In a Style Plus story yesterday, the estimated figure for viewers of the NBC telecast of Sunday's Super Bowl represented only the Washington area. NBC estimates that there will be 100 million viewers nationally. Picture, "Spectating involves an incredible range of complex psychological and social needs." Photo by Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post
You can observe a lot just by watchin'. Yogi Berra
Suppose a genie appears in your bathroom mirror Sunday morning and announces that you may choose either:
* Not to watch the Super Bowl and thus assure a Redskin victory, or
* To watch the game with no guarantee of victory or defeat.
Your answer to this dilemma, says Pennsylvania State University sports psychologist Steven Danish, reveals whether you're a "true fan of football" or a "fanatic."
"A real football fan will want to watch the game because he or she loves the sport and enjoys seeing it played. A fanatic, however, cares more about winning than watching. If the 'Skins had the choice I bet they'd rather play. Sure they want to win, but the important thing for any athlete is to play well." Some must be spectators. Ben Jonson
"The Super Bowl," notes New York University psychiatry Prof. George Ginsberg, "is the viewing event of the year."
With NBC estimating that 936,000 men and 669,000 women will watch Sunday's telecast of the peak ritual in a football-focused society, Ginsberg calls it "a showpiece for the whole range of human behavior."
Sideline psychology encompasses, he says, a "broad spectrum" of attitudes and involvement in the game. "You go from the fair-weather fan enjoying the sense of community, all the way to the people out in the freezing cold taking off their shirts to demonstrate their loyalty."
A "certain degree" of Hog Wildness, he says, is "just good fun." Fans who wear warpaint, serve dolphin steak or even name their firstborn sons Riggins are probably suffering from nothing more severe than a healthy dose of Redskin Fever. Fan-dom, however, becomes pathological "when it significantly interferes with the major functions of your life, like your job or relationships."
So if you trade your spouse for a Super Bowl ticket, at least one of you has a problem. I'll sit down and be a stander by. Jonathan Swift
"Fifty percent of the population doesn't engage in any activity that requires them to sweat," says Bruce Ogilvie, psychology professor emeritus at San Jose State and a consultant to U.S. Olympic teams. "The only sport experience they have is the vicarious identification with a city team."
Watching football, he claims, has "a gonadotropic effect. There's an incredible amount of testosterone exuded." Should Washington win, he predicts a "baby boomlet in D.C. come fall."
"Spectating isn't passive," concurs Ohio State University psychology professor Andrew Schwebel. "First, you're actively relating to the other people watching. Second, you're really letting your inhibitions go and releasing the emotions you usually have to keep bottled up. Where else do you have social permission to dress funny and scream and jump up and down the way you did when you were a kid?"
Super Bowl watching--and winning--is "particularly beneficial to Washingtonians," he says. "It's like a mini-vacation for a city sorely in need of a release. You've got permission to forget politics, forget financial troubles and just let your hair down until Monday."
"A lot of people don't think of Washington as a real city," adds Ogilvie. "I think of most Washingtonians as either on their way in or on their way out. Football, unfortunately, is one of the few unifying experiences you have. I'll bet for the first time, 90 percent of the people there are talking about 'we,' 'us' and 'they.' "
Or, as George Allen put it when the Redskins defeated the Cowboys a decade ago: "Winning in Washington means more than in other places. The fans have had enough losses." Innocent and infinite are the pleasures of observation. Henry James
"Spectating involves an incredible range of complex psychological and social needs," Ogilvie maintains. "It provides fantasy and escape and hero modeling. Especially in this kind of economy, it fulfills so many deficiencies. For three magic hours the Super Bowl lights up people's lives. It gives a sense of social meaning and purpose.
"In a nation with far too few heroes we get the vicarious joy of projecting ourselves into the football player's cleats. The great danger is that people will live their lives only through this kind of fantasy experience.
"But most people can bring this hero-worship into the real world. Seeing the courage of these men can act as a motivator, giving people the inspiration that they, too, in their field, can achieve excellence." They also serve who only stand and wait. John Milton
Boosterism's brouhaha is good for more than the psyche. "Cheering fans can contribute to the players' success," notes former physical education teacher Edward D. Greenwood, now a psychiatrist at the Menninger Institute. One reason the Super Bowl is held in neutral territory is so neither team gets this "home town advantage. People may feel they are making their city better by watching the game."
Fans, however, can get carried away with their own importance. "People take along all kinds of fetishes," says Greenwood. "They wear lucky clothes and eat certain foods they feel will help their team. If the team wins they feel they've played a part, but if they lose they feel like it's their fault."
Civic pride in a Super Bowl-bound team may carry over into virtually every other social interaction, says University of Maryland psychology professor Ed Trickett. "People who ordinarily would ignore each other now might start talking about the game.
"Strangers may even smile."