What makes the Super Bowl soooo super?

January 24, 2001

What makes the Super Bowl soooo super?

By KEVIN CLAPP / Staff Writer

Super Bowl XXXV pregame programming begins Sunday, Jan. 28, at noon and continues to 6:25 p.m. on CBS.

Super Bowl XXXV kicks off at 6:25 p.m.

Are you ready for some football?

Too bad. It's coming anyway, and we'll be watching.


This weekend, the holiday season will finally come to a close when the New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens square off in Tampa Bay, Fla., to decide the winner of Super Bowl XXXV. In homes and bars across the country, millions of eyes will join together in fellowship to watch the game and enjoy the company.

But why is it that Super Bowl Sunday has become a pseudo-holiday? People don't gravitate toward other events - college basketball's Final Four, the World Series and the Academy Awards each grab large audiences, but nothing like the NFL title game.


For instance, the top five most-watched programs of all time, in terms of viewers, are Super Bowls. At the top of the list was Super Bowl XXX, the 1996 game between the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers that drew 38.5 million viewers.

And watching the Super Bowl can be a communal experience, gathering for parties or watching the game at a bar. The six-hour pregame programming on CBS, which will telecast Sunday's game, equals a television tailgate celebration, the buildup to the big game.

"This is an excuse to take a day off, and in our minds take a couple of weeks off as we plan to get together with friends and family," says Hagerstown Community College sociology professor Ronald Kepple. "The more I think about it, the more it has become a holiday. Even people who don't know anything about football get drawn into it."

Kepple and Lynn Woehrle, a sociology professor at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pa., say the Super Bowl has grown larger in society as a result of media hype. It also may have something to do with coming together to celebrate a shared interest, particularly when society has become fragmented in its wants, needs and interests.

"We want to belong," Woehrle says. Joining with others who follow football during the Super Bowl increases our sense of identity.

"Within a group, it encourages and affirms our social values," she says. "It makes us feel good that we've done the right thing."

More than other sports, the sociologists say football allows men to reaffirm their masculinity. Women may not watch the game as much as gather to share time with friends in a social setting.

"I do think there is probably some social bonding, particularly for males," Kepple says. "To me it requires a lot more testosterone than any other sport, and I think men use it in an effort to reinforce their own masculinity, even if they are not athletes, to reassert their identities as males. Now, maybe that's going a bit too far. ..."

Woehrle, not much of a football watcher, agrees.

"It's fairly safe conflict. We get the rush from competing, but we ourselves are in no physical risk," she says. "The Super Bowl allows us to play out that super masculine experience without doing it ourselves."

Regardless, Kepple says the Super Bowl provides a stress-free coda to the holiday season because it doesn't require a lot of planning.

"For this, there's no requirement. We can just totally let go. We can just take a day out to enjoy ourselves on a bleak January day," he says. "I look at it as a punctuation to the holiday season and then we can look forward to the spring."

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