TIME Football

Behind the Scenes of the Puppy Bowl

Puppies tussle with a plush football at the "Puppy Bowl" in Phoenix
Puppies tussle with a plush football at the "Puppy Bowl" in Phoenix, Jan. 29, 2015. Daniel Wallis—Reuters

The Puppy Bowl is the second-highest rated broadcast on the day of the Super Bowl

There are many reasons to become a sports journalist. Maybe you want to expose corruption, or do the kind of deep statistical analysis you can’t find anywhere. Or maybe, like me, you just want to go to The Puppy Bowl.

If you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, The Puppy Bowl is Animal Planet’s solution to every television network’s problem of what to broadcast against the nation’s top-viewed program of the year. Now in its 10th year, The Puppy Bowl is the second-highest rated broadcast on the day of the Super Bowl.

The old adage in showbiz says never to work with animals or children, so the logistics of working with animals who are also children can be tricky. The 3-yard by 10-yard field is manned not only by the referee you see on television, but also animal handlers for each animal, numerous producers, and about 10 cameras to catch all the action. Also numerous? Big jars of peanut butter, which producers put on the camera lenses to get the puppies to lick them. This year’s halftime performers will be Nigerian dwarf goats, who sources tell me “like to stand on boxes.”

This year’s roster is composed of 84 puppies from 37 shelters and private homes from around the country. These puppies are vetted (pun intended) by Animal Planet’s casting directors, who have the enviable job of looking at puppy audition tapes in the weeks leading up to filming. Marcia Mansell and Kathy Jung of the Nevada SPCA told us that these audition tapes consist of “five minutes of them playing.” The puppies were held in a large room adjacent to the studio in pens divided for different sizes of dogs. If you think this sounds like heaven, well, you’re right.

Many of these tapes are blind submissions from pet owners looking for a chance at the spotlight, but other puppies were actually scouted by Animal Planet. A puppy named Lorelai from Iowa was one such dog. “Someone from Animal Planet found us on Pet Finder and reached out to us,” said Amy Heinz of Iowa’s Heinz 57 Pet Rescue, who has brought puppies to the last three Puppy Bowls. “We brought a lot of dogs, so we rented a big SUV and drove about eighteen hours to get here. We have crates for half of them and a playpen for the rest.”

Some of the puppies provided by shelters have already been placed in new homes, but others haven’t. When I asked Heinz if she saw any boost in adoption rates after the broadcast, she said, “An enormous boost. We doubled our adoption rates after our first year appearing on the Puppy Bowl.”

Just like the Super Bowl, the Puppy Bowl is filled with Cinderella Stories. Many of the puppies that come from shelters have risen out of abusive or neglectful situations to compete on the largest stage in Puppy Football (and also the only stage in Puppy Football).

Bronte, a pitbull from Healing Species shelter in South Carolina, was one such case. “We rescued his mother and a litter of puppies,” said Healing Species president and founder Cheri Brown. “We’re a shelter that specializes in abuse and cruelty, and this was one of the worst cases we’ve ever seen. The mother was dying, but she’s fine now. Bronte was covered in fleas and had intestinal parasites known as Coccidia. If we had found him a day later, I don’t think he would have made it.” Another puppy, Kino (a strong candidate for this year’s MVP), showed up to the Nevada SPCA in a cardboard box.

Has the Puppy Bowl convinced you to adopt a dog? Great! Amy Heinz, who does home visits for every dog before adopting them out, told me the three things you should consider before taking a furry friend home with you:

— Do you have the time? Puppies are a LOT of work, way more than you think. An older dog requires less time, but is still a commitment. If you don’t have time but still want to get in on that puppy action, consider volunteering at a shelter.

— How willing are you to train the dog? If you don’t know how to do it and don’t want to learn, consider an older dog or obedience school.

— The right size dog for the right space. If you live in a New York City studio apartment, maybe the St. Bernard you’ve had your eyes on is a bad fit. And if you live on an expansive ranch, an English Bulldog with breathing troubles might not be able to keep up with you.

After an eventful day of playing football (kind of), the puppies were all tuckered out and headed home for the day. I won’t spoil the results for you, but I think we can agree that the real winner here is all of us. We all win.

This article originally appeared on SI.com.

TIME Sports

How Advertisers Conquered the Super Bowl

Super Bowl II - Green Bay Packers vs Oakland Raiders - January 14, 1968
Oakland Raiders quarterback Daryle Lamonica (3) rolls out of the pocket during Super Bowl II, a 33-14 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Jan. 14, 1968, at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Fla. Fred Roe—NFL/Getty Images

Advertisers are not just buying time between the plays, but also influence over the entire event

Perhaps the earliest recorded gripe about a Super Bowl commercial ran in TIME Magazine in 1968, shortly after 70 million Americans had tuned into Super Bowl II.

