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Sociologist Plays a Different Super Bowl Game : Professor Ranks Fans--From Truly Committed to Hostile

January 24, 1986|JOHN DREYFUSS | Times Staff Writer

When you wake up two days from now, whether you like it or not you're sure to be on Al Schwartz's list of Super Bowl fans and non-fans. You and everyone else in the nation.

You may be a member of the enviable Highlighters, or you may be important enough to rank with the Truly Committed. If you're among legions of Super Bowl haters, you'll probably find yourself in company with Closet Hostiles or Overt Hostiles.

Schwartz is a Pitzer College sociologist with a special interest in sports and sports fans. In honor of the upcoming Super Bowl, he divided the nation's population into a baker's dozen of types according to how they react to America's most watched sporting event.

The Semi-Fan Category

Chances are good you belong to a huge and fortunate group called Highlighters. This bunch of Super Bowl semi-fans gains a tremendous amount from the game without even trying.

"They come in with a book or their knitting or a deck of cards of solitaire," the Claremont professor said. "They rely on somebody saying, 'Hey, look at what just happened.' When someone says that, Highlighters look up and see the instant replay. So you have a whole category of people who never see a live play. The next day they carry on very informed conversations about what went on during the football game. And they probably feel really good because they have both seen the Super Bowl and finished their book."

While Highlighters get the most for the least out of the Super Bowl, the Truly Committed are responsible for the game's existence, Schwartz said. In fact, he noted, they are responsible for the existence of professional football.

For example, he said, consider the Chicago Bears, who are favored to pummel the New England Patriots on Sunday while--according to NBC's estimate--116 million viewers sit riveted to their TV sets.

"Truly Committed fans are the real Chicago Bears," Schwartz declared. "The only Chicago Bears left from a dozen years ago are the Chicago Bear Truly Committed fans. They have been through it all with the team. There is no way to separate them from the team they follow.

"The sport depends on those guys. Without that basic corps of committed followers, none of the other fans follow."

And without fans, of course, there would be no professional football teams, no Super Bowl XX, and a lot of folks wondering what to do with their fall and early winter Sunday afternoons and Monday evenings.

The fact that more than a ton of men in funny suits banging heads with a similar mass of men in funny suits will be a national focal point on Sunday creates a lot of hostility among folks who figure there are better ways to spend the day. If you react inimically to the Super Bowl, you fit one of Schwartz's Hostile profiles.

"Closet Hostiles," the professor said, "walk around with their teeth clenched in a frozen smile. Overt Hostiles simply say, 'I'm leaving town or going to mother and you can take your TV set and. . . .' "

Neither group of Hostiles watches the game, but both groups know it's there, consider it an imposition on the nation in general and themselves in particular, and get perverse pleasure from displaying ill will all day Sunday.

Al Schwartz approaches his Super Bowl list lightheartedly. He understands better than most that there is more to Sunday than pigskin. His analysis of professional football: "There is less there than meets the eye."

He sees the Super Bowl primarily as "a form of entertainment and a kind of cultural ritual, like New Year's Eve."

Rooting for the Underdog

The trim, 52-year-old academic says he's "a sociologist, a sports fan and a jock." He doesn't specify the order, but one suspects Schwartz put "jock" at the end of the list because it belongs there.

Some decades back, at the Bronx High School of Science in New York, he was known as a pretty good varsity second baseman and captain of his basketball team. Today his athletic endeavors are limited to "tennis and a little stickball."

For the record, Schwartz wants the New England Patriots to beat the Chicago Bears on Sunday. "The Pats are the underdogs," he said. "Since I've been rooting for the New York Giants for so many years, I'm used to rooting for the underdog."

Schwartz, whose office overlooks the only athletic facility totally owned by his college (a volleyball court), calls himself a "sociologist specializing in sports as an institution, fads, crazes, revolutions, aberrations and uncommon social worlds."

Lest one be misled into believing that the professor is playing in some minor league, be it known by all here present that he has taught at Pitzer since 1965, was dean of faculty for six years and was a special consultant to the American Council on Education in conjunction with the council's promotion of new academic requirements for athletes recently adopted by the National Collegiate Athletic Assn.

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