Beer bottles fizzed as caps were twisted. Tortilla chips were crunched. Spicy chicken was munched. Smoke and flames flew from barbecue grills in parking lots, on patios and decks. People gathered together to eat, drink and be merry.
Oh, and there was a football game, too.
Super Bowl Sunday found Kenai Peninsula residents serving up fun and fellowship as sports enthusiasts and nonfans alike gathered to celebrate life, liberty and football.
"It's the Thanksgiving of sports," said Soldotna resident David Shaffer. "Good food, good fun and neighbors coming over."
Sunday's game took place in New Orleans -- 4,726 driving miles or between $300 and $900 round-trip away from Alaska. So, since being there wasn't something everybody could do, many people watched the telecast of the New England Patriots vs. the St. Louis Rams on the FOX Network. In one way or another, viewers followed in the tradition of turning the sporting event into a social event.
At the Back Door Sports Bar in Kenai, Mike Raymond of North Kenai whooped it up with fellow football jersey-clad Patriot supporters as their team succeeded on the giant-screen TV in front of them. He said he had to get out to watch the game.
"Why watch it at home?" he asked. "I've got to be where the fans are."
Molly Hull of Kenai went to one private party with her husband, Al. She seemed somewhat disinterested in the football but was there to share in the fun, nonetheless.
"Everybody is looking for an excuse to party," she said.
But her host, Kelly Bookey, insisted there was so much more to the game.
"The Super Bowl is just ... the hype," Bookey said.
And hype it has become. Since 1967, the NFL has televised its championship game to an audience that has grown from barely enough to even fill the stands for TV filming to nearly 80 million.
As a curious side-effect of all of the fanfare that has gone into marketing the Super Bowl over the years -- this includes celebrity halftime and pregame concerts, fireworks, jet fighter flyovers, military parachuting exhibitions and a perennial parade of product-pushing TV ads -- viewers often turn the game into a grand scale party, to the benefit of local businesses.
Brenda Ratky was working in Country Liquor in Fred Meyer and said she was busy all day.
"It's been really steady," Ratky said. "They have been buying anything and everything, but mostly beer."
Andy Kriner, manager of Buckets Sports Grill in Soldotna, took advantage of the heavy crowd of people to give away merchandise from some of the vendors he works with. He had raffles going throughout the game where patrons could win T-shirts, caps, coolers and an assortment of other prizes.
But he said he catered the winnings to true football fans.
"A lot of my prizes are predicated on football trivia," Kriner said. "We do the drawing, and (if your number is called) you have to answer the question correctly to win."
He said the biggest prize would be a lane from the bowling alley that used to be in back of Sal's Klondike Diner.
"For that, you (also) have to make a shot on my basketball goal outside," Kriner said.
At the Back Door, manager Virgil Mosiman said he was using the occasion to pay thanks to all the loyal football fans who patronized the bar during regular season games. He offered them free food.
"I've got to take care of my football customers," he said.
Mosiman also ran a raffle, giving away shirts, caps, coolers and backpacks. He said his bar also was holding onto a marquee prize -- a trip to Lake Tahoe.
Both places offered an array of televisions for their patrons' viewing pleasure, but some people wanted a more intimate setting. Shaffer stopped at Buckets just before the game to pick up a platter of nachos for his own celebration. But while he was there, he took time out to join in the festivities.
"I couldn't bring my kids in," he said. "I figured I'd come have a beer and get something to go."
Bookey's party included his son, Terry, wife, Laurie, the Hulls and Kenny Roser of Kenai. He said he had more fun in the company of his friends than actually watching the game, however.
"Most ball games here haven't been too exciting, so we have a tendency to bet on every play," Bookey said. "Just a dollar or two."
Roser said in spite of the fun everyone has in the name of the Super Bowl, the actual competition rarely ever measures up to the camaraderie people share watching the game.
"What's crazy is, people go through all that trouble, and it usually ends up being a crappy game."
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