“One ‘promo’ actually ran right through a kickoff,” wrote TIME’s critic. “Paid commercials also got in the way—but it was easy to see why. Commercial time for the Super Bowl telecast sold for an unprecedented $150,000 a minute.”

Cue the gasps.

By 1977, commercial time sold for $250,000 a minute. It cleared the $1 million mark by 1985. Today the going rate is $9 million. At these astronomical sums, advertisers are not just buying time between the plays, but also influence over the entire event. TIME’s earliest Super Bowl critic may have spotted their clout early on, but really he had no idea what was to come.

Advertisers have nudged the game’s location, kick-off times and duration in their favor. Pontiac, Mich., might have seemed like an unlikely location for Super Bowl XVI in 1982. “The Midwestern city (pop. 76,000) is a near disaster area,” wrote a reporter for TIME, but the city had powerful backers; a “full roster of ad-firm chieftains” from Michigan’s automotive sector. They reminded the Super Bowl Committee of their “dedication” to the game, a not so subtle reference to their $1 billion outpouring of ad revenue. “It was like whacking a donkey with a two-by-four,” one Detroit-based ad executive told TIME. “It got their attention.”

By 1986, NBC would pay homage to advertisers with a moment of silence. Halfway through the pre-game show of Super Bowl XX, at 4 p.m., the talking heads would fall silent. “As a clock onscreen ticks off the seconds, viewers will be able to race to the refrigerator or bathroom without missing any of the action — or the commercials,” wrote TIME.

“The medium that once simply covered America’s favorite sports has virtually taken them over,” TIME had opined by 1990. By then, the fusion of sports and commerce was unmistakable. “As the money keeps growing, so does TV’s determination to get the most from its investment by orchestrating the show for maximum viewer appeal…Starting next season, pro football will add two more teams to the play-offs and, by the fall of 1992, two more weeks to the season. That will probably push the Super Bowl into February, which just happens to be a ratings ’sweeps’ period.”

Before long, the commercialization of the Super Bowl had become received wisdom, barely worth arguing. TIME’s writers turned their attention to the commercials themselves as cultural events. The classic Mac ad, in which a woman hurls a sledgehammer through a big screen TV broadcast of a barking dictator, “established the Super Bowl as the unofficial high holiday of capitalism,” wrote TIME’s TV critic James Poniewozik in 2000, “the launch pad for baroque, high-profile ads that today generate more excitement than the game.”

Commercials even launched careers and cottage industries. The original 1970’s choristers who sang Coca-Cola’s blockbuster anthem, ”I’d like to teach the world to sing,” for a $50 fee, reprised their roles at the 1990 Super Bowl. They brought their children in tow, and this time demanded residuals.

Spuds MacKenzie, Budweiser’s canine mascot, spawned a mini craze for bull terriers. Some specimens fetched prices upwards of $1,200. “Inquiries are up 75% at Jerry’s Perfect Pet Shop in Dallas,” TIME reported in 1987. “Customers in St. Louis are so bullish that Petland had to put the dogs on back order.”

TIME’s Jay Chiat imagined the future of advertising for Super Bowl LIV, in 2020, where advertising suffuses every inch of the screen. “The Microsoft Mustangs are playing the GM Generals at Cisco Stadium in a town called Ciscoville–formerly known as Philadelphia,” he wrote. “Corporations will pay big money for the right to digitize logos onto the T shirts of the fans in the stands.”

It may sound far-fetched, but then consider how far commercials have come since TIME’s original 1968 complaint that commercials “got in the way.” Two decades later Cincinnati Bengals coach Sam Wyche would urge his team, shortly before they took the field at Super Bowl XXIII, ”Go for that shaving-cream commercial you’ve always wanted.”

TIME super bowl 49

Brain Science: The Patriots Will Forget Deflategate

AFC Championship - Indianapolis Colts v New England Patriots
Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots in action against the Indianapolis Colts of the 2015 AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 18, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. Elsa—Getty Images

In sports, media and fans talk a lot about distractions. But researchers find that they're quite overrated.

Distraction: it might be the most needlessly analyzed term in all of sports. Especially over the last year or so. Jason Collins signs with the Nets: will the first openly gay player in the NBA serve as a distraction? (Turns out, no). Will Michael Sam fall in the NFL draft, because teams fear that the first openly gay player in the NFL would distract the locker room? (Such a fear surely cost Sam draft position).

