The SpongeBob Super Bowl Was More Fun Than the Real Game

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I had very little interest in watching the Super Bowl, as someone who pays extra for ad-free streaming experiences, has a perpetually divided attention span, and doesn’t eat meat or dips. But Nickelodeon—and SpongeBob SquarePants—had other plans for me. For the first time ever, the kids cable network simulcasted the biggest sports game of the year, alongside its network parent channel, CBS. (This was also only the second time ever that the Super Bowl aired on two channels at once.) And with it came an appropriately silly, nostalgic, genuinely good time, the start of what I can only hope becomes an annual tradition.

This year, Nickelodeon—which has recently started airing NFL games with a kid-friendly, slime-filled twist—presented its own, SpongeBob-ified version of Super Bowl LVIII. It achieved a masterful balance of a difficult task: remaining fun for people who don’t care about football whatsoever while still satisfying people who knew what a “down” was before last night. (Sorry, Dad!) To pull that off, human beings and actual sports commentators Noah Eagle and Nate Burleson, who also hosts NFL Slimetime on Nick, co-casted the game, rattling off the plays and keeping an eye on the big players. Joining them in the box were SpongeBob and Patrick, football newbies who delightfully quipped about everything from unions, Leonardo DiCaprio, and the player formerly known as Travis Kelce, who they dubbed Taylor Swift’s Boyfriend. (In fairness, many of us have done that too.)

What we saw on-screen were somewhat creepy CG versions of SpongeBob and Patrick, whose mouths flapped, hands waved, and eyes twitched in real time alongside Noah and Nate. They appeared thanks to some effects magic, with voice actors Tom Kenny (SpongeBob) and Bill Fagerbakke (Patrick) wearing motion-tracking suits and a camera-rig that allowed animators to translate their bodies and voices into that of their characters on screen. (They were, in essence, VTubing.)

With SpongeBob and Patrick understandably less well-versed in the world of football, Noah and Nate occasionally took the time to explain to them certain parts of the game that regular viewers already understand. With SpongeBob and Patrick as surrogates for the viewers who are only tuning in for less-football-related reasons, however, it was a universally educational experience. Together, we learned about the plays that the Kansas City Chiefs—who ended up winning—needed to make to tie up with the San Francisco 49ers, and why everyone calls 49ers breakout star Brock Purdy “Mr. Irrelevant.” (Another member of Nickelodeon canon, Dora the Explorer, also popped in a few times to do some typically pedantic hand-holding through the game.)

But the real appeal here was the SpongeBob-related frills. We got regular cutaways to the outside of Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium, where the game took place and which had actually been transported to Bikini Bottom. Larry the Lobster regularly took to the field, hanging out there as if expecting to be tagged in. The casters in the box would occasionally throw to Sandy Cheeks, their sideline reporter. DoodleBob used his magic pencil to write all over the screen. SpongeBob occasionally cut away to his pet snail Gary, seated in the stands, to get his take on things.

I especially loved when they showed off a bunch of celebrity fish who were watching the game, including Shrimpotheé Chalamet, Billie Eelish, and Megan Thee Sturgeon.

Nick also played a much-hyped remake of SpongeBob and crew performing “Sweet Victory,” from the end of the classic episode “Band Geeks.”

What was most amusing and impressive was that we were treated to a five-hour improv show from two of the most gifted, undersung comic actors of the century. Kenny and Fagerbakke remained fully in-character the entire time, cracking wise about how brainless SpongeBob and Patrick are, negging the players for fumbling the ball, and mocking Leonardo DiCaprio for never dating anyone over 25. SpongeBob’s always had an adult-friendly sense of playfulness, and that was increasingly on display during what ended up being the second-ever Super Bowl match to go into overtime.

Check out this great, 12-minute compilation of some of the best moments during the broadcast.

I hadn’t had this much fun watching Nickelodeon, let alone sports, in years. By the end of the night, I not only had eaten an entire bag of potato chips without getting upset at myself for it, but I also now understood the difference between 1st and 10 and 4th at 10. Watching the Chiefs inch toward that last touchdown, I was on the edge of my seat—and when they won, I reacted just like SpongeBob and Patrick did:

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