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Why the NFL Can't Play on Friday and Saturday (and Other Times Congress Interfered with Football)

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This season, the NFL added a weekly Thursday night game, which puts professional football on TV three nights a week. Later on, after the bulk of the college football season is over, Saturday will also be in the mix—but for now, the league has to stay away from Friday and Saturday. Why? Because Congress said so.

After two attempts to sell the NFL's broadcasting rights were declared illegal because of antitrust concerns, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle headed to the Hill to whip up support. In 1961, Congress passed the Sports Broadcasting Act, which exempted broadcasting rights by major sports leagues from antitrust decisions and cleared the way for the NFL to sell a broadcasting package to CBS, where all teams share the rights equally.

However, the law is more famous for helping to set the NFL broadcasting schedule. To protect fans of college and high school football, Congress also approved language that barred professional games on Fridays and Saturdays during the schools' seasons. The NFL still stays away from those days outside of rare exceptions, like when Christmas falls on a Friday. The Act also led to the blackout policy, which lets the league block games from a home market broadcast area if they have not sold out.

Sports and Antitrust Legislation

That's not the only time Congress has helped oversee the NFL's business. Sports are defined as interstate commerce, which means Congress has the Constitutional power to regulate them (hence the baseball steroid hearings and antitrust legislation inspired by and named after St. Louis Cardinals centerfielder Curt Flood). Most of the Congressional sports oversight has dealt with antitrust issues, including a high-profile piece of legislation in 1966 that exempted the merger of the NFL with the American Football League from antitrust laws.

In order to secure that bill, Rozelle had to make a few promises, notably that no franchise would move from its current city (that went out the window 16 years later, when the Raiders left Oakland for Los Angeles in 1982) and football would be played only in stadiums with more than 50,000 seats. That meant no more Wrigley Field for the Chicago Bears; the New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Vikings had to move as well.

The bill's most significant secondary result, however, came from a bit of politicking. Rozelle leaned on Louisiana's Sen. Russell Long, the Democratic whip, and Rep. Hale Boggs, the acting majority leader, to help move the bill through, and they obliged by even redirecting it out of a committee with a potentially unfriendly chairman. Less than a month after the bill passed, Rozelle announced that New Orleans would be getting an NFL team: the Saints (read more about the tale here).

Steroids and Beyond

Congress has also weighed in on everything from HGH testing (members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have pressed the NFL on why it hasn't started testing) to concussions (the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the topic in 2010). The Senate Judiciary Committee was even set to hold a hearing on the Saints bounty scandal last summer until NFL commissioner Roger Goodell met with committee chairman Dick Durbin and convinced him that the NFL was taking enough action.

And that's not to mention the four NFL alums who have been elected to Congress, including current Reps. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) and Jon Runyan (R-N.J.) and former Reps. Steve Largent (R-Okla.) and Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.). When asked by the New York Times about why he had gone into politics after football, Kemp joked that playing the game had given him "a good sense of perspective."

"I'd already been booed, cheered, cut, sold, traded and hung in effigy," he said.

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How Did the Super Bowl's "I'm Going to Disney World" Slogan Originate?
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It’s a Super Bowl tradition as recognizable as catchy commercials, lengthy halftime shows, and mounds of leftover guacamole, but how did the famous "I'm going to Disney World" and "I'm going to Disneyland" slogans make their way to (almost) every big game since 1987?

The idea for the slogan itself can be credited to Jane Eisner, the wife of former Disney CEO Michael Eisner. In 2015, he recounted the story behind the tagline to Sports Illustrated:

"In January 1987, we were launching Disneyland’s Star Tours, an attraction based on Star Wars. After the ribbon-cutting ceremony, my wife, Jane, and I had dinner with George Lucas, as well as Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager, who had just become the first people to fly around the world without stopping. It was late and the conversation hit a lull as we waited for our food. So I asked Dick and Jeana, 'Well, now that you’ve accomplished the pinnacle of your aspirations, what could you possibly do next?' Rutan responded, without hesitation, 'I’m going to Disneyland.' And of course I go, 'Wow, that’s cool! You made the right choice.' But my wife interjects: 'You know, that’s a good slogan.'"

Around this time, the NFL playoffs were well underway, with the New York Giants and Denver Broncos set to face each other at Super Bowl XXI. What better time to unveil this new marketing slogan than at the biggest TV event of the year? Once Eisner decided on a time and place to debut the phrase, the teams’ two quarterbacks, Phil Simms and John Elway, both received identical offers: $75,000 for the winner to say "I’m going to Disney World" and "I’m going to Disneyland" to a Disney camera as they ran off the field after the game. This would then be used in a commercial with Disney World or Disneyland being shown depending on where it aired. (This is then oftentimes followed by an actual trip to a Disney park within the next few days, where the spokesperson takes part in a parade in his team's honor). 