Every year, distractions are a rote Super Bowl story line. Will the players be able to handle all ticket requests, the glare and anticipation of over a hundred million Americans, and still play football? This year, the distractions lurk like a lobby autograph hound. How will Deflategate impact the New England Patriots? Can they stay focused while a large segment of the world calls them cheaters? And now, the news out of Seattle’s camp: the girlfriend of star cornerback Richard Sherman could go into labor any moment now. Will Sherman actually skip the game to be in the delivery room? How ever will the Seahawks tune this out?

Turns out, there’s a group of researchers at Brown University that have recently been studying the science of distraction. Odds are, the players will be just fine. “The brain does an amazing job tuning out distractions,” says Catherine Kerr, a neuroscientist and assistant professor at Brown’s Alpert Medical School. “We’d all be psychotic if it didn’t.”

Humans – especially pro athletes — have a lot going on, and the brain is wired to cope. In study published in December in the journal Psychological Science, two Brown researchers – Joo-Hyun Song, assistant professor of cognitive, linguistic, and psychological science and Patrick Bédard, assistant professor of neuroscience — found that being distracted while learning a motor task did not hinder a subject’s ability to perform the task, as long as the subject was also distracted during recall. In other words, as long as we’re always distracted, we’ll perform just fine.

The Patriots have practiced their game plan all week amidst the specter of Deflategate. The scandal shouldn’t suddenly pop into the players’ minds on Sunday, rendering them useless. And both New England’s Bill Belichick and Seattle coach Pete Carroll even blasted hip-hop music during the team’s practices in Arizona, to try to replicate the Super Bowl game day noise.

Kerr credits two brain regions for blocking out distractions. The thalamus, a structure that sits just above the brain stem, “filters out about 85% of the sensory inputs,” she says. Meanwhile, the right interior frontal cortex is known to govern the stopping of action and attention. Kerr’s recent lab work, done with Stephanie Jones, an assistant professor of neuroscience at Brown, has shown that this brain region sends out electric signals, telling other areas not to act on unimportant impulses. “It helps the brain pay attention to the right things,” says Kerr.

We’re all at risk of perseverative cognition, the scientific term for repetitive thought that can overwhelm the brain’s various systems for managing internal and external noise and distraction. The Pats have heard all week that they’re cheaters, and if the players are worried that they’re perceived that way, the negative vibe could steal precious brain resources. But don’t bet on this outcome. Belichick, for all his flaws, has a proven ability to focus his team on the task at hand. And athletes are so accustomed to fighting sensory overload, these little “scandals” are hopelessly overrated. “Every week, football players deal with 90,000 screaming fans, the TV cameras, the people yelling on the field, to make the right read and play,” says Kerr. “When it comes to tuning out distractions, the players in the Super Bowl are already virtuosos.”

Science has spoken. Let’s now stop talking about the D-word.

TIME Football

Why the Patriots Will Win the Super Bowl

General view of the Super Bowl XLIX trophy with a helmet from both the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots during a press conference for Super Bowl XLIX on Friday, Jan. 30, 2015, in Phoenix, Ariz.
View of the Super Bowl XLIX trophy with a helmet from both the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots during a press conference for Super Bowl XLIX on Friday, Jan. 30, 2015 in Phoenix, Ariz. Ben Liebenberg—AP

In a very evenly matched Super Bowl, there is a slight edge to New England in what promises to be a hard-hitting, low-scoring affair Sunday in Arizona

Since the league championship games were determined, I have been obsessing about this Super Bowl matchup between the Seahawks and Patriots. It’s the one I dreamed of with my prediction before the season, and it has become a reality. This matchup is good for the game because it truly does feature the two best teams in the NFL.

This is as difficult a prediction that I’ve had to make in a Super Bowl. Last year I thought the Seahawks would beat the Broncos fairly easily (though not 43-8). Super Bowl XLIX, conversely, is a coin flip. The bounce of the ball and one or two fluke plays likely will determine the winner.

That’s how close these two teams are. In fact, they are nearly mirror images. Both hybrid 4-3/3-4 defenses have some softness against the run, but good luck trying to throw the football as the main means of moving the ball. Offensively, both teams have been covering for average lines all season. Both teams feature power running backs but have speed in reserve at the position as well. Their weapons are mostly anonymous gamers, save for Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. Russell Wilson is, basically, an athletic Tom Brady from the Patriots’ first three title runs: His team is powered by defense and running the ball, and the quarterback has to be special when needed.

