Marc Horton's annual Super Bowl parties are usually epic, day-long events, garnering so much attention, the host says, he had to create a waitlist for those eager to enjoy the festivities in the future.
This year's soiree in Keswick, Ont., will be exclusive to Horton and his wife Alicia however, as wild winter spread of COVID-19 meant cancelling the big bash.
In years past, Horton's hoopla--nicknamed the "Stuper Bowl"--included as many as 50 invitees.
The day would begin with a series of football games played at a nearby field, complete with a trophy presentation to the winning team, followed by a poker tournament at Horton's house. Guests would then flop down in front of several TV's and a championship-calibre food spread to watch the big game.
Horton's parties marked a day of competition and greasy culinary indulgence like no other in the calendar year, but it was also an opportunity to catch up with old friends.
"A lot of them I went to high school with, and we see each other once a year at this event," he said. "So it's pretty depressing that it can't happen this year."
Indoor gatherings are banned across much of the country in efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, which has accelerated in recent months. Some are moving their get-togethers to virtual platforms, while others will simply watch alone.
Horton, who'll be cheering for the Kansas City Chiefs over the host Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, is one of many football fans altering Super Bowl traditions as Canada deals with a dire second wave.
Horton estimates 40% of his usual guests don't care about touchdowns or field goals, but they attend his shindigs for the social aspect, including friendly wagers on random outcomes from the coin flip to the final score.
The food, including Super Bowl staples such as chili, nachos and chicken wings, is also a big draw.
Brenda Andress, an expert in sports and business leadership, says food has become an integral part of the Super Bowl by design, as the NFL has marketed its championship game in a way that mimics holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Bars and restaurants get on board too, she added. While closed to indoor dining, some establishments are tweaking their takeout menus to offer football-themed packages.
The Super Bowl itself is appealing for a number of reasons too, Andress says, including its strategic placement on the calendar--in the dead of winter when nothing is going on, and when people are itching to escape cold-weather doldrums with a social affair.
The simplicity and excitement of a one-and-done title game, rather than a stretched-out series, entices many non-sports fans. And elaborate halftime shows, which this year will feature Canadian artist The Weeknd, draw in others.
"The NFL has created this niche where their entertainment rocket can accelerate," said Andress. "They've done an excellent job building around the game--the halftime show, tailgate parties, home parties, bar parties. They've created a marketing machine that everybody can buy into."
Horton, who's happy to hunker down with his wife and a few pounds of wings for an intimate game experience, is still disappointed to miss a crucial aspect of what Sunday night is supposed to be.
"Half the fun is experiencing it with a lot of people," he said. "There's that aspect of group camaraderie that just isn't there this year."