Anyone seeking certain proof America is locked in a recession should look no further than a report telling us Playboy's annual Super Bowl party is looking like a bust this year.

In 2008, 22 bunnies showed up for the Super Bowl bash. This year only four are expected because of the economic slowdown - Playboy's stock is down 70 percent and the aging Hugh Hefner has cancelled an event which drew 2,500 attendees a year ago in favor of something more modest - although modest is not a term usually associated with Hefner or his enterprise.

Times are definitely tough.

Apparently a lot of corporations that typically lavish big bucks on the National Football League's annual gala are cutting back. That probably translates into far fewer corporate jets at the Tampa Airport and a whole lot less glitzy parties for folks who could probably care less about the game itself.

In a way, we feel the same sense of empathy we did for the automobile executives who had to drive to Washington, D. C. in a hybrid to talk about a multi-billion dollar bailout or the fact that CITI Bank has been told by the Obama administration it doesn'tneed a $50 million corporate jet.

But even if the party scene has been scaled back, 72,500 fans have purchased tickets for the game at an average price of $800. A fourth of them paid $1,000. In the past, tickets for the most coveted parties have gone for up to $3,000.

NBC, which is broadcasting the game, is anticipating a viewing audience of more than 90 million. Last years game drew 97.5 million viewers, the second largest television audience in history. Only the final episode of MASH drew a bigger crowd. Considering all the events that have shaped the world, leave it to MASH to set the standard.

In case you haven't logged onto the Super Bowl Website, it comes complete with a countdown to game time. When I first looked, we still had to wait 4 days, 2 hours, and 50 minutes. This morning, we are within hours of this epic presentation.

It's amazing what you can learn when you start looking into a myriad of topics surrounding the Super Bowl. At one location, I was introduced to 50 different recipes for cooking wings - the foundation of football party fare. This is a great day to be a football fan, but not to be a chicken.

Although it's neat the hapless Arizona Cardinals, whose franchise hasn't won a title in 111 years, are one of the two teams involved I probably won't see much of the game. I find myself among a small minority of folks who don't watch football on Sunday. It's not a religious thing, I'm just not into professional football. I did watch the Seahawks the year they played, but that was the only complete Super Bowl I think I've ever seen.

I'm pretty sure my wife is about where I am in terms of keeping up with professional football. Friday night I overheard her telling a friend, "we're not going to the Super Bowl this year - we only go when the Cougars are in it."

If this were a couple of universities battling it out in a college game, I'd climb tall buildings to get there.

But while I may not be in front of a television set I won't be far from the hors d'oeuvre table. There's lots to like about Super Bowl Sunday besides the game.

When we were still living out on the farm, we had a huge blacktop driveway with a basketball hoop at one end. For several years, we set up a long table with a centerpiece of little smokies and stuffed mushrooms surrounded by the usual trimmings and spent the afternoon involved in a basketball tournament.

On what became the final day of the Super Bowl hoopfest, I was driving the basket when I thought I saw an opening under the bucket. As I went up for what would be an easy two points, a couple of linebackers from Walla Walla College appeared out of nowhere and I was crushed into the playing surface.

Later that evening, the pain in my ankle got to a point that I had my wife drive me to St. Mary's Hospital where they found I had severely injured my achilles tendon - so much so it required surgery. As the orthopedic surgeon was finishing up he congratulated me on being the oldest basketball injury he had ever treated.

Not too many people from this area will be flying to Florida to watch the game in person. Most of the time you can see better from a big screen anyway.

Besides, as we've already heard, with those $3,000 party tickets and several thousand more just to be there, it's a pretty exclusive crowd.

Here at home, where we tend to live a little more modestly, we should all just be grateful a bag of chips, a jar of salsa, a bag of carrots, a little ranch, a box of chicken wings, and a half rack are still within reach.

What more do we need?

George Murdock is editor of the East Oregonian. He can be reached at 278-2671 or gmurdock@eastoregonian.com.

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