One thing I feel fairly confident in saying: This should be a low-scoring Super Bowl. Unless there are special team scores or the game goes to overtime, this game should be played largely in the teens, like the Patriots’ two Super Bowl losses to the Giants (17-14 and 21-17, respectively). The matchup between the Patriots and Seahawks could be the lowest-scoring Super Bowl since 1973, when the undefeated Dolphins beat Washington 14-7 in Super Bowl VII.

Before the season, I predicted a Super Bowl score of Seattle 13, New England 10. I still believe we’ll see a score somewhere in that area. But I’m going to go against the grain and switch my pick to the Patriots.

Here’s why.

For starters, when I picked the Seahawks before the season started, they had Percy Harvin. The added dynamic he brought to the offense was on full display in the opener against the Packers. The Seahawks now are a bit limited on offense. Harvin widened the field for the entire offense and allowed them to “steal” about six marginally big plays a game. When he was traded to the Jets on Oct. 17 to save team chemistry, it was an apparently necessary move, but there’s little doubt it took away a weapon offensively. So did the injury to talented young receiver Paul Richardson.

The Seahawks also had nosetackle Brandon Mebane and three-technique Jordan Hill. Certainly, Kevin Williams has done a good job replacing the underrated Mebane, and Tony McDaniel is a solid player, but the Seahawks are razor thin at defensive tackle. Former 49ers castoff DeMarcus Dobbs and former Patriots part-timer Landon Cohen are getting meaningful snaps. As opposed to last year’s Super Bowl winner, which had Mebane, McDaniel, Red Bryant and Clinton McDonald (Bryant and McDonald left via free agency), this group can be taken advantage of by an opponent who is disciplined enough to continually run the ball.

And I think the Patriots, who have only lost linebacker Jerod Mayo (ably replaced by Dont’a Hightower) and running back Stevan Ridley (LeGarrette Blount), will do that. They also will be smart enough to take advantage of whomever Seahawks nickelback Jeremy Lane is lined up on, whether that be Julian Edelman or Danny Amendola. Look for the Patriots to also spread Gronkowski out wide not only to try to win against top Seattle cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell, but also to work advantageous matchups against Lane.

But the key will be the interior running of LeGarrette Blount, who in the AFC Championship Game had one of his finest games as a Patriot because he showed more vision and agility. His power can match or win against Seattle’s excellent defensive speed. Chip Kelly once said, “We want taller, longer people because bigger people beat up little people.” I expect the Patriots to endorse that philosophy with many extra tight end sets, including tackle eligible Cameron Fleming.

This is all well and good, but the Patriots still have to execute against the most dangerous player in this game: Seahawks end/tackle Michael Bennett. If there’s anyone on the Seahawks who can ruin another Patriots’ Super Bowl like Justin Tuck did twice for the Giants, it’s Bennett. He will find advantageous matchups against both Patriots guards (Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell). If the Patriots don’t account for Bennett on every play, they will be in trouble offensively.

And I don’t expect the Patriots to be very effective offensively unless they can get some short fields with turnovers. If offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels thinks he can spread the Seahawks out and throw against them, good luck. The Patriots, with both their running and their passing game, are a scheme offense. They don’t have anyone outside of Gronkowski who can break the game open, so they use motion, personnel, formations and Tom Brady’s pre-snap adjustments to get guys open. That’s fine against most of the other 30 teams, but it won’t work against the Seahawks. They are the anti-Patriots. There’s nothing fancy about their defensive scheme. They’ll line up in either Cover 3 (deep safety and two deep cornerbacks) or Cover 1 (one deep safety on top of press man coverage) and basically say, “You go ahead and do all those motions and substitutions, we’ll be here waiting for you every snap.” Seattle’s defense is the only unit in the NFL that can do that against a quarterback as good as Brady, because the Seahawks are that talented on defense. They are better than the opponent at almost every spot.

The Super Bowl matchup will hinge on the Seattle offense against the New England defense, and this is why I’m giving the Patriots the edge. They are probably the most disciplined unit in the NFL, maybe more so than Seattle. They will limit Marshawn Lynch’s effectiveness, even if Seattle uses more read-option (as I expect them to), and they will stay in their rush lanes to keep Russell Wilson in the pocket. Patriots ends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich occasionally will give up the end to mobile quarterbacks. But that’s during the regular season. With two weeks to prepare for this game, I have a hard time seeing them doing that Sunday since Bill Belichick surely has been harping on it 24 hours a day. Plus, they should hold a decided advantage against the run and pass versus Seahawks tackles Russell Okung and Justin Britt. Vince Wilfork will plug the middle and keep Wilson’s running avenues limited there as well.

