Imma let you finish, but Super Bowls comprise nine of out of the top ten most watched television events of all time. It's not hard to see why. For sports fans, this is the end of the rainbow. For others, it's a museum of commercial whimsy. For still others, there's no better, less informal occasion to hang with friends in the spirit of spirits, stuffed guts and haphazard wagers. In these ways, the Super Bowl is an unsurprising space, where we both know and want what we get. But even if you've got it all figured out, here are some facts that might surprise you.
1. Second-place is first place loser:
Right after (and sometimes, for the more audacious teams, before) the end of the game, the winning team dons shirts and hats and jackets proclaiming them World Champions — and in moments, fans have the opportunity to purchase the same. Assuming textile production hasn't quite progressed to the point where we can print thousands of result-specific clothing minutes after the game, you might have wondered — as I did for years — whether both teams probably have merchandise nostalgic for their win ready to go before the coin-toss. But we can't all be winners. What happens to the now-incorrect merchandise of the losing team? They don't reprint everything with an asterisk.
Instead, losing teams have gone on to ship the false advertising to Third World countries — out of sight, out of mind. The humanitarian group World Vision collects the mass of faulty merch in their Pittsburgh distribution center, where it then gets shipped to a destination where folks in extreme poverty could benefit from the surplus. In 2009, the Cardinals' Championship gear was sent to El Salvador. In 2010, the Colts sent their unrealized hopes to folks in Haiti. In the last two years, the merchandise was spread between a number of countries across Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Africa.
An oft-repeated story this time of year recounts the christening of the Super Bowl as such. Evidently, NFL Founding Father Lamar Hunt marveled at his daughter playing with her toy Super Ball, and flubbed "Super Bowl" in place of the AFC-NFC Championship Game during a media interview. The title stuck, and the fourth championship was called the Super Bowl. But that may not have happened.
The tremendous digging of Henry Fetter, writer at The Atlantic, yields this version of the truth:
Immediately after the AFL-NFL merger was announced in June 1966, the label "super" was attached to the post-season showdown between the rival leagues. On June 10, New York Times sports columnist Arthur Daley looked ahead to "a new superduper football game for what amounts to the championship of the world." By the time the 1966-1967 season got underway in early September of that year, that instantaneous superlative had already been refined into its now familiar form. The term "bowl" was, of course, a long-established usage for the traditional games that ended the college football season. On September 4, 1966 the Los Angeles Times recorded that the season ending game was being "referred to by some as the Super Bowl" and that day's the lead story in the New York Times sports section was headlined "NFL Set to Open Season That Will End in Super Bowl." A week later, on September 11, 1966, the Washington Post chimed in, describing the American Football League as "the brash upstarts who will tackle Goliath in professional football's ultimate production, a highly appealing 'Super Bowl' that promises extra pizzaz at seasons’ end." And references to the game as the "Super Bowl" continued to appear regularly as the season continued — well before the sequence of events that Hunt would say provided the occasion for his "accidental" transmutation of Super Ball into Super Bowl.
But this isn't to say the Super Bowl is built on a foundation of lies. What Fetter recognizes at the end of this investigation is the populist silver lining — that the Super Bowl is an invention of the people.
3. Propped up hopes:
Whether or not you join the office betting pool or a more formal sports book, you're probably aware of the extent to which betting is a fixture of games — especially big games. You may not be as familiar with the phenomenon of prop bets. Short for proposition bet, this is a wager on an occurrence that doesn't (at least, directly) affect the outcome of a game. For example, you can wager a prop bet on which team wins the coin toss, what degree Fahrenheit the temperature will reach, and so on. Prop bets at the Super Bowl are something else.
Consider the following prop bets collected by the San Francisco Chronicle:
How long will Alicia Keys take to sing the National Anthem?
Line: Over/under 2 minutes, 15 seconds
Will Beyonce be joined by Jay-Z on stage at halftime of the Super Bowl show?
Line: Yes +110, No -150
Will any Baltimore or San Francisco player on the active roster be arrested during the week before Super Bowl XLVII?
Line: Yes (5/1)
Will Beyonce's hair be curly/crimped or straight at the beginning of the Super Bowl halftime show?
Line: Straight -140, Curly/Crimped EVEN
Who will Barack Obama pick to win the game?
Line: Ravens (-200), 49ers (+150)
If Ray Lewis is interviewed after the game on the field or in the locker room, how many times will he mention "God/Lord"?
Line: Over/under 3
What predominant color will Beyonce's top be at the beginning of the Super Bowl halftime show?
Line: Black (9/4), Gold/Yellow (11/4), Silver/Grey (7/2), White (5/1), Red (13/2), Pink (15/2) Orange (12/1), Blue (15/1), Green (15/1)
How long will the postgame handshake/hug last between Jim and John Harbaugh?
Line: Over/under 7.5 seconds
What will be the highest tweets per second during the Super Bowl?
Line: Over/under 15,000
What color will the Gatorade (or liquid) be that is dumped on the winning coach?
Line: Clear/Water (7/4), Orange (5/2), Yellow (5/2), Green (13/2), Red (13/2) Blue (13/2)
Some odds are odd. Go figure.
4. All roads lead to Roman numerals:
Though less seminal than the story of How the Super Bowl got its Name, many like to regale their friends with the story of how roman numerals came to characterize the championship game. Super Bowl V was the first game to use the notation. Not unlike the Lamar Hunt story of the Super Ball, the truth of using roman numerals lay somewhere between faulty memory and urban legend. In one popular retelling, Lamar Hunt adopted the numerals to make the game "seem more important."
In a seemingly more credible story, the Wall Street Journal cites former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle — the man tasked with transitioning to the use of Roman numerals in 1971 — for adopting the numerals out of both pragmatism and perception. It's true the Roman lettering lends an air of grandiosity, but the function of their form is to sidestep dealing with an NFL season that spans two calendar years. Super Bowl 2012-13 doesn't carry the same weight.
5. Bring it on, if you can:
This year, both teams in the Super Bowl will have cheerleading squads on the sidelines. If you take that for granted, consider that six teams in the NFL don't have cheerleaders: the Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns, New York Giants, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Super Bowl XLV in 2011, when the Packers faced the Steelers, was the first and only time in history the championship game had no cheerleaders between the two teams.