Simms was hesitant at first, but once he heard Elway agreed to it, he was on board. The NFL also signed off on Disney’s plan, so now it was up to the company to find a way to get their cameras on the field before all-out madness could erupt. Tom Elrod, Disney’s president of marketing and entertainment in 1987, told Sports Illustrated:

"We wanted it to be authentic, but that meant being the first camera on the field, in the most frenetic environment you could possibly imagine. We’d be competing with broadcast crews and journalists and hangers-on and teammates, just to have some guy look into a camera and say, 'I’m going to Disney World.' It’s wild if you think about it. That first year, I don’t think anyone thought that was achievable."

It’s a good thing the reluctant Simms changed his tune about Disney’s offer, because his Giants beat Elway’s Broncos 39-20. Not only was Simms awarded his first Super Bowl win and the game’s MVP award, he also got a cool $75,000 for uttering two simple sentences (though he had to say both sentences three times each, just to be sure). 

The tradition has carried on ever since, except in 2005 for Super Bowl XXXIX and in 2016 for Super Bowl 50, when no commercials aired (though Super Bowl 50's winning quarterback, Peyton Manning, went to Disneyland anyway).

The slogan now extends beyond football, having been uttered by everyone from NBA players to Olympians and American Idol contestants. And even if they don't wind up in a commercial, chances are a championship team will still be greeted by a Disney park parade, like the one thrown for the Chicago Cubs in 2016

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Theory Claims Super Bowl Winners Can Predict the Stock Market
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It’s estimated that more than $4 billion in bets (most of them illegal) take place on Super Bowl Sunday, but putting money on the game itself isn’t the only way to make a fortune on football. According to one very unscientific economic theory, the winner of the big game could predict the success of the U.S. stock market that year.

The theory is known as the "Super Bowl Indicator," and it has some simple rules: If an original NFL team (now known as the NFC, or National Football Conference) wins the Super Bowl, that year will be a bull market, meaning the stock market will be up. If a team descended from the AFL (now the AFC, or American Football Conference) wins, it’ll be a bear market, meaning the stock market will fall for the year (as if most of America needs more reason to despise the New England Patriots's '00s and '10s AFC Super Bowl dynasty). The rules get a little more confusing when it comes to post-merger expansion teams like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—most people leave them in whichever conference they're a part of, while some uniformly lump them in under the AFC/AFL bear market rules.

The AFL and NFL were at one point rival football leagues before merging in 1970. Now just known as the National Football League, the entire league was split into two conferences: the NFC and the AFC. While certain teams have changed conferences over the years—like the Pittsburgh Steelers, who began in the old NFL but are now an AFC staple—the indicator applies to where a team originated (again, with some exception for expansion teams). In fact, the predictor is never wrong for the Steel City: the stock market rose all six years that Pittsburgh won the Super Bowl.

The trend was first noticed in 1989 by the late Leonard Koppett, a sports writer for The New York Times, who thought it up as a joke with fellow writers. At that point, the theory was right 10 of 11 times: "Every year since the Super Bowl was first played in 1967, at least one of the three indices has upheld the formula," Koppett wrote. "Each, individually, has been right 20 of 22 times, or 91 percent of the time. All three have been correct, moving in unison 18 times, or 82 percent of the time."

Its accuracy ever since has been so impressive that even Wall Street has taken notice. Since the inaugural championship game, the indicator has been spot-on in 40 of the past 50 Super Bowls, for an 80 percent success rate.

The offhand observation of Koppett caught the attention of financial advisor Robert H. Stovall, who now acts as the unofficial custodian of the indicator in the world of Wall Street. Stovall knows the whole thing is nothing but superstition, but he reasons: "There is no intellectual backing for this sort of thing except that it works." When Stovall, a veteran in the financial world, would give speeches on investments, he would often be besieged by investors asking questions about the Super Bowl Indicator, saying "that’s what they want to know about."

Investors have a long history with superstitions. Some believe the country that builds the tallest skyscraper is due for a market collapse. Others think the entire month of October is cursed, since that's when markets crashed in 1929, 1987, and 2008. Perhaps most bizarrely, there's also a trend known as the "SI Swimsuit Indicator," which suggests that the U.S. stock market fares better when an American model graces the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, rather than a foreign-born model.

So what does the indicator say about Super Bowl LI? If the theory is right, an Atlanta Falcons win would mean stocks will rise, while a New England Patriots victory should (once again) get investors prepared for a down 2017.

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