In the pass game, expect Darrelle Revis to shadow Seattle’s best in Doug Baldwin. New England knows Seattle will target the weaknesses of former Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner, so I would expect Belichick to put Browner on tight end Luke Willson, who has developed into a solid receiving tight end. That leaves Seahawks receivers Jermaine Kearse and Ricardo Lockette against Patriots corners Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan. This is where Wilson must do most of his damage, and the key for Seattle offensively.

But the Patriots can do what the Packers did by limiting Wilson and Lynch during much of the NFC Championship Game. This Patriots unit is better than the Packers, and New England has the mental toughness and situational awareness not to let the game slip away as Green Bay did.

It’s going to be a great Super Bowl matchup that features the two best teams and coaches in the game. In the end, I’m giving a slight edge to the Patriots.

Final score: Patriots 16, Seahawks 13.

This article originally appeared on SI.com.

TIME Super Bowl

The Best of Phoenix: Top 7 Things Not To Miss Super Bowl Weekend

Phoenix, Ariz.
Phoenix, Ariz. Getty Images

If you are headed to Phoenix for the Super Bowl, here’s the inside scoop on the best of what the Valley of the Sun has to offer beyond the Big Game. And take it from a Phoenix-native: remember to drink lots of water and wear sunscreen. You are in the desert.

La Grande Orange Grocery. “LGO,” as locals call it, has the best breakfast in the Valley—get the Commuter. Or go later in the day to get the best burger. And the best salted chocolate chip cookie.

Camelback Mountain. Hiking the signature Echo Canyon or Cholla Trails is always a must, or you could head up north to the Tom Thumb Trail in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve for a less crowded, and equally breathtaking, outdoor desert experience.

Desert Botanical Garden. If you aren’t up for hiking, you can still enjoy the desert landscape. The flora of the Sonoran Desert is unto its own.

The Sanctuary Resort and Spa on Camelback Mountain. No one does relaxation and spa treatments better.

The Camelback Inn. The back patio with fire pits, cocktails, and mountain sunset views is an Arizona classic and hidden gem.

The Henry. It’s a new hip spot for a swanky night out.

Sky Harbor Airport Terminal 4. The Airport is now packed with the Valley’s top restaurants—Chelsea’s Kitchen, Blanco, Tammie Coe Cakes, Lola Coffee, and more. So, no worries if your Phoenix adventure was entirely Game Face—you can enjoy a last minute taste of Phoenix on your way home.


NFL Cheerleaders May Get Workplace Protections in California

The New England Patriots cheerleaders perform during the 2015 AFC Championship Game on Jan. 18, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
The New England Patriots cheerleaders perform during the 2015 AFC Championship Game on Jan. 18, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. Elsa—Getty Images

Lawmaker introduces bill that would protect their rights as workers.

Four days before some 100 million viewers tune in to watch the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks battle in Super Bowl XLIX, a California lawmaker introduced a bill to protect the rights of women like those who will be dancing on the sidelines on Sunday.

On Thursday, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a Democrat from San Diego, announced a bill that would consider cheerleaders as employees under California law and require professional sports teams in the state to grant them the same rights as other employees. The legislation aims to protect cheerleaders from workplace violations, such as unpaid overtime and having to pay for work expenses with their own funds.

“If the guy selling you the beer deserves a minimum wage, so does the woman entertaining you on the field,” Gonzalez, a former Stanford University cheerleader, said. “All work is dignified and cheerleaders deserve the respect of these basic workplace protections.”

The bill comes in the wake of a landmark class action wage theft lawsuit filed by two former Raiderettes against the Oakland Raiders, which highlighted alleged workplace abuses that professional cheerleaders endure. In September, the Raiders paid $1.25 million to settle the lawsuit, which claimed that the Raiderettes were paid a lump sum of $1,250 at the end of the season for their work, amounting to as little as $5 per hour. The lawsuit also said that cheerleaders were not paid for all the hours they worked and were forced to pay for job-related expenses out of their own pockets. With the settlement, the Raiders started paying its cheerleaders California’s minimum wage: $9 per hour.

NFL cheerleaders have also sued the Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for minimum wage violations.

The NFL, which was named as a defendant in a second cheerleader wage suit against the Raiders, has maintained that cheerleader pay is a “team matter.”

This article originally appeared on Fortune.

