HOUSTON, TEXAS —
It's party time in Houston, Texas.
The New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons take the field here Sunday for Super Bowl LI (51) — the championship game of the National Football League.
But Saturday, out here on Discovery Green, it's a family-friendly festival as far as the eye can see.
A young girl pets a puppy at the Puppy Bowl exhibition, part of the Super Bowl Live fan festival in Houston, Texas. (B. Allen/VOA)
It's hard to imagine that this place used to be just a couple of parking lots.
At the heart of the fun is the Animal Planet-sponsored Puppy Bowl. It's both as cute and as ridiculous as it sounds.
Nathaniel, a boy his dad holds in his arms, explains it best. "The Puppy Bowl is a Super Bowl for puppies."
Those same puppies gently bite the hand of any camera-wielding journalist who steps on their turf. Trust me.
Marcus from Houston, with his son on his shoulders, is just thankful for family fun day.
Discovery Green, a park in downtown Houston hosting the Super Bowl Live fan festival, wasn't around the last time the city hosted a Super Bowl in 2004. The former parking lot is now a focal point of a revitalized and revamped downtown Houston. (B. Allen/VOA)
"It's pretty nice, you know,” he said. “It's something different. It's something to do; something to get us out of the house, you know? It's pretty awesome."
Patrick, wearing sunglasses and a backwards baseball hat, holds his daughter and says, "It's great. It's another thing to do on Saturday. You kind of get out and see something new."
He tilts his head toward his daughter.
"I definitely love to bring her out and experience everything. This is something that we don't get to do too often."
A band tunes up for an evening performance. Journalists, we learn the hard way, are not allowed on stage during the sound check as security kindly escorts us to the grass.
Food trucks are everywhere at the Super Bowl Live fan festival in downtown Houston, some sporting colorful murals and decorations. (B. Allen/VOA)
So we wander to the rows of food trucks and drink tents.
It's here that we meet Chris. He's got a beard, a Patriots' baseball cap, and a beer sitting on the table in front of him. He also spent $9,200 for his and his wife's tickets to the big game.
"We're on the Patriots' sideline. We're about 10 rows up, so it's not bad. We got some pretty good seats," he said.
Most people can't shell out that kind of money for a game, but that's what drives the cost of a 30-second TV ad in the 2017 Super Bowl to $5 million and up.
But, hey, with nearly 1-in-5 Americans saying ads are the best part of the game, it may not be a bad idea to avoid the crowds and save a few thousand bucks by just catching the game at home with your own puppies.