'Tis the season when goofy Super Bowl bets multiply like potholes on a Pittsburgh alley.
And it's not just politicians getting into the action.
The Carnegie Museum of Art and the Milwaukee Art Museum have a friendly wager going on involving the temporary transfer of a French impressionist painting. PennFuture and Clean Wisconsin are playing dueling environmentalists in a Super Bowl fundraising challenge. Heck, even Bishop David Zubik (formerly the bishop of Green Bay) is working out a wager with the current bishop of Green Bay.
We bet because "it raises the ante," said Joanna Doven, spokeswoman for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. "It gets the cities more excited, it gets the fans more excited."
For the average fan, placing a wager (of the legal variety, of course) makes the game more personal, said Michael Tarr, a psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University.
"There's the urge to show that your group is better than another group," Dr. Tarr said. "They want reflected glory."
And so the presidents of St. Vincent College in Latrobe and St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis., announced a Super Bowl wager. At stake is cheese and sausage from Wisconsin and a bag of flour and loaf of bread from St. Vincent College's historic grist mill.
Schoolchildren at St. Bernard School in Mt. Lebanon have bet that they can donate more cans of soup than their counterparts at St. Bernard School in Green Bay. At least 37 other Pittsburgh schools are also involved in soup-related competitions.
Mr. Ravenstahl will announce the city's official Super Bowl bet later this week, Ms. Doven said.
And Pittsburgh's sports teams have been so successful in recent years that Mr. Ravenstahl has rarely been on the losing end.
Ms. Doven's favorite mayoral bet so far occurred when the Steelers beat the San Diego Chargers two years ago in an American Football Conference divisional playoff game. San Diego's mayor wore a Steelers jersey while standing in front of a penguins exhibit at Sea World -- a photo of which made Sports Illustrated.
The mayor's office donates all items that it can to charity.
Ms. Doven said she has seen the bets "evolve" during Mr. Ravenstahl's tenure. "A lot of them before were very food oriented. Now we're seeing them more as service-oriented bets."
For the AFC championship, Mr. Ravenstahl and Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City agreed to both work on care packages for troops overseas. The mayors solicited ideas for the bet on Facebook and Twitter. At some still-undisclosed time in the future, Mr. Bloomberg will record himself hanging a Terrible Towel at a New York landmark and post it on YouTube.
"What we're seeing now as more and more governments use social media, a lot of the bets have a social media component," said Ms. Doven. "Whatever happens that's embarrassing ends up on YouTube or Facebook."
And speaking of media, even newspapers aren't immune. The editors of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel have agreed "to swap our most irritating local politician," said Post-Gazette executive editor David Shribman. "It will improve the political climate of both cities."
Over the years, it's a safe bet to say that nobody's actually swapped a politician. But they have swapped something equally improbable -- a hive of bees.
When the Washington Redskins faced the Miami Dolphins in the 1983 Super Bowl, Virginia Gov. Charles Robb offered up a live pig in honor of the Redskins' "Hogs" offensive line. For the Dolphins' "Killer B's" defense, Florida Gov. Bob Graham countered with 3,000 bees.
Upon the Dolphins' loss, he more than made good, sending Mr. Robb a hive of 9,000.
Another odd bet came from Vancouver during last year's National Hockey League Western Conference final. Seemingly having trouble deciding on what its city is known for, Vancouver offered a spread including Filipino shortbread cookies, Thai yellow curry, Indian saag paneer, Chinese apple dumplings, Greek baklava and Italian balsamic dressing. Oh, and smoked salmon.
For this year's Super Bowl, food bets haven't disappeared entirely. U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., for example, will receive an assortment of Wisconsin cheese, bratwurst and beer if the Steelers win. If the Packers win, he'll send his Wisconsin counterpart, Republican Ron Johnson, a delivery of Primanti Brothers sandwiches.
Betting season is always a good one for Primanti, said marketing coordinator Amy Smith.
Not only is it good publicity, but "I've been here five years and we've never had to pay up on a bet," she said.
It's a good thing because Primanti doesn't actually ship its sandwiches -- in fact, a recent attempt to FedEx a sandwich to talk show host Jimmy Fallon resulted in exploded cole slaw.
"It doesn't ship well," she said. "It's not like a Philly cheesesteak where you can ship it separately and heat it up."
Luckily, it's not a problem it needs to confront very often.
"If we lose the bet, we'll figure out a way to get them there, that's for sure, but we won't lose the bet," she said. "We don't even worry about it."
Anya Sostek: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1308. First Published February 1, 2011 5:00 AM