TIME Football

See All 48 Super Bowl Rings

Over the years, the National Football League's championship rings have gone from glitzy to extravagant.

TIME Super Bowl

How Science Could Determine Who Wins the Super Bowl

A football science expert on how coaches can minimize randomness and take risks

Consider the fumble. Unlike a basketball, soccer ball or baseball, a football will never fall the same way twice. Its cone shape causes it to bounce in random directions, and every time the ball is fumbled, players must dive on top of where they think it might be going in an attempt to recover it. It’s the most exciting part of the game—and, it turns out, perhaps the most important.

The reason we call a football a pigskin is because the balls were originally made from a pig’s bladder. Those balls were about the same size as today’s but were not as pointy on the ends. The balls only began to take their modern shape—what’s known as a prolate spheroid—after the forward pass was introduced, because it’s easier to throw a pointier ball, even though’s harder to predict what will happen to it when it hits the ground.

“These guys are gladiators, the best specimen of humans that we have, but when it comes to the ball being dropped, they’re reduced to kindergartners because they just throw themselves on top of it. That’s the best you can do in terms of recovering this ball,” says Ainissa Ramirez, and scientist and author of the book Newton’s Football: The Science Behind America’s Game.

MORE How Digital Footballs Could Have Saved Us From Deflategate

It’s a problem for coaches in a game where so much of the play is precise. “Randomness, which is part of this bigger field called chaos theory, is sort of one of the last ways coaches have to beat another team,” says Ramirez. “We studied two different teams that looked pretty much the same on paper, but they had different performances when it came to recovering fumbles. One team did better than the other, and its performance that year was better than the other.”

This attempt to control randomness has become particularly important during the Deflategate debate leading up to Super Bowl Sunday. Since 2000, teams that have won the turnover scramble won 79% of their games. Warren Sharp at Slate argues that statistics suggest the Patriots—who allegedly used under-inflated balls in the AFC Championship game that clinched their trip to the Super Bowl—have been trying to eliminate fumbles and therefore win more games by deflating balls. He points out that the Patriots have been nearly fumble-free since 2006 and probably not because of any new carrying strategy—players who left New England had drastically worse individual fumble rates after their departure.

Without cheating, there’s no real skill that goes into recovering the ball. It depends on luck. So what else can coaches do to win games? One suggestion might be combatting their biological instincts.

Why, for example, don’t coaches go for it on a fourth down? It’s a question Ramirez gets a lot, and the the answer, she says, actually has to do with monkeys.

She describes one experiment in which scientists taught monkeys how to exchange money for grapes. The monkeys interacted with two people: A generous person and a stingy person. The generous person would show the monkeys one grape; the monkeys would give them money; and the generous person would give them two grapes. The stingy person would show the monkeys three grapes; the monkeys would give them money; and the stingy person would give them two grapes. “In both cases, the monkey got two grapes, but the monkey didn’t like the stingy person at all,” says Ramirez. “They actually quantified this: The monkeys hated the stingy person by 2.5 times.”

MORE The Simple Way to Make Football Safer

Humans have the same instinct: Our dislike of risk is 2.5 times greater than our appreciation of a benefit. “So coaches don’t want to go for it on the fourth down because their sensitivity to risk is higher than the benefits of actually going for it,” says Ramirez.

Whatever coach can find (legal) ways to recover fumbles and teach himself to bet against his instincts during the Super Bowl will likely win.


TIME 2015 Super Bowl

The Ad That Changed Super Bowl Commercials Forever

How "The Force" has remained the most shared Super Bowl ad of all-time

In 2011, on the Wednesday before the Super Bowl, a new Volkswagen commercial popped up on YouTube. “The Force” featured a kid ambling about his house dressed as Star Wars’ Darth Vader while attempting to use the Dark Side on everything from the family dog to the new Passat sitting in the driveway.

From the early 1980s—when Super Bowl ads became as anticipated as the game itself—until that moment, advertisers generally kept their spots under wraps, careful not to jeopardize the big reveal. But for the 2011 Super Bowl, Volkswagen was in a bind. The company had bought two 30-second spots—one for “The Force,” advertising the new Passat, and another called “Black Beetle,” showing off the new Jetta, both created by the ad agency Deutsch. But everyone involved felt a 60-second version of “The Force” was their best work. It was just too long to play during the game.

VW’s marketing team also knew they were facing big obstacles on game day: the company hadn’t run a Super Bowl ad in over a decade, and the two commercials they planned to run would be competing against multiple spots from larger automakers with more ad dollars. So they decided that one possible way to stand out was to release “The Force” early, even though it defied what was widely accepted as smart advertising strategy around the biggest ad day of the year.

