Big-game letdown

The end of football season with the Super Bowl sends men into a funk. SN&R asked a psychologist why.

Photo Illustration by David Jayne

As an Oakland Raiders fan, the end of the NFL season never gets me down because, well, there’s never much to look forward to in the first place. But for the millions of fans who watched the Super Bowl this year, the end of football season can induce serious withdrawals—no more fantasy football, chili-cheese dip and John Mellencamp truck commercials! We asked Southern California psychologist John Johnson why people get depressed when the pigskin gets packed away.

So, why does the football season’s end bring so many people down?

People are looking at this as the big thing, the big event, so our bodies get charged up, and then afterward it’s kind of a recovery period—sort of like after running a marathon. That’s kind of the simple biological reasoning behind why we feel so fatigued the next day and kind of down in the dumps. But sociologically, too, I think people really identify with these teams like it’s their war—we sort of over-identify with the players as an extension of ourselves. If our team loses, then we start to feel like a loser.

Is the depression a byproduct of doubt? Post-partum? Lack of identity?

It’s more of the post-partum kind of thing.

Is this predominately a male phenomenon?

It used to be. Now, with more females attending the Super Bowl and the events, it’s definitely equalizing out. But I would say definitely it’s leaning in the male direction, because males are more competitive by nature.

How does it affect gender relations?

When the big game comes, a lot of plans socially are set aside. This becomes bigger than baby showers and other parties that may have been planned. So, a lot of people feel disappointed because if you’re not a big football fan, you kind of get pre-empted.

People get hammered during the Super Bowl.

Certainly. You’re going to have the hangover effect. We’re usually not eating the best diet at that time, either. It’s sort of an all-out grunge fest where we’re just eating everything we can get our hands on and more than we should. I was talking to some people the other day and I said I actually go into a “dip coma” after the Super Bowl.

With a guy like Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who’s so ubiquitous, do fans build up a fraternal or even homoerotic connection, a la Jung’s libido theory?

Absolutely. He does represent that thing we aspire to be. It’s totally a Jungian connection, the archetype: That we see ourselves as we are Peyton Manning in a former life and we now sort of really get an unhealthy attachment to many of these players. We start to envision them as faultless. Women look at them as great leaders and men look at them as how they want to be. You’re going to have the MVP that everyone’s going to love and you’re going to have the goat, who misses the field-goal kick to lose the game, that everybody’s going to hate.

Like former Buffalo Bills kicker Scott Norwood.


Is this depression normal or pathological?

It’s normal. It’s only pathological when it lasts more than a couple of weeks.

What’s the therapeutic approach to help people reconcile the game and reality?

Ultimately what we want to do is ask ourselves what is priority.

Will you watch the game?


So, who’s going to win?

I’m going for the Bears. I’m not sure if they’re going to win or not, but we’ll see.

Who’s your team?

I like the Cowboys.