The 5 Biggest Lies Everyone Tells About the Super Bowl
We're just a few short but somehow still agonizingly long days away from one of the greatest events in all of sport. I'm speaking, of course, about Super Bowl Sunday.
It's a bittersweet day, really. On the one hand, the Super Bowl is on, which means all sorts of life laws are temporarily off the books. So that's fun. On the other, with the exception of March Madness (and my beloved Winter Olympics this year), it's going to be a long drive until we come across any sporting events that matter between the conclusion of the game and the kickoff of the 2014-2015 season. Yes, I do realize baseball is on during this time, and of course I don't think of soccer as a sport, but thanks for asking on both counts.
Anyway, like any major event that's been happening for an extended amount of time, there's no shortage of myth and lore surrounding the Super Bowl. You can hear me talk about some of the shadier myths on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
... where I'm joined by my comic friends Jeff May and Laurie Kilmartin.
Or you can just read me talking about them right here. It's going to be a blast either way. You might even consider doing both!
Here are the five biggest lies everyone tells about the Super Bowl.
There Are Only 11 to 13 Minutes of Actual Game Play
This statistic, more than any other, is held over the heads of fans as proof positive that the sport of American (a synonym for quality in retail circles) football is one of boredom and inactivity. Even worse for those who might argue otherwise, that "fact" didn't come from some random anti-sports blog or whatever. No, it came from the Wall Street Journal, and since when do they deal in reporting faulty numbers?
The problem with their argument is that, for the "11 to 13 minutes" number to ring true, a person would have to completely and totally fail to understand not only how football works, but just how sports work in general. For starters, they're talking about the time between when the ball is snapped and when the play is whistled dead. In other words, only when the ball is in the air or moving can we consider that actual sports action is taking place. After all, the ball isn't whipping around in the air, so what could possibly be happening? Here's a good basketball example of why that's a stupid notion:
Larry Bird does a whole lot of things before that inbound pass is thrown that set him up to be in a position to steal it. That, in turn, wins the Celtics that game. By the "only when the ball is moving" standard, none of that counts as "game play." Not only is it absurd to suggest that the moments immediately prior to the ball being snapped are just meaningless stand-around time, you could argue that what happens before the ball is snapped is actually more important in football than the play itself. There has not been a play drawn up yet that cannot be successfully defended, provided you get everyone in the right position doing the right thing at the right time. If you're in the wrong position to defend the play called, though, you have problems. Speaking of defense, here's Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu enjoying some leisurely pre-snap stand-around time:
The play clock in the NFL is 25 seconds and, for all sorts of reasons, the ball is usually snapped with just a few seconds remaining. All of the predicting and planning and positioning that must happen on each play happens in those 20 seconds or so, all while the opposing quarterback does everything within the rules to make that defense lose focus or guess wrong. Here, look at this baffling montage:
That's Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning repeatedly yelling the word "Omaha!" from the line of scrimmage during the Broncos' recent playoff win over the San Diego Chargers. On five separate occasions during that game, the Chargers defense jumped across the line before the ball was snapped. That's a 5-yard penalty each time. Deadspin has video of all five penalties, along with a fascinating explanation for what's happening. Basically, most of the time when Peyton Manning would yell "Omaha" the ball would be snapped on the next word. Every once in a while, though, they wouldn't snap the ball immediately after, and it caused the defense to jump five separate times in one game. They'd done it three times total in the 17 games prior.
And that's a bunch of meaningless bullshit to the Wall Street Journal. Meaningless bullshit that, in their reporting on the "11 minutes of play" story, accounted for another 67 minutes of broadcast time.
No one could ever look at Brett Favre that long for no reason.
Keep that in mind the next time you make them your go-to source for sports facts.
Cold Weather Equals Lower Ticket Prices
Oh, hey, look at that, football purists: You finally got your stupid outdoor Super Bowl! You must be so relieved. Here's hoping they bring back those leather helmets at some point, too.
The general thinking behind holding the Super Bowl indoors or at least in traditionally warm weather areas is that, by taking the elements out of the equation, neither team gains any real advantage. In a cold weather environment, for example, a team that plays in the Midwest is going to have an advantage over a West Coast team in that they're more accustomed to playing in inclement weather.
Also, I imagine part of it has to do with the fact that losing the Super Bowl is probably one of the most crushing defeats in all of sports. If you find yourself on the business end of that, at least you can take comfort in knowing you got to spend a few weeks being media darlings in Miami or something. The loser this year will have to take comfort in knowing that, hey, at least they got a trip to New Jersey in the winter out of it! That barely qualifies as consolation, if at all.
The architecture is nice!
There's another perceived benefit that proponents of a cold weather Super Bowl like to throw around, which is that it will lead to lower ticket prices. On the surface, it makes sense. People love football, but not nearly as much as they love staying the fuck inside when the weather turns terrible, as it often does this time of year in New York, which is where this year's game will be played. So, are those lower ticket prices happening yet?
Unfortunately, the short answer is "no." Sure, if you're reading this right now, and I mean right now as I'm writing this, which is Tuesday, January 28, then yes, ticket prices have fallen, and it might be due to weather, but there's a lot of smoke and mirrors at work that make that so.
