I liked this story from last year so much, it’s touching down again here, updated for Sunday.
Women can be real fans, too. Imagine that during Super Bowl XLVI on Feb. 5, the woman sitting next to you is so involved in the game that she boils over with: “If the Giants/Patriots (choose one) don’t win, I’ll just have a heart attack!”
Believe her, especially when you consider the findings of Robert A. Kloner, M.D., Ph.D. of the Heart Institute and Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, a specialist in the heart-brain connection. His recent published research from the journal, Clinical Cardiology, tackles the notion that a football loss letdown is just a “guy thing” and may inspire a new word with a familiar ring to it: “football widower.”
Heard the one about the man who collapses from excitement during an intense football game, undergoes emergency surgery, and upon waking, his first words are: “Who won?”?
Now imagine a woman in the recovery room. Going beyond a previous European study of male soccer fans, Dr. Kloner’s research analyzed gender, race and age. He found “a very intense association with significant overall increases in cardiac death in Los Angeles County” following the Super Bowl of Jan. 20, 1980—the Los Angeles Rams bowed to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Data revealed a 27 percent increase in all circulatory deaths in women associated with the defeat, while men showed a 15 percent increase. Older patients 65+ had a 22 percent increase.
Feelin’ His Pain
Women don’t just watch to please their men. “In women, Super Bowl can elicit a strong emotional response similar to males’. Or the male’s reaction to the loss may adversely affect the emotional state of the female partner. That’s just a theory,” he says.
Emotional stress, positive or negative, can kick off adverse cardiac events. “No way!” laments the diehard fan, cursing the opposing team’s group victory hug. The fan’s body plays defense as heart rate and blood pressure increase, says Dr. Kloner. Some coronary arteries may narrow rather than widen, dangerous if they’re lined with pesky atherosclerotic plaque that can cause a rupture. Then, with blood supply cut off, that part of the heart dies. Arrhythmia, or abnormal heart rhythm, can also wreak heart havoc.
“If patients know they get very excited, and they have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, a conversation with their health care provider is advised,” says Dr. Kloner. Also, eat wisely, avoid alcohol, take your medications and keep cool in the face of a touchdown by the enemy.
Not “Just a Game”
What fuels fan fanaticism? “Fandom allows you to identify with something grander than yourself and fills the need to affiliate with others,” says Daniel Wann, PhD, author and professor of psychology at Murray State University.
Dr. Wann, an authority on U. S. sports fans, says “demonstrating to everyone your team allegiance is a central component of social identification. Some fans literally ‘live and die’ by their teams’ performances.”
The casual fan walks away from the TV with a game plan of how to cope, says Dr. Wann. The diehard, whose team is loved like “family,” personalizes the loss, enduring emotional and physical effects that may last for weeks or months.
A game is a 50/50 proposition, since only one team wins. “Going in you know half of the people are going to be disappointed afterwards. Yet, they keep coming back,” he affirms.
Even halftime may send hearts racing, as with Janet Jackson’s notorious 2004 wardrobe malfunction. Madonna likely won’t do anything too shocking, for she’s mellowed. The diva did hint that she’ll be joined on (massive, multi-million dollar) stage with Nicki Minaj, MIA, Cee Lo and the LMFAO goofballs. Minaj could do something shocking: Maybe the two will kiss.
Whatever happens, please make yours a good, healthy game.
P. S.: From the “it’s a small world” category: This week I interviewed Dr. Kloner for another national story on sex after a heart attack. I said, “Hmmm. Haven’t we done a story together previously?” Yes, we did. And it was this one.