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Any Given Sunday: Even Cricket-loving Indian Americans are Caught Up in the Super Bowl Frenzy

Any Given Sunday: Even Cricket-loving Indian Americans are Caught Up in the Super Bowl Frenzy

  • While American Football is ingrained in those born and raised in the U.S., the immigrant generations are drawn to the sport for its fast pace, the unpredictability, and the entrainment and excitement around the big game.

Super Bowl is among the world’s most-watched single sporting events and invariably commands the largest television audience of the year. It is probably the only day when hard-core and casual fans, as well as non-sports enthusiasts, come together. This year, the Super Bowl will be played on Feb. 11, at the Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers. According to Axios, Super Bowl LVIII is expected to attract more than 110 million viewers, “making it one of the last remaining American spectacles that pretty much all Americans watch together.”

Indian Americans are gearing up for the big game as well. Some grew up here watching the game, while many started watching to assimilate into the American culture and became fans of the game. For those who grew up with cricket, soccer, or even field hockey, watching college and NFL games does not come naturally. Yet, come football season, desis, sporting their favorite team jerseys, start congregating in bars or at homes, rooting for their favorite team, high-fiving at a touchdown and cheering at high decibels, feeding off each other’s energy. 

So, what attracts Indian Americans to American football? For many, it is the social aspect of the game, as well as its excitement and unpredictability. For many like software professional Manjari Chovatia of West Windsor, New Jersey, and entrepreneur, actor, and filmmaker Sri Mirajkar of Centreville, Virginia, it was a way to assimilate into American society. There’s also a notion that athletes embody the American ideals of hard work, perseverance, and striving for greatness. Super Bowl parties have become de rigueur and many Indian American families host the annual events replete with must-haves like beer, chips and dip, chicken wings, pizza and nachos. It is also a time to socialize.

M.R. Rangaswami, a software executive, investor, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and founder of Indiaspora, is headed to Las Vegas to root for his favorite team.

And, of course, there are die-hard sports fans. Take M.R. Rangaswami, a San Francisco-based entrepreneur and philanthropist, for instance. He has been a San Francisco sports fan for four decades and has been to the World Series and the NBA finals. “I got my chance to go to Miami in 2020 for the Super Bowl,” he says, where he remembers “the 49ers were leading with a few minutes to go, only to lose. A heartbreak.” This weekend, he is back in Vegas to root for the 49ers.

When software professional Manjari Chovatia of West Windsor, New Jersey came to the U.S., her, husband, and his friends loved to watch football. Slowly, she learned the game, and she eventually started hosting a party for the Super Bowl each year. She is now a fan of the sport. “My husband’s friend would take the games very seriously,” she recalls. Her kids are interested in the sport as well. So, she completely immersed herself in the sport. She started playing the Super Bowl box pool. “I thought it was fun,” she says, adding that it has now become a staple at her annual party. 

As a new immigrant to this country, Virginia-based entrepreneur, actor, and filmmaker Sri Mirajkar, found the use of the term ‘football’ a misnomer — “it is neither played with the foot nor the ‘pigskin’ is round like a ball should be,” he says. But over the years, he has enjoyed watching this “all-American sport over the years. “But he’s not a big fan. “Somehow, American football could never replace my passion for cricket,” he says.” However, “watching the Super Bowl with my cricket-playing buddies is certainly a tradition I look forward to each year.” He finds the game is “representative of teamwork, competition, sportsmanship, and America. Miramar’s “most exciting” memory of the Super Bowl is from 1992 “when our home team, the Washington Redskins (now named Commanders) won the championship.” He was a student and the time, and has “never witnessed the same spirit of celebrating football in the DMV since.” 

Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval enjoying a football party.

Deepika Somraj’s introduction to American football was in 2002, the year the New England Patriots defeated the heavily favored St. Louis Rams, 20-17, to take home their first Super Bowl victory. The IT professional from Skillman, New Jersey, had recently arrived from India and was not familiar with American football. Although unaware of the rules of the game, she enjoyed its fast-paced nature, she said, “especially the way [now Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback] Tom Brady dominated the game.” Needless to say, she became a fan. For the first few years, she watched just the Super Bowl, but as her son’s interest in the sport piqued, she found herself watching more and more football – both college level and the NFL. She eventually learned the rules of the game from her son and has been hooked ever since. 

Like Somraj, Chhabria’s introduction to the sport was “the big 2002 Super Bowl,” making him a lifelong Patriots fan. This year, the IT professional from Hillsborough, New Jersey, is rooting for the 49ers, “as they have an exciting quarterback [Brock Purdy], and Chiefs have been winning too many in recent time.” He enjoys the sport as it’s a “fast-paced game, and best way to spend a winter weekend.” Still a hardcore Patriots fan, he recalls how his family ate Italian for lunch when Brady played in the Super Bowl. He still remembers the Super Bowl LV when the Patriots “came back to win the Super Bowl from being 28-3 down, when I was ready to turn off the TV.” 

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While immigrants had to adapt to the rules and traditions of football, for Indian Americans who were born and raised here, football has been a part of their lives. 

Comedian Rajiv Satyal, second from left, with friends at the Super Bowl party. A Bengals fan, Satyal, who was born and raised in Cincinnati, currently lives in Los Angeles, about 15 minutes from the SoFi Stadium.

Rishi Bhutada of Houston, Texas, has been watching the sport since he was a child.  “The only time I lost interest is when Houston lost the Oilers — when the Texans started playing in 2002,” says, “ I was all back in.” Bhutada is a senior vice president at Star Pipe Products and is a member of the Board of Directors at the Hindu American Foundation. For him, the Super Bowl is” more than just football, it’s a fun way to get together.” He watches the game with his family at his aunt’s house as she has hosted a Super Bowl party for years. “Even the family members that aren’t into football come for the party – it’s a lot of food, fun, and overall entertainment.” She’s hosting “a small get together,” despite flying to India the following year.  

Football was “quite ingrained in the culture,” for Dr. Abhay Dandekar, who was born and raised in Los Angeles in the 70s and 80s. The Bay Area physician and podcaster also played pop-warner tackle football from 3rd to 6th grade, and has been a Ram fan since childhood He remembers fondly watching the Rams win the Super Bowl in 2000 “while on call in the hospital in between caring for patients.” Although a die-hard fan, Dandekar has a word of caution for parents of young football players. “As much entertainment and joy as it brings me, as a pediatrician and a parent, I actually would never recommend it as a sport for any child, as it causes too much physical and head trauma. Flag football is the way to go for younger athletes.”

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