Back before Christmas, my friend Susan invited me to her annual women-only Super Bowl party. I've had a complicated relationship with America's Big Game over its lifetime, and I wasn't sure I wanted to commit to taking part in one of the grand icons of American pop culture. But I know Susan, and I know she wouldn't be involved in something that's no fun, so I accepted right away.

I got my official invitation a couple of weeks ago, right before the Seahawks locked in their trip to Detroit. "Announcing the sixth annual Race to the Hors d'Oeuvres Table," it read. "Held coincidentally on Super Bowl Sunday." I like these women's priorities.

When game day comes, I commit the cardinal sin of preparing a new recipe for the first time, with unfamiliar ingredients, for a bunch of people I don't know. But it's such a tempting recipe with such a unique blend of flavors — I can't help myself. And the invitation did say to bring "fabulous" snacks. What's a little more stress?

Susan greets me at the door; she's seen me drive up to the house. I come in and immediately recognize the hostess — turns out she's come to a few church functions with Susan, so we've met already, although I didn't remember her name. In the kitchen, a half-dozen women heat up dishes and set food out, struggling to squeeze everything onto the table. I unwrap my contribution to the feast as the pre-game show winds down in the living room.

I'm sure some guys go all-out in the snacks department, although most parties I've attended lean heavily on the chip category. (Observing this phenomenon, another friend's 7-year-old daughter now calls Super Bowl Sunday "National Chip Day.") And we certainly have chips on the table — Cape Cod chips and three varieties of Kettle Chips. But it's the other snacks that earn the designation "fabulous": boneless ribs in a spicy homemade barbeque sauce, rich sweet-and-sour meatballs, three different kinds of hummus, fresh crab with melted butter and chip dips that far exceed the sour-cream-and-onion-soup-mix standard. And the desserts: homemade peanut butter cookies and real chocolate truffles made with dark chocolate and a hint of raspberry. I load up my plate, pour some champagne into a paper cup, and snag a chair in front of the television.

Our hostess lays out the ground rules: We can talk during the game as much as we want, but we have to keep quiet and pay attention during the commercials. (This is the opposite of the ground rules I lived by while watching sports with my dad .) Index cards and pens are thoughtfully provided so we can keep notes on the commercials as they come on.

Once the game is underway, though, everyone follows the action closely. Maybe this is just because it's the Seahawks, but my sense is that this group of women knows football. Oh, we might be a little shaky on the finer points of holding or pass interference, and we can never seem to remember how many timeouts each team gets, but we know the basic rules of the game. We recognize and acknowledge good plays when we see them. We do this even when the good plays are achieved by the Steelers, which happens with alarming frequency as the game goes on.

This isn't to say that we don't pay attention to the aesthetics of the game. We find the Seahawks' blue uniforms far more attractive than the Steelers' white and gold; I mean, not many people can carry off bright yellow stretchy pants across the butt. Someone notes that the blue uniform complements Matt Hasselbeck's blue eyes; another suggests that Seattle's dark pants have a slimming effect. You just don't hear these conversations among a bunch of men.

The only male in the house is the cat. And he sleeps through much of the game.

Halftime brings the Stones and a new round of critiques. Some in our group are not too far behind Jagger, Richards & Co. chronologically; one woman tells about going to see them during their first American concert tour. Drummer Charlie Watts looks serene, as always, and younger than the others despite his white hair; Keith Richards actually looks better than he has in years past, although he could still function as the warning in an anti-drug public service announcement. The lines in Mick Jagger's face have grown deeper, yet he looks as lithe and limber (and lascivious) as he ever did, prancing around the stage singing songs he's sung for 40 years.

"He certainly has a lot of energy," Susan says to me.

"If that's the result of a lifetime of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll," I reply, "then I made some serious misjudgments in my youth."

The second half begins and hope slowly ebbs away. Complaints against the officials get louder. The mood becomes more subdued; a malaise descends. We reach for the chocolate, for comfort.

At the end, people gather their dishes and leftovers and quickly pack up to leave. No one cares about the post-game show. After all, tomorrow's Monday and we all have jobs to go to, families to feed, work to be done. We must leave the fabulous behind and return to the mundane.

Car d'Lane @ Downtown Coeur d'Alene

Fri., June 18 and Sat., June 19
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