Sometimes Stuff Just Breaks

Would people be reacting the same way to the Super Bowl power outage if it had happened in any other city?

Image
Reuters

The 34-minute blackout during Sunday night’s Super Bowl XLVII has already, impressively, come to mean many things. By this morning, it had been cited as evidence of why the federal Department of Energy is dumb, why America needs smart grids, why Miami should have gotten a Super Bowl, why New Orleans won’t get another one any time soon, why LED lights can’t save us all, and why the rest of the country still can’t shake images of the dank and crowded Superdome during Katrina.

Further: why New Orleans, in fact, has still not bounced back from Katrina, why Washington should get serious about crumbling infrastructure, and why the NFL shouldn’t crown sentimental Super Bowl hosts in a league of state-of-the-art stadiums.

In retrospect, this was one powerful power outage. But while we wait for further explanation of exactly what did go wrong — and the only explanation that's been offered so far is a bit tough to unpack — we’d like to put forward yet another theory. Perhaps the Super Bowl blackout was damning evidence that… sometimes stuff breaks. This power outage could be proof of nothing more systemic than a blown transformer.

As our colleagues at the Atlantic Wire wrote last night:

NFL football games drink up a lot of electricity, and blackouts during games are not unheard of. Just two years ago, a game between the 49ers and the Steelers was delayed twice due to power outages, after a transformer exploded just outside of the stadium.

Yes, we get that this technical malfunction rises to momentous proportions when it occurs during the most-watched television event of the year. But is it really an "unspeakable embarrassment for the Superdome and the NFL"? Or "the most embarrassing power outage in recent history"? A "black eye" for all involved?

I'll put it this way: What if the lights had gone out on a Super Bowl in Denver? New Orleans’ post-Katrina burden is to forever symbolize so many things beyond itself. And the Superdome is the literal epicenter of that legacy. What if the power had flickered at a football stadium that had never been forced to house 20,000 urban refugees in the conditions of a third-world country? What if the power had gone out on a Super Bowl in a city seldom associated with hard times, or with the ineptitude of government?

Maybe we’re wrong, and the Super Bowl Blackout of 2013 will eventually tell us something technically vital about the future of energy-efficient infrastructure, or about New Orleans’ capacity to build and maintain it. But for now, we should also consider the possibility that it was something far more ordinary.

Top image: Jonathan Bachman/Reuters

About the Author

  • Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific StandardGOODThe Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.