The Bulls Pull for the Eagles


By Frank Slusser Can Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens pull out a victory in Jacksonville -- for the S&P 500? Wall Street might just be rooting for the underdog Philadelphia Eagles to defeat the New England Patriots in the NFL championship game on Feb. 6 because of a fanciful stock market predictor created 26 years ago: The Super Bowl Theory.

The theory, invented by the late New York Times sportswriter Leonard Koppett, says that if the NFC team -- or an AFC team that originally was an NFC member -- wins the game, the stock market, as measured by the S&P 500-stock index, will rise for the year. Conversely, if the AFC team wins, the market will go down. For such an unscientific prognostication tool, the theory has a pretty impressive track record: It has been right 30 out of 38 times since the first Super Bowl in 1967 (so early in the event's history that it didn't even have a Roman numeral attached), or 78.9% of the time.

Admittedly, the Super Bowl theory has had something of a mixed record over the past few years. It was thrown for a loss in 2004 by the AFC Patriots' 32-29 win over the Carolina Panthers, as the S&P 500 index rose 9.0%.

MISSED CALLS. The theory was on target the two preceding years, however. In 2003, the S&P 500 went up a stunning 26%, no doubt in part because of the NFC Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 48-21 victory over the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII. And in 2002, the Patriots' 20-17 victory over the NFC St. Louis Rams presaged a down market year. Sure enough, the S&P 500 fell about 24%.

Before that, though, the theory suffered a Buffalo Bills-like stretch of failure -- four years, to be exact. The market lost ground in 2001 as the AFC Baltimore Ravens, which has NFL roots as the former Cleveland Browns, beat the NFC New York Giants 34-7. And the NFC St. Louis Rams' 23-16 victory over the AFC Tennessee Titans in January, 2000, should have been bullish -- but the S&P index fell 10.1% for the year. The opposite happened in the previous two years, as the S&P posted strong gains even though the John Elway-led Denver Broncos of the AFC won the championship each time.

A few other blemishes have blotted the theory's otherwise impressive record. In 1970, the AFC Kansas City Chiefs won and the S&P gained 0.1%; 1984, the AFC Los Angeles Raiders won, and the S&P rose 1.4%; 1990, when the NFC San Francisco 49ers were victorious, the S&P lost 6.56%. Also, in 1994, the NFC Dallas Cowboys won, but the S&P fell 1.53%.

Other fun Super Bowl Theory facts:

When the NFC wins, the S&P on average gains 16.42%. This has been true about 90% of the time. When the AFC wins, the losses are not as severe, only down on average 6.5%;

Pure AFC teams have won 11 of 38 games. Six of those victories coincided with economic slowdowns or recessions.

So, should investors phone their brokers on the morning of Jan. 27 to buy call options (bets that the market will go higher) on the S&P 500 if the "Iggles" pull off an upset? Or should they purchase "puts" (bets on a downturn) on the index if Adam Vinateri boots the Pats to yet another miracle finish? Well, as a market predictor, the theory has had a fairly good run. But it would be ludicrous to rely on it as an investing strategy. As we've said before, the Super Bowl Theory is for amusement purposes only. So go ahead and cheer for Philly, or for Belichick's boys. As always, we'll be rooting for the "500."

Here's how the Super Bowl Theory has performed in the 38 Super Bowls preceding this year's game:

The Super Bowl Theory -- 1967-2004

Year

Outcome

Winning Conf.

S&P 500 Perf.

1967

Green Bay 35, Kansas City 10

NFC

+20.1%

1968

Green Bay 33, Oakland 14

NFC

+7.7%

1969

New York Jets 16, Balt. Colts 7

AFC

-11.4%

1970

Kansas City 23, Minnesota 7

AFC

+0.1%

1971

Baltimore 16, Dallas 13

NFC

+10.8%

1972

Dallas 24, Miami 3

NFC

+15.7%

1973

Miami 14, Washington 7

AFC

-17.4%

1974

Miami 24, Minnesota 7

AFC

-29.7%

1975

Pittsburgh 16, Minnesota 6

NFC

+31.5%

1976

Pittsburgh 21, Dallas 17

NFC

+19.2%

1977

Oakland 32, Minnesota 14

AFC

-11.5%

1978

Dallas 27, Denver 10

NFC

+1.1%

1979

Pittsburgh 35, Dallas 31

NFC

+12.3%

1980

Pittsburgh 31, L.A. Rams 19

NFC

+25.8%

1981

Oakland 27, Philadelphia 10

AFC

-9.7%

1982

San Francisco 26, Cincinnati 21

NFC

+14.8%

1983

Washington 27, Miami 17

NFC

+17.3%

1984

L.A. Raiders 38, Washington 9

AFC

+1.4%

1985

San Francisco 38, Miami 16

NFC

+26.3%

1986

Chicago 46, New England 10

NFC

+14.6%

1987

N.Y. Giants 39, Denver 20

NFC

+2.0%

1988

Washington 42, Denver 10

NFC

+12.4%

1989

San Francisco 20, Cincinnati 16

NFC

+27.3%

1990

San Francisco 55, Denver 10

NFC

-6.6%

1991

N.Y. Giants 20, Buffalo 19

NFC

+26.3%

1992

Washington 37, Buffalo 24

NFC

+4.5%

1993

Dallas 52, Buffalo 17

NFC

+7.1%

1994

Dallas 30, Buffalo 13

NFC

-1.5%

1995

San Francisco 49, San Diego 26

NFC

+34.1%

1996

Dallas 27, Pittsburgh 17

NFC

+20.3%

1997

Green Bay 35, New England 21

NFC

+31.0%

1998

Denver 31, Green Bay 24

AFC

+26.7%

1999

Denver 34, Atlanta 19

AFC

+19.5%

2000

St. Louis 23, Tennessee 16

NFC

-10.1%

2001

Baltimore 34, New York 7

NFC

-13.0%

2002

New England 20, St. Louis 17

AFC

-23.5%

2003

Tampa Bay 48, Oakland 21

NFC

+26.4%

2004

New England 32, Carolina 29

AFC

+9.0%

Slusser is a senior editor for Standard & Poor's MarketScope


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