Super Bowl seen having powerful impact on American life

WASHINGTON—Football has disrupted regular life ever since hordes of medieval villagers put down their scythes and caldrons to amuse themselves by throwing, lugging or kicking a ball across the countryside and between the stoutly defended gates of a rival village's parish church.

So it's no surprise that during the Super Bowl, a descendant of that rowdy ancient sport, some of usual American life stops. And some reaches new heights. Among the changes, cosmic and mundane, are these:

_Crime. It really does go down. The Dallas Police Department reports an 18 percent drop in calls during Super Bowl hours compared with the same time period on Sundays before and after the game. Both violent and property crimes fall, according to Geoffrey Alpert, a criminologist at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. "Of course," he said, "some of it could be cops just watching the game and not responding."

_Movie attendance. It plummets nearly 40 percent compared with the average Sunday, according to VNU Media, which studies entertainment audiences. Movie studios often release their deadest dogs on Super Bowl weekend for that reason.

_Traffic. It's sparse, according to Bob Ryan, the operator of Atlanta South 75 Travel Center, a truck stop in Jacksonville, Ga. He said his gas, diesel and restaurant sales dropped about 20 percent. Business might fall off even more without the stop's big-screen TV to lure truckers who are heading home from weekend deliveries. "Drivers pull over and pack the house in the TV lounge come game time," Ryan said.

_Takeout service. Super Bowl hours are the busiest of the year for Domino's and Pizza Hut, which move about 40 percent of the nation's takeout pizzas. Business for the day is 20 percent higher than most Sundays, and nearly half the pies go out in the three hours before halftime, according to Pizza Hut spokeswoman Christa Osswald. Pepperoni rules, she added, followed by Italian sausage. Brisk business plus light traffic make Super Bowl Sunday the year's most profitable day for pizza drivers.

_Snack fare. Until 2002, avocado sales peaked in the run-up to the Latin holiday Cinco de Mayo, followed by the Fourth of July. Today, it's the Super Bowl, according to Jan DeLyser, the vice president for marketing at the California Avocado Commission in Irvine. Florida avocado producers agree. For the California avocados and Latin imports that the California Avocado Commission handles, Super Bowl consumption last year totaled 43.8 million pounds, nearly 6 percent of the year's total sales. No surprise: Pre-Super Bowl chili seasoning-sales doubled their weekly average, according to a 2004 ACNielsen survey. Canned beans doubled, too. Salsa was up 30 percent; tortilla chips, 25 percent.

_Shopping. Customers slow to a trickle about an hour before kickoff at grocery chain Safeway's stores. "I guess the men are home, hunkered down waiting," said Craig Muckle, Safeway's East Coast spokesman. A surge in female shoppers occurs during the game, he said, so the net drop is 10 to 15 percent on the day, compared with an average Sunday.

_Church attendance. Lots of churches cancel vesper services or otherwise yield ground to the Super Bowl. Then there's Hunter "Doc" Sherman, the pastor of Bellview Baptist Church, five miles north of Springfield, Mo. His parishioners move the church's seats aside, roll out Astroturf with yard-line markers, put up a goalpost in front of the altar and watch the game on a 9-by-12-foot drop-down screen. For those who don't like football, there's a chick flick room and a nails and cosmetics parlor.

"We follow Jesus, too," Sherman said in a telephone interview. "But we rejoice in the world that he's put us in and feel that he wants us to enjoy it."

_Commode use. Does toilet use really rise sharply during Super Bowl breaks? Yes, reports Mark Stanley, the operations and maintenance superintendent for the Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities. Stanley's system burst a 16-inch water main during the 1984 Super Bowl. "It was during halftime," he said. Stanley suspects a Super Bowl role partly because he had seen big water-use surges during commercial breaks for the February 1983 "M(ASTERISK)A(ASTERISK)S(ASTERISK)H Special," the highest-rated TV program of all time.

An interesting fact: The Super Bowl TV audience is not overwhelmingly manly. Forty-five percent of its viewers have been female for the last decade, according to Stacey Lynn Koerner, the executive vice president for global research at Initiative Media, an analyst of TV audiences. Women are just as likely as men to watch until game's end, Koerner said, though 53 percent of the women in a recently reported study said they watched mainly for the commercials.