Over 100 million people are expected to watch the New England Patriots battle the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl this Sunday. That’s about 1 in 3 Americans, or roughly three times the population of Canada.
Among those millions: people who don’t really know or care about sports. Like my mother, who admits she hasn’t watched an NFL game since last year’s Super Bowl.
“And I’m not even sure I watched last year’s Super Bowl,” she says.
Part of the Team
When asked to name one player on either team, my mom responds: “I only know Seattle is playing because of a newspaper headline. I know nothing about them.”
And the Patriots? “That good looking guy,” she says. “What’s his name again? I don’t remember his name, but I know him.”
“Tom Brady,” I assume.
This isn’t to say all mothers have no idea who Tom Brady is. From Seattle to Dallas to Boston, there’s no shortage of diehard football moms. As for moms like mine who don’t know much at all, their interest may lie less in pigskin than in being part of the team.
“This isn't about the sports at all — it's about being a member of the group,” says Margaret J. King, Ph.D., Director for the Center for Cultural Studies and Analysis, a think tank that studies group behavior and decision-making.
“[Some] women are in the room Super Bowl Sunday because they are watching the men in the room, not on the screen, to gauge social relations and hierarchy.”
My mother gives a less analytical response. “I watch for the commercials, obviously,” she says, before adding, “And usually the football is pretty good.”
The Super Bowl is a marquee event. It’s a spectacle that transcends sport. Who cares if your mom — or anyone else — doesn’t know the name of either quarterback? There are plenty of other things to pay attention to, like guacamole, lip-synced halftime performances, and everyone else in the room.
“Social interactions are essential to building strong interpersonal relationships, and events [like the Super Bowl] open the opportunity to meet new people, share new things, and maybe learn something new about yourself,” says Allen Wagner, a marriage and family therapist based in Los Angeles.
"[The Super Bowl] is no longer a sport, it's a human experience and this is something very different, because it allows us to be what we all long to be, and that is connected.”
What the Science Says
Mom’s indifference toward the game’s outcome may save her life. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Cardiology found a 27 percent increase in cardiac deaths among women who watched the Los Angeles Rams lose Super Bowl XIV to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1980. One may argue that these female fans were so emotionally involved that their hearts couldn’t handle the loss.
But don’t break out the defibrillator just yet. The commercials could have health benefits — at least the funny ones, anyway. According to the NIH, laughter “has shown physiological, psychological, social, spiritual, and quality-of-life benefits.”
If your mom doesn’t know the difference between Tom Brady and Tom Brokaw, she’s probably going to watch the Super Bowl anyway. Whether she’s doing so to expand her social horizons, watch commercials, or just gorge on salsa is beside the point. What matters is she’ll be there, like pretty much every other American. So hold your judgment and pass the bean dip.