“It’s hard to think about now, but at the time, it was not the conventional wisdom to air or put online a commercial that was meant for the Super Bowl,” says Tim Ellis, who was the head of marketing for Volkswagen North America at the time and is now the chief marketing officer for video game maker Activision. “The wisdom was you hold it, because you would get the most value out of that impression by waiting.”

Ellis says it was a controversial decision to run it early, even among the ad agency and VW’s marketing team. “But I thought if everything goes right, this thing will catch fire and go viral,” he says.

By 8 a.m. Thursday, “The Force” had been viewed 1.8 million times on YouTube and had racked up 17 million views before kickoff, according to figures provided by Deutsch. Today, “The Force” has 61 million views on YouTube and is still the most shared Super Bowl ad of all-time and the second most shared TV commercial ever.

“It paid for itself before it ever ran,” says Mike Sheldon, CEO of Deutsch North America.

MORE 5 Ways This Year’s Super Bowl Ads Will Be Like No Other

The ad’s runaway success changed how advertisers approach Super Bowl Sunday ever since. Instead of standalone spots, Super Bowl ads have become the anchors of extended marketing campaigns with vast social media presences often launched weeks before the game. This year, more than 20 brands have already released their full Super Bowl ads or special teasers for them.

“Super Bowl advertising has changed fundamentally,” says Tim Calkins, a Northwestern University marketing professor. “It’s gone from being a one-time event to a months-long marketing campaign.”

For years, the Super Bowl ad was a fleeting thing. 1984—the Apple ad still widely considered the greatest Super Bowl commercial—aired just twice, once in 10 local outlets on Dec. 31, 1983, and once more during the game the following month.

As the audience for the game grew, brands expanded their Super Bowl marketing budgets (think Budweiser’s talking frogs and Pepsi’s splashy productions with Ray Charles and Cindy Crawford). During the first Super Bowl, the average cost of a 30-second spot was $40,000 ($280,000 when adjusted for inflation). This year, NBC is charging $4.5 million, and at least one NBC executive claims that the exposure brands get during the Super Bowl is closer to $10 million in value. And as our media consumption habits have been transformed by social networks and mobile devices, a Super Bowl ad now needs to resonate on social media to be considered successful. Budweiser, for example, has launched the social media campaign #BestBuds urging people to help a rancher find his lost puppy in its latest spot, and Pepsi and ShopTV will send out tweets during Katy Perry’s halftime performance with links for viewers to buy related merchandise.

“What was just a bunch of 30-, 60-second TV commercials, everybody now has turned this into a full-on social media integrated play,” Deutsch’s Sheldon says. “I don’t look at Super Bowl ads as TV commercials. The Super Bowl is a social media and PR phenomenon that has a number of integrated components in which one is a TV commercial.”

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This photo of a kid dressed as Darth Vader inside a Burger King inspired the creative team at Deutsch as they were making “The Force” ad. Courtesy of Deutsch

More than any other ad agency, Deutsch appears to have been the first to recognize that new paradigm. Back in 2010, when the agency won a bid to develop the TV campaign for Volkswagen’s Jetta and Passat lines, employees in Deutsch’s Los Angeles offices had placed funny photos above their four-color copy machine, one of which was a kid in a Darth Vader costume sulking inside a Burger King. That inspired the company’s creative team to come up with a spot featuring a similar kid dressed as the Star Wars villain who keeps failing in his attempts to use the Force around his home until he succeeds in turning on his dad’s new Volkswagen (the assist from his dad, who actually turned on the car, was a clever way to tout the Passat’s new remote starter). It was a perfect combination: the enduring popularity of Star Wars, childhood nostalgia, touching moments between a father and son, a narrative arc that went tidily from conflict to resolution, and plenty of humor thanks to a 6-year-old dressed as a notorious movie villain.

“If you don’t have all of these ingredients, the spot really doesn’t work,” says Tom Else, Deutsch’s VW account director.

Deutsch executives say it was a rare spot where there were essentially no changes or edits coming from inside creative or from the client.

“Very early on we knew it was extraordinary, but you can never predict what the world thinks is fantastic,” Else says.

Soon after it launched, “The Force” became the most shared TV spot of all-time, according to Unruly, which tracks and analyzes viral videos. The ad held the top spot for three years, until July 2014, when it was knocked off by a music video sponsored by yogurt brand Activia and featuring the singer Shakira. But “The Force” is still considered the most shared Super Bowl ad of all time.

