The Super Bowl: A Life and Death Matter?

Professional football apparently is a matter of life and death.

Posted Feb 01, 2011

Super Bowl XLV will be played this weekend between Pittsburgh and Green Bay, and a study in Clinical Cardiology by Robert Kloner, Scott McDonald, Justin Leeka, and Kenneth Poole has just been published that should give fans in both of these cities some pause and even more reason to care about the game's outcome. Mortality rates in Los Angeles County increased after the 1980 Super Bowl loss of the LA Rams, especially among older individuals, but decreased after the 1984 Super Bowl win by the LA Raiders. Cardiovascular deaths were responsible for these results.

This study is more intriguing than definitive, because there is no way of knowing if the deceased individuals watched the games or cared enough about their outcomes to have a heart attack or stroke in their wake. Confounds like pollution, traffic, and whatever may have produced the results rather than the Super Bowl outcomes. Maybe the aftermath of the 1980 game left a more resilient population still standing, hence the 1984 results. But the study remains intriguing, if we can take the results at face value. Winning is good, and losing is bad, even if these outcomes are vicarious. Professional football apparently is a matter of life and death, not just metaphorically but literally.

It would be interesting if someone carried out analogous studies in other cities to see if the outcomes of sports events had similar effects on the physical well-being of their populations. Ditto for other important events in a city: political, economic, or cultural.

Anyway, I am reminded of a conversation I had with my father after the Super Bowl victory of the 1985 Chicago Bears.

My father, a Bears fan like me but also a cynic, advised me, "Enjoy it, son. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

To which I responded, "You mean in your lifetime."

"No, Chris," he said. "I mean in your lifetime."

Alas, Dad was right, at least to date. But we both survived the loss of the Bears in Super Bowl XLI. Maybe the wonderful season of the 1985 Bears immunized us.

Enjoy the game, dear readers.

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