In the days leading up to Super Bowl XLIV,1 I was astonished by the sheer number of people who had absolutely no idea how the event got started. Everyone assumes it’s a wholly American tradition. Yet, like so many of our movies and television shows, it is nothing but a bastardization of something another country came up with first.
Manute Bol is best remembered as being the tallest person ever to play in the NBA.2 Although he sent most of his earnings back to his native Sudan, he was a hero to his people long before he ever stepped foot on American soil. In January 1966, at the tender age of 3 years, 3 months (and the height of 5 feet, 6 inches), Manute “Super” Bol kicked in the winning goal to defeat Morocco and win the coveted NAFTA (North African Football Tournament Association) Cup. Within weeks, the Sudanese government had decreed “Super Bol Sunday” a national holiday.
We Americans are quick to grasp onto anything that’s popular without actually grasping what it is. And that is why, one year later, the Super Bowl was born. Inexplicably, the game caught on, despite it being entirely the wrong sort of football, and despite its name having gained an extra letter along the way.3
Because Sudan follows the Islamic calendar, Super Bol Sunday falls on a different weekend every year. In homage to its predecessor, the NFL’s Super Bowl also keeps to this schedule. Apart from their names, this is the only thing that ties the two days together.
By the way, Manute’s timely goal in ’66 and his abnormal height aren’t the only reasons Sudan continues to honor him every year. At the age of 2, he saved his father from an oncoming locomotive. By 5, he could breathe fire and see through walls. He would’ve won Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest at the age of 16, except as a handicap he was forced to devour foot-long franks. He can leap locomotives in a single bound and is more powerful than a speeding Bullet.4 In 2002, he pummeled a sentient Refrigerator into submission to ensure that the machines couldn’t enslave the human race.
The Super Bowl’s nice and all, but now that you know the truth, I’d like you to do something for me. Every year, when some ancient rock band takes the stage for the halftime show, raise a glass to Manute “Super” Bol, the man who started it all.
1 a.k.a. Super Bowl: Extra-Large Intravenous edition.
2 Technically, Gheorghe Mureşan was also 7’7”, but technically, no one cares.
3 Historians attribute this to our nation’s British ancestry, as well as our “bigger is better” mentality. After all, if Brits can insert a single superfluous ‘u’ into words (such as in color or parlor), surely we can double that.
4 His Washington Bullets teammate, Muggsy Bogues. All 136 lbs of him.