SOCHI, Russia — It had seemed a task as automatic as a Stephen Gostkowski chip-shot field goal: Find a sports bar in the city currently at the center of the winter sports world to watch the biggest cold-weather competition of them all.
The Super Bowl.
You know, the most popular, most watched sporting event in the universe, ever?
But not in Sochi, the host of the Winter Olympic Games. The mention of the NFL championship produced nothing but blank stares in this Black Sea resort, even in establishments where other American sports seemed well established.
“The super what?” inquired Dima Zaitsev, bartender of a sports bar called Sport Bar, which seemed a bit of a misnomer at first glance, what with the two idle pool tables and trashy Europop blasting from its large-screen TV.
But Zaitsev said a crowd would be in later to watch a hotly contested soccer match; he also recently watched and enjoyed a rugby tie. American football, he said, looked like fun but had too much equipment and too many breaks in the action.
Action was all that mattered at the second stop: Pelikan, where bettors laid down their money on soccer, NHL hockey, and even Sunday’s dreary NBA matchup between the rebuilding Celtics and the equally moribund Orlando Magic. But with kickoff only a few hours away, the matchup in the Meadowlands was nowhere to be found on the giant electronic book flashing atop the cashier’s window.
And so it went. Suddenly finding the Lombardi Trophy in Sochi seemed as unlikely as a thaw in Bill Belichick’s personal cold war with Wes Welker.
Great hopes were placed on the next stop, known as a real man cave of sporting fun. And that it turned out to be. Except that the sports bar had become 911 Gentlemen’s Club. Feats of athletic prowess had migrated from the TV screens to the pole in the center of the room.
“It is now far more successful than it was before,” said the administrator, Tatiana, who politely declined to provide her last name. Only a few clients were discernible through the thick, pungent haze of hookah smoke.
It was fourth and still goal to go for the Sochi Super Bowl search.
Finally, someone hit upon it: The American Diner, an eatery crammed with lovingly retro red swivel stools and a tastefully schmaltzy display of US memorabilia. But the TV screens gaping down at each of the booths were dark.
“They don’t work, and we don’t have the channel anyway,” said one of the waitresses.
“You actually knew the game was today?” the server was asked.
“No, but someone else came in here asking about it,” she said.
There, under the stentorian gaze of Uncle Sam, in the shadow of the larger-than-life home run swing of Babe Ruth, and the glow of the flirtatious Marilyn Monroe, defeat settled in. Even in this over-the-top oasis of Americana, no one cared about American football.
Just when one thought it couldn’t get any worse, a sole football fan emerged, speaking knowledgably about the Seattle Seahawks’ vaunted defense in French-inflected English.
It was Serge Champagne, a native of Quebec and diehard fan of the Montreal Canadiens, who quickly changed the subject to fables of Guy Lafleur, Patrick Roy, and Ken Dryden. In this American temple of nostalgia, the enemy had the ball, and he was running with it.
There was only one slightly silver lining in this dark pocket of despair.
This night, and its failed quest, would have killed us had the Patriots been playing.