“Every decade or so, there’s lightning in a bottle,” says Matt Jarvis, chief strategy officer of ad agency 72andSunny, which produced a popular Super Bowl ad for Samsung in 2013 and created a spot for Carl’s Jr. this year. “And I think this is one of those cases.”

Jarvis says “The Force” successfully used a combination of both earned media—YouTube hits, for example—along with paid media, such as a 15-second teaser spot that aired on “Saturday Night Live” the night before the game, to create momentum that continued through the Super Bowl.

“It was about building that wave and then riding that wave,” Ellis says.

It helped that the ad contained all the components of a viral hit. Unruly recently group-tested “The Force” and found that it still resonated with viewers, discovering that it hit five of 10 “social motivators” that Unruly’s execs say trigger people to share something. They found that viewers sent the ad to others in part because it reflected a shared passion with someone else (love for Star Wars, for instance) and that sharers believed it could be useful (their friend might be looking for a new car). But Unruly also found that it resonated on a more gut level, eliciting feelings of joy and surprise when the kid “turns on” the car, which researchers says is a key component in motivating us to share.

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“It’s a great example of emotion,” says Jonah Berger, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On, adding that the peaks and valleys of the kid failing and finally succeeding, as well as the nostalgia it can elicit, are the main triggers for why it went viral.

After “The Force’s” success, Deutsch sensed that other advertisers would start releasing their ads early as well. So in 2012, the agency released the first full-length ad for an ad when it launched The Bark Side, which included dogs bark-singing Star Wars’ Imperial March. For the game, it released The Dog Strikes Back as its official Super Bowl ad, which again included the Darth Vader Kid from the previous year’s commercial. Both ads have remained in Unruly’s top 20 viral Super Bowl ads of all-time.

Since “The Force,” advertisers have increasingly created teaser ads, alternate versions of their Super Bowl commercials, or have released the ad in its entirety early. Among this year’s efforts to gin up early buzz are a T-Mobile spot featuring Kim Kardashian, a teaser for a Nationwide ad with actress Mindy Kaling, and a Bud Light spot that debuted on “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon.” Dove, meanwhile, posted a version of its ad almost two weeks before the game, while Lexus released its full ad more than two weeks before Super Bowl Sunday.

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There are now essentially three groups of brands competing during the Super Bowl: those who release their ads early, those who tease their ads, and those who keep the ads a surprise. Northwestern’s Calkins says that for most advertisers, getting out early is often the best strategy.

“The Super Bowl builds over a matter of weeks, so if you’re a marketer, you have an opportunity to engage with customers for seven, 14, 21 days,” Calkins says. “You can really get some mileage from your creative.”

The challenge for Super Bowl advertisers, Calkins says, is twofold: breaking through the noise and saying something important about the product. “The hard thing is doing both of those things at the same time,” he says. “Ideally, you come up with an ad as charming as ‘The Force’ that also delivers a product benefit. But that is incredibly difficult to do.”

This year, Deutsch is working on two ads: one for mobile battery company mophie, and the other for Sprint. The company released the mophie spot on Thursday:

It’s designed to be understood even if you can’t hear the TV over loud and rowdy friends. “If you’re relying on some sort of audio or voice gag, it can get missed,” Sheldon says. “You can run that spot with no audio and you get the joke.”

But Deutsch is going in a different direction with its Sprint ad. While the agency has created a teaser, the actual ad won’t be released before the Super Bowl. The hope is that it can distinguish itself by swimming against the tide the agency helped create.

“When everybody else is screaming, the one whispering stands out,” Sheldon says. “It has a different volume than others. We’re breaking our own rules a little bit. It’s the kind of spot that you wouldn’t want to release early.”

Read next: 49 Super Bowl Facts You Should Know Before Super Bowl XLIX

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Watch Obama Joke About ‘Deflategate’ Ahead of Sunday’s Super Bowl

"I want you all to keep it clean"

President Obama weighed into the ‘deflategate’ controversy by cracking a few jokes ahead of Sunday’s Super Bowl.

Speaking at the annual House Democratic retreat in Philadelphia on Thursday, Obama called on any supporters of the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks to keep it clean, CNN reports.

“I want to just remind the New England and Pacific Northwest contingents [that] this is the City of Brotherly Love, so regardless of what you think about Sunday, I want you all to keep it clean,” he said.

Rep. Joe Crowley then shouted from the audience, “bring your own balls!

The Patriots have been accused of deflating their footballs during the AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts.


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