Are you ready for some football hunting? This Sunday in Arizona, the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots will face off in Super Bowl XLIX. Like many of you, we’ll be watching (and not just because the game involves three of our favorite scavenger hunt cities: Phoenix, Seattle, and Boston).
The big game also reminds us of great ballgame-related art and artifacts we’ve come across over the years. See how many of these you recognize, and then tell your friends all about them during those boring commercials no one watches anyway.
Q: At the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, you’ll find a briefcase that once belonged to a saxophone-playing president. Designed for use only in extreme emergencies, this briefcase is known as what? (Trust us, you do not want to fumble this one.)
A: The “football,” commonly known as the “nuclear football,” contains materials a president might need in case of a military emergency. Among those materials are simplified nuclear-strike plans, hence the explosive nickname. Though its origins remain mysterious, such a football has been in use by every administration since at least JFK’s. [See all our public hunts in Washington, D.C.]
Q: At the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, a ballplayer looks like he got benched a long, long time ago. Let’s hope his coach made the right move, because each team had a lot on the line—besides the game itself, what did players lose if they didn’t win?
A: Their lives! In Pre-Columbian Mexico, an ancient precursor to football (as in American soccer) involved helmets and high stakes: The losing players, usually captive enemies, were sacrificed to the gods afterward. Granted, the games were rigged so that the team of prisoners always lost. Bummer. [See all our corporate and private hunts in Houston.]
Q: In the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, two young people seem to be levitating a large white dumpling with their minds. No, these two aren’t practicing their ESP—they’re actually engaged in what looks to be a very calm game of what?
A: The lumpy white thing in Suzuki Harunobu’s Young Couple Playing Football is what passed for a football in 18th-century Japan. The couple might have been playing kemari, in which players try to keep a white ball aloft using just about anything but their hands. [See all our public hunts in Boston.]
Q: Near the beloved Art Institute (and a big, shiny Bean), you’ll find the University Club of Chicago at 76 E. Monroe St. Numerous gargoyles adorn the face of the building, but only one appears poised with a pigskin. Perhaps he’s ready for a nap, though—what incongruous headgear is he wearing?
A: The football-holding gargoyle is wearing what looks like a long nightcap. We have no idea why, really, but let’s hope he isn’t headed into any big game dressed like that. [See all our public hunts in Chicago.]
Q: For a limited time, you can observe a distinctive bird mask at the University of Washington’s Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle. Though the side flaps are unfamiliar, the rest of the mask inspired the logo for what super Seattle sports team?
A: The Seattle Seahawks likely used the Kwakwaka’wakw eagle mask currently on display at the Burke as the model for its original 1970s logo. The mask’s origins lie on Vancouver Island, halfway between Seattle and Alaska, and the art style was one of the most readily recognized among Northwest Coast Indian art at the time. [See all our corporate and private hunts in Seattle.]