Urban Legends of Super Bowl Sunday

friends watching football on TV
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In an interview with the LA Times a few years back, renowned folklorist Alan Dundes ventured to explain why Super Bowl Sunday has become the focus of so many larger-than-life "urban beliefs" in the good ol' U.S.A.

What sort of beliefs was he talking about? Here are a few examples:

  • Every year on the day of the Super Bowl the water systems of big cities all across the country verge on collapsing because of so many simultaneous toilet flushings at half-time.
  • More women are physically abused by spouses and boyfriends on Super Bowl Sunday than any other day of the year.
  • Two-thirds of all the avocados sold yearly in the United States are purchased during the three weeks prior to the Super Bowl for making guacamole dip.
  • There are more pizza deliveries made during Super Bowl Sunday than on any other day of the year.
  • Disneyland becomes a veritable ghost town on the day of the Super Bowl because so many Americans are planted in front of their TV sets.
  • The stock market predictably fluctuates up or down the Monday after the Super Bowl depending on which league wins.

Said Dundes: "Every culture's legends express that culture's values. Super Bowl legends usually involve numbers and a sense of enormity. The idea of big numbers, of being bigger than other people, is very American."

Or maybe we're just prone to exaggerate. Who isn't?

Pumped up though they may be, Americans' cherished Super Bowl beliefs aren't entirely without foundation, Times reporter Tony Perry concluded.

Take that story about water systems failing. It's based on a true story.

Water, sewage systems in danger of collapsing?

As it happens, a Salt Lake City water main did burst open right in the middle of a Super Bowl broadcast back in the 1980s. But though news stories at the time attributed the mishap to an excess of toilet flushings, no evidence has ever been found to substantiate that, or even the likelihood of such an event.

See Perry's article, "Super Bowl Lore Part of the Game," and public utilities director Leroy Hooton's personal account of what really happened in Salt Lake City.

Increase in spousal abuse?

The allegation that violence against women increases on Super Sunday, first raised by the watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, remains controversial because the only evidence ever put forth to support it was anecdotal. Cecil "The Straight Dope" Adams lays out the skeptical side of the story in a column dated April 2000, and About.com's own Buddy T. rebuts the skeptics in his 2001 coverage of what has come to be characterized as a "good ol' boys' backlash."

Spike in avocado sales?

Without question, the Super Bowl is one of the major events accounting for the largest share of avocado sales annually — 69.6 million pounds was the figure projected for last year's Big Game — but not the major event. According to the California Avocado Association, Cinco de Mayo now ranks first in holiday avocado sales in the U.S. (source: The Packer).

Most pizza deliveries in a single day?

True. In 2008, Domino's alone projected home deliveries of more than 1.2 million pizzas on Super Bowl Sunday, a 30 percent increase over normal Sunday traffic. Papa John's projected a 50 percent increase. "Pizza has become to Super Bowl Sunday what eggs are to Easter. Or candy canes to Christmas," reported USA Today in 2004. AP crunched the 2011 numbers.

Disneyland / Disney World become ghost towns?

False. Business at the theme parks is slower on Super Bowl Sunday than on typical weekend days in January, but "not much slower," a Disney spokesperson has been quoted as saying (on MSNBC).

Super Bowl outcome a stock market indicator?

To date, it has been accurate more often than not, says Forbes. "The theory holds that when a team from the original National Football League wins the championship, stocks rise," explains Forbes writer John Dubosz. "When a team from the now-defunct American Football League wins, that's bearish." The so-called Super Bowl Indicator has an astonishing 85% success rate — not that I'd recommend staking your portfolio on it.

Find out more:

MSNBC's Bill Briggs surveys these and other Super Bowl legends with a more caustic eye in "Super Bull," as does Charlie Patton of the Florida Times-Union. Economist Mike Moffat debunks an urban legend holding that the outcome of the big game predicts overall economic growth for the year. Cecil Adams plumbs the depths of the toilet flushing legend, and while he's at it reveals what became of that guy who used to hold up the John 3:16 signs at televised ball games — not that you should necessarily care.