The Oculus Game: Super Bowl LIII

Technology |  3 min. read

When the Rams and Patriots square off in Super Bowl LIII, the action on the field should be pretty exciting.  After all, the two teams combined to score 63 points in the conference championship games (and give up 54!).

But there’s also something cool to see that won’t be down on the field.  In fact, it’ll actually be up overhead:  the roof.

That’s because this roof has an “oculus” – and even if we just stopped there, an “oculus” sounds cool.  But yes, there’s more.

The oculus is an opening in the top of the roof.  Like this one…

That’s the Pantheon, in Rome, and an inspiration for this oculus…

(Photo from Mercedes-Benz Stadium)

…which is sitting atop the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta (home to this year’s Super Bowl).

And as remarkable as the Pantheon is (especially considering it was built almost 2,000 years ago), this new oculus has some wow factor too.

That’s 100,000 square feet of oculus up there.  The Pantheon?  651 square feet (sorry, Rome).

The Pantheon, that’s open all the time, come rain or come shine.  The Mercedes-Benz oculus?  That can be closed, as it is in the picture – and it can open:

…like that.  Those eight petals (ok, technically panels) seeming to slide over and under each other, like a camera lens – each of them is more than 200 feet long.  Each petal has a dozen motors, which is what makes them move open and closed.  But what makes it possible to cover 100,000 square feet, in 200-foot petals – is plastic.

Specifically, a polymer film made from ETFE for short (and for long, that’s “ethylene tetrafluoroethylene”) – which is made from the petrochemical ethylene, naturally.  And what ethylene makes possible – is a roof that weighs one percent, of what a glass roof would weigh – a roof that lets through more light than glass – a roof that can hold more than 400 times its own weight – and a roof that can open and close over a space of 100,000 square feet.  Only a plastic like ETFE could do all that (it’s even used for the façade of the stadium).

But that’s not the only place, polymers made from petrochemicals make this stadium special.  In that picture, take a look at the ring of lights under the oculus.  That’s a video scoreboard (called the HALO) that runs all the way around the roof – 360 degrees.  You can see it from every seat in the stadium (and if you’ve been to a game, almost anywhere else – you know how unusual that is).  It’s the largest LED display for sporting events in the world.  High-tech polycarbonates are used to hold the printed circuit boards and LED pixels in place.  Even the individual LED pixels are encased in polycarbonate.  And polycarbonates?  Making them is made possible by the petrochemicals propylene and benzene.

By the way, this year’s Super Bowl features the Rams – but there was an LA connection all the way back in the first Super Bowl too – it was played in Los Angeles.  The Rams weren’t in the game though, just their town;  on the field, the Packers beat the Chiefs (and the Packers won again the next year too).

There have been some changes in the game though over the past 53 years:  that January 15, 1967 game at the LA Coliseum did not sell out (and the most expensive seats went for $12) – and it wasn’t called the Super Bowl, not officially (that started with the fourth game, in 1970).

The LA Coliseum, of course, had been around a lot longer.  When it opened in 1923, as home to the USC Trojans, the game looked like this…

(Photo from LA Coliseum)

…and whatever the seats went for in those days, apparently it was still too much!

While the first Super Bowl wasn’t played till 1967, the NFL is actually one year older than the Coliseum.  The Canton Bulldogs were champions that year (and yes, that’s the same Canton, Ohio where you’ll find the Pro Football Hall of Fame today).

And here’s one last then-and-now:  for their win, each of the Packers got $15,000.  This year’s losers will take home $59,000 apiece.

Enjoy the game!