For one, the NFL set the face value prices way higher this year. The thinking was that prices would lessen the gap between face value tickets and those that end up on the resale market at sites like StubHub by making them unaffordable for everyone, apparently.
At least dreaming is still free.
So any perceived drop in price is coming from a much more substantial height than in previous years. The most expensive face value Super Bowl ticket this year is $2,600. It was just $1,250 last year. Even if prices are dropping from where they started, the average Super Bowl ticket this year is still $3,715, which is well above the average of the past two years. Sales are also up 33 percent.
If anything, the idea that cold weather equals lower prices (and the subsequent reporting that it has) is a myth perpetuated to excuse charging WAY more for tickets just because the game is in New York. Any drop that's happening right now will probably have righted itself by the time you read this on Friday. If ticket scalpers are panicking at the thought of not being able to sell tickets due to inclement weather, they'll just as quickly realize they had nothing to worry about and jack those prices right back up as game time approaches.
Of course, for most people, "cold weather equals cheaper Super Bowl tickets" will be the last they hear of the story. So, for the NFL and whatever people of New York actually benefit from having a Super Bowl played in a completely different state across the river, the ruse was a total success. They got people to pay way more for tickets, all while making it seem like they'd taken the most drastic measure of all to keep ticket prices low.
The Super Bowl Brings Sex Trafficking to Town
I know most of you are tired of me saying this, but let's change gears and talk about prostitutes for a second. Fathers, if the Super Bowl is coming to town, lock your at-risk teen in the attic for a week, because the sexual predators of the world will be descending on your city hoping to sign your princess up for a career in the world's oldest profession.
Except no, they aren't. Not this year, and not any year. The hysteria-inducing idea that thousands of women and girls are kidnapped and forced into prostitution to meet a nearly insatiable need for available hookers at major sporting events has been repeatedly debunked by groups who do nothing but research the effects and ramifications of human sex trafficking.
From most indications, it seems that the idea of major sporting events leading to a massive influx of hookers and pimps dates back to a report about the 2004 Athens Olympics that claimed sex trafficking "doubled" in that country when the Olympics came to town.
Could people think of nothing else to do in a beautiful locale like this?
Among the various problems with the claim is that "doubled" in this case means a jump from around 90 to something more in the neighborhood of 180, all at a time when brothels were actually legal in Greece. Prohibitionists were fighting to change that and, more importantly, label any sex-industry activity as "sex trafficking." A lot of the citations and arrests made in the run up to the Athens Olympics were just violations of zoning laws intended to keep the robust and legal sex trade out of the line of sight of tourists who might frown upon such a thing, legal or not.
In plain speak, sex trafficking crimes doubled, but it was because of a technicality, not because the Olympics were in town. A similar trick was used to come up with another famous statistic that claims there were 133 sex trafficking-related arrests at the 2011 Super Bowl in Dallas.
Don't sex with Texas.
In that case, every "vice"-related arrest in the two-week period before and after the game was considered sex trafficking. So if you were arrested for drugs, it was counted as a sex trafficking stat for scare tactic purposes.
Nevertheless, this is a rumor that refuses to die. One ridiculous claim set the number of women forced into the sex trade during the 2010 Super Bowl in Miami at more than 10,000. That's the kind of number that gets thrown around regularly whenever this urban legend pops up. Those numbers would basically make every Super Bowl the 9/11 of sex trafficking. That just does not happen. There's no other way to put it.
It's One of the Biggest Beer-Drinking Days of the Year
So this one is a bit of a technicality. Of course the Super Bowl is among the biggest beer-drinking days of the year, but if I were to ask you where it placed on the list, what would be your guess? It's pretty clear from the opening of this paragraph that it's not first, but still, football and beer go together like football and beer, and this is the biggest football day of all, so it's at least top five, right?
Actually, when it comes to the days when the most beer is consumed in this country, Super Bowl Sunday lands at a dismal eighth place on the list. Quick! Tell me the seven days ahead of it! I'll give you a month!
I'd give you a month because I assume that's about how long it would take before anyone came forward with guesses like "Easter" or "Father's Day," the latter of which turns up at an astounding #4 on the list.
So, if you're ever wondering how miserable you make your father's life, it's approximately "fourth place on the drunkest days of the year list" miserable.
This isn't that surprising when you take the sales pattern of beer in general into account. In the early part of the year, sales are always at their lowest. They gradually increase as the weather gets warmer, hitting their peak sometime in the summer. In other words, underlying any statistic about beer sales is a core demographic that drinks solely in accordance with the changing seasons. It doesn't matter what's on television, it doesn't matter what holiday it may be -- as the days get hotter, more and more people use it as a reason to start drinking. If the Fourth of July were in February, it would probably be 10th on the list of beer holidays instead of first.
Also, how much shittier would fireworks be if we had to watch them in the winter?
