The Super Bowl, a Boozy Wintertime Tradition

Football

The Kansas City Chiefs are the Super Bowl Champions, reclaiming a title the team has not held in 50 years. In 1970’s Super Bowl IV, the Chiefs defeated the Minnesota Vikings. [1] The Chiefs did not return to the big game until this year, [2] when they defeated the San Francisco 49ers after scoring 21 unanswered points. [3] The outcome likely left the majority of Nevadans disappointed – the 49ers have been something of a hometown team preceding the Las Vegas Raiders’ emergence next season – and that may contribute to even more drunk driving accidents.

(In case you are wondering, the Chiefs represent Kansas City, Missouri, not the small sister city located in the state of Kansas. Donald Trump showed confusion on this point in a tweet since deleted and corrected. [4])

Not Quite a Holiday

Super Bowl Sunday is not a recognized state or federal holiday, but over the last half-century it has attained a widespread level of observation that makes it a kind of cultural quasi-holiday. The game is always played on a Sunday, and it always follows the conference championship games by two weeks. The conference championships are a big deal, as measured by the issuance of pre-printed hats and T-shirts draped over the victorious players and coaches in the moments after the games. But to boast that one’s favorite team was the season’s conference champion is to admit, sub silentio, that the team fell one game short of football glory.

The Super Bowl is a social experience, when many people watch their only football game of the season. The game is often watched at sports bars or at house parties with ample comfort food and alcohol. Fans gather, drink, and egg one another on. The result is often a high level of intoxication that can lead to drunk driving accidents after the game or even DUI crashes while making a mid-game beer run. Socialites who try to visit multiple Super Bowl gatherings in one afternoon also run the risk of creating a drunk driving crash.

The Path to the Big Game

Presently, the National Football League (NFL) is comprised of two 16-team conferences: the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC). Each of the two conferences has four divisions – North, South, East, and West – with four teams.

AFC North:

  • Baltimore Ravens
  • Cincinnati Bengals
  • Cleveland Browns
  • Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC South:

  • Houston Texans
  • Indianapolis Colts
  • Jacksonville Jaguars
  • Tennessee Titans

AFC East:

  • Buffalo Bills
  • Miami Dolphins
  • New England Patriots
  • New York Jets

AFC West:

  • Denver Broncos
  • Kansas City Chiefs
  • Los Angeles Chargers
  • Oakland Raiders (soon to be Las Vegas Raiders)

NFC North:

  • Dallas Cowboys
  • New York Giants
  • Philadelphia Eagles
  • Washington Redskins

NFC South:

  • Chicago Bears
  • Detroit Lions
  • Green Bay Packers
  • Minnesota Vikings

NFC East:

  • Atlanta Falcons
  • Carolina Panthers
  • New Orleans Saints
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West:

  • Arizona Cardinals
  • Los Angeles Rams
  • San Francisco 49ers
  • Seattle Seahawks [5]

A natural playoff structure would be to put each of the four division winners in a single-elimination playoff bracket, but the current structure is more convoluted than that.

The NFL’s 32 teams play 16 games each over a 17-game season. This format gives each team one week “off” during the season, which turns out to be very important. Football has always been a physically punishing sport, and as the size and speed of the players has increased over time the protective equipment and rules have not kept up. The damage is not limited to broken bones or dislocated appendages. A growing body of research has linked playing football with the incidence of concussions and traumatic brain injuries that can have physiological and neurological effects that are not revealed until many years later in the player’s life. [6]

The week off during the regular season is a key part of a team’s efforts to reach the Super Bowl. This week off, known as a “bye week,” could come at the beginning of the season, affording a team one extra, precious week to train before facing an opponent in a full-fledged game. (The NFL has begun holding pre-season exhibition games, but teams generally rotate their full lineup through those games to minimize the risk to star players.) A team that is “coming off a bye” may be better prepared for a tough opponent, but a poorly timed bye week may be wasted if it is sandwiched between two weak opponents whom the team can easily defeat. A bye week at the end of the season could give a team one – or even two – weeks off before facing a playoff rival.

The same calculus applies during the playoffs. As mentioned above, the NFL no longer relies on a pure eight-team playoff structure. Instead, twelve teams qualify for the playoffs, six from each conference. The four division winners in each conference qualify for the playoffs, but they are ranked (or “seeded”) based on each team’s regular-season record. The top two teams in each conference enjoy a bye in the first round of the playoffs. Meanwhile the other two division winners (seeds 3 and 4) play against two “wild card” teams that had the best records among all the teams that did not win their divisions. [7]

While the number-one and number-two seeded teams rest, heal, and practice, the number-three seeded team must play the lower-ranked wild card team (seed 6) while the number-four team battles the higher-ranked wild card team (seed 5) in what could be a close matchup. The NFL is the only major sport, besides soccer’s World Cup, that relies on a single-elimination tournament format; upsets can and do happen, so each game a team plays carries a risk of ending the season.

Staying Safe Out There

As fans we cannot do much to change the safety of the game – short of boycotting it, which many one-time fans are increasingly doing or at least considering. But we can be vigilant on the roadways before and after the big game. The Super Bowl happens during a typically snowy time of year in many parts of the country, and as discussed above alcohol is central to many Super Bowl parties. Make the right choice to hand the keys to a designated driver to help protect yourself from DUI accident injuries.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Bowl_IV

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kansas_City_Chiefs

[3] https://www.espn.com/nfl/matchup?gameId=401131047

[4] https://www.axios.com/super-bowl-trump-great-state-of-kansas-tweet-fb73bd59-b2f5-4b81-94aa-eb75fb2653f0.html

[5] https://www.nfl.com/standings

[6] http://www.center4research.org/football-brain-injuries-need-know/

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NFL_playoffs

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