The National Football League played the first 54 Super Bowls without a team competing for the Vince Lombardi Trophy in their home stadium. Now, in 2022, the league will play their second straight Super Bowl with one of the combatants playing in their home stadium.
Before last season, the closest the NFL got to having a team playing a Super Bowl in their home stadium was 1985. Years before the 1984 season, San Francisco was selected to be the site of Super Bowl XIX with assurances that Candlestick Park would be expanded to meet the minimum seating capacity qualification.
The Candlestick Park project didn’t start on time and wasn’t ready when January 1985 rolled around. So, to not severely alter all the prearranged travel and hotel plans for the event, the league moved the game about 30 miles south to Stanford Stadium. Bill Walsh, head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, confided after his career that he was never more confident of a win than before his 49ers met the Miami Dolphins in that Super Bowl.
Playing in his home area, and in the same stadium where he served as an assistant on Stanford coaching staffs and would later become Cardinal head coach, he benefited from the familiar surroundings and he was right, his team won easily, 38-16.
The home field edge seemed just as important last year at Raymond James Stadium when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers overcame a three point underdog role to score a lopsided win over the Kansas City Chiefs, 31-9, in Super Bowl LV.
So, are we to deduce that home field advantage in the Super Bowl is causal to expect the home team to win big?
If so, stop all handicapping and get down on the Los Angeles Rams this Sunday. Super Bowl LVI is being staged at SoFi Stadium, their home field.
Pity the Bengals who have to travel from Cincinnati only to meet a favored opponent in their home stadium.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn’t upset the Kansas City Chiefs last February because the game was played in Florida. They beat them for a myriad of other factors more influential on determining who wins a game. But, you can understand that it could easily slip into the Rams mindset that they have an advantage because they are meeting Cincinnati in their home stadium.
In fact, what that does, is create a chasm on motivational juices. The Rams are buoyed by the game being played at SoFi, and the Bengals challenged by the same fact. Confidence without the fear of failure is lethal, and the game being staged in their home stadium could likely be the Rams undoing.
Particularly as a point spread favorite.
Not being expected to succeed where you can is a great motivator. The clearest indicator of whether a team could be overconfident or not is shown in the point spread. The favorite is most commonly more confident of a win than their underdog opponent.
In Super Bowl competition this has twice bared out in surprising results.
In 1973, the Miami Dolphins got to complete their perfect 1972 campaign with a win over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII. Despite not losing a game that season, they got the motivational spike by being a point spread underdog to George Allen’s ‘Over the Hill Gang.’
When the New England Patriots looked to complete their perfect campaign in 2007, they were double-digit favorites over the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII, and lost the game, 17-14.
If the Rams were to get an edge from playing this game in their home stadium, it would have to be delivered in a point spread underdog role. As a favorite, it’s a motivational trap.