Trivia question: What is the single best day for going out to your favorite movie, restaurant or shopping mall? The very best time to go to the video store to rent that film you've been waiting weeks to see if it is on the shelf or to pick up tickets for that play that seems to always be sold out?
Simple: Super Bowl Sunday.
The only so-called "holiday" of the year with a sports event defining it has become a ritual forhomes across America for more than 30 years since the first so-called "world's championship" was held between Green Bay and Kansas City in Los Angeles. The event has come a long ways since that first contest when the game wasn't even sold out -- there were 30,000 empty seats at the LA Colisuem -- and not one but two networks (CBS and NBC) both provided telecasts of the contest.
It wasn't even called the Super Bowl until the third game when Broadway Joe Namath engineered one of sport's biggest upsets when the New York Jets surprised the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts to win the title. Legend has it that Kansas City Chiefs owner/millionaire Lamar Hunt's kids used to play with a "super ball" that had amazing resillient powers and that moniker got attached to the game.
Of the top 30 all-time most watched television programs in history, half are Super Bowl games. Next Sunday's matchup between the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers and Denver Broncos is likely to continue the ratings tradition and be among the most watched TV programs, let alone sporting events, of 1998.
Not surprising considering the hype, quite surprising considering the quality of the games.
Frankly, you would be better off going to that movie you've wanted to see, enjoy the food at a half empty gourmet restaurant or even watching Nick at Nite reruns of "I Love Lucy." You'll get more excitement than you will watching the overlong pre-game show which has degenerated into a two-hour plus promo for the network that has shelled out millions of dollars to televise the game.
But even the pre-game hoopla is often times more exciting than the game itself. The last six Super Bowls have been won by double digits by the championship team; in the entire history of an event arrogantly counted on by roman numerals, the winning teams have trounced their opposition by an average of more than two touchdowns per contest. Only five of the 32 Super Bowls have been decided by less than a touchdown and even in some of those games the quality of play has been so poor that it has hardly been worthy of the label "super."
There are various theories thrown about as to why the Super Bowl has become the Super Bore.
Many point to the extra week between the NFC and AFC title games and the game itself. During the normal NFL season, teams play every week and professional football players are creatures of habit; they do the same thing every Monday (watch films), Tuesday (appear at local luncheons) Wednesday-Friday (practice), Saturday (travel to or rest up at a local hotel) preparing for Sunday's games. When the game is staged on Monday night, it throws everything off kilter and games are often as lopsided as the Super Bowl. Throw in an extra week like they do in Janaury and everything gets messed up. Players and coaches grumble the extra week is unnecessary but as long as the networks are willing to shell out millions of dollars to televise the game -- and millions of dollars are taken in from hungry advertisers willing to show off their new ad campaigns for a guaranteed huge audience with the right demographics -- the Super Bowl will be played two weeks after the NFC and AFC championship games.
Still, the argument is made both teams have an extra week to prepare but what that usually does is accent the differences between the two teams. When clubs have just one week to prepare, the stronger team doesn't have enough time to exploit the weaknesses of their rivals; hence, closer games during the regular season than in the Super Bowl. Given two weeks to study films and rivals' tendencies, the stronger team will surely be more dominant.
There are other reasons.
--Teams tend to play more conservatively in the Super Bowl, especially when it's their first time in the game. They don't want to make a mistake, a fumble or interception that will put them in an early hole. As a result, the games aren't exciting. And, like returning champions on Jeopardy, those teams with players who have played in the game before tend to be less nervous and more willing to take chances that usually lead to victories.
--Because the audience is so huge and filled with fans who don't regularly watch the NFL, they see a game that often stretches out to four hours -- one hour longer than a regular game. Players aren't familiar to the casual fan or smart collector. It seems slower, over-analyzed by the announcers and filled with extra commercials (which often times are more interesting than the game itself) and as a result, the public perception is the game was boring even though many die-hard fans would have considered it an interesting contest.
--The hype leading in to the game is so ridiculous not even the best-played game can deserve that kind of attention. The game comes at a relatively slow time of the year; opposing networks won't program against the game for fear no one will be watching, the Winter Olympics are still a couple of weeks away and other sports like the NHL, NBA or college basketball won't dare schedule a game on the last Sunday evening in January and even ESPN can only offer cheerleading championships against the Packers and Broncos. As a result, there are no real alternatives to watching the game and it seldom lives up to two weeks of endless trivial stories about the personal lives and habits of the participants.
Maybe this year will be different. The pre-game analysis which has already been offered ad nuseaum claims Denver has an excellent chance of breaking the NFC's stranglehold on winning a world's championship (funny, the U.S. is the only place where football is played regularly and yet it is still considered a world's championship). The Broncos have a savvy quarterback in John Elway, a solid running attack and the kind of defense that could give Brett Favre fits. Still, if the Super Bowl runs according to form, the Packers will start slow, maybe even trail early in game, explode and force another boring second half for the folks at NBC and the millions of viewers. Final numbers: the game, Green Bay 31 Denver 17, the ratings, say a 54 share, the quality, a little above zero.