — and often the Gen X parents who raised them.
Spongebob Squarepants is ostensibly for kids, but as with many of its contemporary shows (Fairly Oddparents, Chowder, Jimmy Neutron, Phinneas and Ferb) there’s plenty of subtext for adults, as well as the downright deranged goings-on of two sea creatures who aren’t on the brightest of bulbs. the tree is still somehow left to wander Bikini Bottom unattended. This is the energy that Nick brought to the broadcast, which managed to straddle the line between interesting and informative for children while also keeping adults in stitches.
Kenny and Fagerbakke brought great “kid” questions to the stream, like “Are the players nervous?” and “How many more yards do they need for a first down?” And Eagle and Burleson, perfectly suited to their roles alongside a sea sponge and starfish, answered in clear, concise ways that were accessible to children. At one point, Burleson told kids in the audience to make sure they watch the clock to see how much time is left in the game, just like they check the clock at the end of the school day. And throughout the game, Dora The Explorer popped up to explain things like “edges” and “holds” in ways that were easy for the little ones to understand – a smaller, cuter, more helpful Gene Steratore. Nick even explained the field position to the kids, with a blue cartoon nautical rope for the line of scrimmage and a yellow pineapple line for the first down, making it easy for kids to transition to the adult broadcast – they know already what each colored line stands for.
But it was the moments where Eagle and Burleson just mentioned the game in a way kids could understand, along with continuous commentary from Spongebob and Patrick that made the broadcast what it was. When Eagle pointed out that Taylor Swift probably bit off all her fingernails in the last two minutes of OT, Spongebob slyly suggested that she sell them on Ebay. When a player was pushed backwards for a loss, Spongebob and Patrick helpfully chimed in, “He’s not supposed to go that way, he’s going the wrong way! He’s going backwards!” On one of the fumbles, Patrick began to recite to the audience: “You have to hold the ball tight!” After another play that ended in a pile with the ballrunner on bottom, Spongebob remarked, “The best day to wear a spiked helmet is each day.” When the big game went into OT for only the second time ever, Eagle and Burleson joined Patrick and Spongebob in changing the words to one of Spongebob’s most famous songs “Best Day Ever,” and the whole booth went “Second Time EVEEERRRRRR!” start singing! And that’s part of what makes the Nick broadcast work — both Eagle and Burleson are clearly familiar with the show and the culture surrounding it, and are all in from the start.
Spongebob and Patrick weren’t the only characters from Bikini Bottom to show up. I’m going to choose to believe that Sandy Cheeks was a sideline reporter because she’s a secondary character and not because she’s a woman, and by the second half she completely dropped any pretense of objectivity and was open to the Chiefs rooted. Why? Of course because their quarterback was from Texas. Larry the Lobster continued to pose and squat for the camera, in addition to wandering the field for a closer look during the second coin toss. Squidward spent the first three quarters in line for the bathroom. Celebrities such as Dua Flipa and Shrimpothee Chalamet filled the stands. The whole thing was chaotic and unflinching and completely delicious. I wish we got that every week because it was a lot more fun than listening to Tony Romo lose his voice by the end of the first quarter.
For the kids who were interested in the Super Bowl for the first time—perhaps because their parents or older siblings were—and for the youngest Swifties who only watched the Taylor Cam, the Nick broadcast was a peck- perfect entry into the world of pro. sports that in the end are supposed to be fun. And amidst all the sports betting commercials covering the adult telecast, it was heartwarming to see a game about just that – fun.
Of course I’m not delusional. I know Paramount isn’t trying to explain football to kids out of the goodness of its heart or so that nuclear families can spend quality time together around the old TV set on Sunday afternoons. They do it for the ad money and to turn every little Caitin and Liam out there into rabid NFL addicts, while between February and September they scrape and scrap every ounce of NFL content like the rest of us. And I doubt Eagle and Burleson are up to doing the Nick game every week, and Kenny and Fegerbakke probably aren’t even available, but that’s a broadcast I’d kill to have available every week. And I’d probably feel a lot better about the NFL, and society in general, if I did.