Few major American events have captured us as the Super Bowl, a game so large that Sunday's staging is not merely the 48th ever played -- it's XLVIII. And the fact that it's in New York (well, almost), and that one-third of America will be watching only adds to its continuing hold on so many of us.
So one day back in the early 1970s, as a dogged sports reporter for the New York Times, I wanted to see if it were true, as generally believed, that America stops for the Super Bowl, that restaurants are empty, that you can get all the cabs you want. So I walked into a strip joint in Times Square and asked to see the manager. A large man came over. "My name is Moose," he said.
I introduced myself and told him what I was writing, and that I wondered whether business suffered. Standing atop the bar, women were wiggling and the men looking up were applauding politely.
"Look around," said Moose. "Do you see anyone watching the game on television?"
Over the years, I found a sizable selection of "facts" regarding Super Bowls worth looking into. And I believe that what these myths do is validate the specialness of the game, giving us a reason to make it such an important part of our lives for this one Sunday. But then again, so many myths in sports have this ability --no, requirement -- to put a stamp on why we are leaving our cares behind and immersing ourselves in this game. Just look at what we think we know about the Super Bowl:
Joe Namath "guaranteed" victory in Super Bowl III
It is 1969, and America is alternately fascinated and repelled by the young rebel. This story still has legs because an original American Football League team -- the younger upstarts -- beat the old, established NFL squad, the Baltimore Colts. It cemented Joe's image and made the Jets the symbol of young wannabees everywhere. The Colts were 18-point favorites.
Here's what happened: the Friday night before the big game, Joe was being honored at a dinner in Miami. Breaking training, Joe went up to the dais (some say with a cocktail glass in his hand). But a heckler yelled out, "The Colts are going to whip you!"
"No," said Joe coolly. "We're going to win. I guarantee it."
And that's it. An offhand remark by a long-haired quarterback to a heckler, in the don't-trust-anyone-over-30 America of 1969, and the rest is history.
Toilets Don't Flush at Halftime Because Everyone Watching at Home Runs to the Bathroom
This myth was validated 30 years ago, when a water main broke on Super Bowl Sunday in Salt Lake City, Utah. But simple research revealed that it was merely a charming fabrication going back to the golden age of television, at least. Remember Uncle Miltie? Milton Berle kept Americans glued to their television sets for one hour every Tuesday night in the late forties and early fifties. And as soon as his show ended, came the claims, America went to the toilet. And water pressure dropped.
Husbands, High on Testosterone, Beat Up Their Wives After Watching The Violence on TV
Even some respected journalists have gone along with this man-bashing propaganda. It originates in a very small 1990 university study that purported that battered women sought shelter at a higher rate after Washington Redskins' games. This study somehow morphed into a nationwide epidemic of spousal abuse. It reached its zenith of popular belief before the 1993 Super Bowl, when feminist groups held a news conference to decry the coming violence. NBC was persuaded to run a public-service announcement during the game telling men to behave.
The Stock Market Has a Down Year When an Original AFL Team Wins the Big Game
This goes back 25 years, when Leonard Koppett wrote a very serious op-ed piece for the Times. He explained that 91 percent of the time, the market rose in the year following an NFC victory, and fell when the AFC was the winner. It was a fascinating statistic -- yes, even taught in business schools. But then the predictor failed for four straight years, from 1998 to 2001. Still, if you're bullish, root for the Seahawks Sunday (although technically the statistic applied to original NFL teams).
Yet, there are some fascinating, real facts about the Super Bowl. Actually, it wasn't even called the Super Bowl until the third one, the "guaranteed" Super Bowl. The first two merely were called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game.
Lamar Hunt, owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, had been watching his Texas-born daughter playing with her high-bounce ball. "That's my Super Bo-all," she said in her twang. Hunt was smitten with the idea, submitted it to his fellow owners -- "It gives the game more dignity," he told them -- and the Super Bowl was born, three years after it began. I know that's not a myth because he told me the story.
I suppose you can charge a top price of $2,500 if you're XLVIII, instead of simply 48. You can pay $11 for a kosher hot dog and chips at the game. And everyone at home will have all the water they need, trust me.