Increased Domestic Violence On Super Bowl Sunday Is a Myth
The reported increase in spousal abuse rates on Super Bowl Sunday is one of the most misunderstood "myths" of all time. On the countless lists that cover Super Bowl lore, this one is almost always held up as an example of one of the more hysterical and absurd legends, one that was proven false almost as soon as it was put forth. No matter what Snopes might imply, though, it's simply not true that this myth has been debunked.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying a link between Super Bowl Sunday and domestic violence has been definitively proven, just that laughing it off as mass hysteria hasn't been proven to be the correct course of action either.
This "myth" dates back to the 1993 Super Bowl. You know the one ...
In the run up to that game, a group called Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) convinced the NFL to air a public service announcement reminding viewers that domestic violence is a crime. If that sounds like feminist bullying, keep in mind that the networks were required to air a PSA during the Super Bowl at that time. Lots of groups lobbied to have their cause be the one that was represented; it just so happened that a domestic violence group was selected that year.
A few days after that ad aired, an article appeared in the Washington Times by a writer named Ken Ringle, who questioned the validity of claims that spousal abuse increases on Super Bowl Sunday. He was praised at the time for doing the reporting work that others who covered the claim didn't. Among his supporters was Rush Limbaugh, in case you're looking for clues as to where I'm headed with this story.
If anyone is in the pocket of the pro-wife beating lobby, I suspect it's this guy.
Here's the problem: Ringle didn't debunk anything reported by FAIR. As various media outlets began repeating the domestic violence claim, a wild statistic popped up showing that domestic violence increased by an astounding 40 percent on game day. That is the statistic that has been debunked, but the first place it surfaced was in Ringle's article. FAIR never actually quoted this statistic in their PSA or in the negotiations with NBC to have it aired. Ringle just sort of attributed it to them so he'd have something to contest. Throughout his "debunking" of FAIR's claim, it's this one figure that is returned to whenever an expert is asked to weigh in.
After shooting down that phantom statistic, he criticized the remainder of FAIR's evidence as anecdotal. That's the second problem with the debunking theory. FAIR was actually the first to describe their evidence showing that claims of spousal abuse increase on Super Bowl Sunday as anecdotal. They were basing their claim on firsthand accounts from people who worked in women's shelters. Again, no one was saying the incidents increased by 40 percent, only that there was, historically, an increase in the number of calls or claims from women on that day.
"If the Broncos don't start converting on third down, I'm fucked."
Ringle fought back with a claim or two from people who worked at shelters who said, as far as they knew, there was no increase where they worked during that particular Super Bowl. Not to be a purist about it or anything, but that's also anecdotal evidence.
In later interviews with the experts Ringle contacted to "debunk" the claims made by FAIR, it was revealed that only one of the four even agreed with the main point of his article. Among the hard-hitting evidence he provided was this quote:
"Super Bowl Sunday is one day in the year when hot lines, shelters, and other agencies that work with battered women get the most reports and complaints of domestic violence."
Ringle reported that the person this quote was attributed to didn't recall saying it, but then adds that he did say something very similar, which was this:
"Super Bowl Sunday is one of the days in the year when hot lines, shelters, and other agencies that work with battered women get the most reports and complaints of domestic violence."
That's the same fucking quote! In both cases, it's pretty clear they're saying that it's just one of the busiest days, not the busiest. Another expert who was quoted in Ringle's article as saying "You know I hate this" said he was actually referring to Ringle's line of questioning.
"It's you I hate!"
He described Ringle as "hostile" and, on the same day he was quoted in Ringle's debunking article, went on record in another publication to assert that the PSA probably saved lives.
In other words, if you take that questionable "40 percent" statistic out of the discussion, Ringle didn't really disprove anything, because FAIR never reported anything that could be definitively proven either way. None of this is new information, by the way. A woman named Laura Flanders explained all of this almost as quickly as the "debunking" started making the rounds, but for some reason, that part of the legend always gets left out.
Personally, I'm inclined to believe that there probably is an increase in domestic violence on Super Bowl Sunday. I base that on another rage-related statistic -- traffic accidents. In the hour immediately after the Super Bowl, death by car accident goes up by a whopping 41 percent. Is that because everyone is drunk driving? That probably has something to do with it, but keep in mind, Super Bowl Sunday is the eighth biggest day for drinking beer. People are drunk, but not a lot drunker than on any other "holiday." Something else is at work behind those numbers, and my guess is that something is probably rage. Losing always sucks, and given how much money is bet on the Super Bowl each year, losing probably sucks for a lot of people even if they didn't have a team in the game.
"Gambling never leads to violence!"
So all of that alcohol and rage and anger come to a head when the angry drivers of the world hit the streets, causing them to die at a much higher rate than usual. It's an increase of such proportions that it borders on being unbelievable, and it's probably the best indicator available of what a Super Bowl loss does to some fans' frame of mind.
Clearly, a Super Bowl loss brings out the very worst in the road ragers of the world, but for some reason, we're supposed to accept it as fact that the spousal abuse set has found a way to keep the obviously overwhelming influence of the Super Bowl on one's mood from impacting them in the slightest. Road ragers may die in droves after the Super Bowl, but spousal abusers always keep their cool.
Sorry, Snopes, I don't fucking buy it.
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