This week, we look at the coming prediction of spring or prolonged winter, compared and contrasted with the unique phenomenon of a mass of folks staring at a screen as they hunker down on their sofas and recliners to consume unhealthy salted foods, lose their proverbial shirts and let common sense fly out the window. But the big question remains: who are ya going to bet on?

As we leave behind the first month of 2024 as if it were a quick beep, we now head into February, an eventful month despite being our shortest. February contains many aspects of human experience, including presidential history, sports, gambling, romance, chocolate sales, weather speculation, a Bill Murray movie and creatures coming out of their holes to be a hit or miss.

Let us get down to the facts. Within nine days of each other, two of the most notable competitions happen as people worldwide hold their breaths.

Sure, many folks are anxious to see if they bet on the right team for the Superbowl, but the bigger question may be: Will there be six more weeks of winter? People are placing bets all over, wondering if Punxsutawney Phil will see his shadow.

It may shock some younger generations, but there was a Groundhog Day before the famous Bill Murray film made in the 1990s. And come Feb. 2, the big questions come around again: Will it be spring? Will winter continue?

In the olden days, there was not much to do since there were no TVs, streaming services, or cell phones. So, you looked for things to do.

In the early 1800s, the tradition of weather predicting groundhogs came about, probably because getting up early and watching to see if a groundhog would see its shadow was good fun. This tradition originated from the Pennsylvania Dutch superstition.

They say that on Groundhog Day, the famous rodent comes out from its home below deck, and if it sees its shadow, the groundhog will just turn around, return to its den and wait six more weeks for spring to arrive. But—this is where it gets exciting—if the groundhog does not see its shadow, it’ll stay out and act cool, and spring will arrive early!

There is no question that the movie “Groundhog Day” changed public response to the classic weather predictor. Where once maybe 2,000 people may have shown up for the event, attendance has grown to around 40,000 since the movie’s release, about twice the seating capacity of Madison Square Garden.

For the past two years, the hairy meteorologist has seen its shadow. Now, for those who may dare to question old Phil’s skills, consider this: the “Old Farmer’s Almanac,” a source respected for generations, has a rate of predictability of 50 percent. And our groundhog? 50 percent, too.

Gambling may have existed for as long as man has been on this earth. Way back in prehistoric times, man, the Stone Age model, might have been playing a game called rockball. Individuals created two teams using the time-honored tools of leaves, rocks and larger rocks.

These rock-lifting men would throw a rock to the other side of a field where dinosaurs might have been the real scorekeepers. Back then, they went through many players because thrown rocks often hit the heads of the other team’s players. It was a deadly game, but the winner got to keep every rock.

As years passed, the game evolved and became football, and individuals decided it was good. In fact, they decided it was super good, if not terrific. So, because man needed a good reason to yell at the television and make February less dull and grey, the Super Bowl came into being, and with it, Super Bowl commercials and the need for beer and salty snacks were born.

Famous people began singing the national anthem to give the players a chance to rest, and then the halftime show was born. People found this exceptional. Often, if the wives did not like watching the game, the men gave them some of the money they hadn’t lost yet, and they went shopping, which retailers also found exceptional.

This year is the perfect marriage of game, show and gambling as the Super Bowl occurs at the Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, home of the Las Vegas Raiders. The new stadium cost $1.9 billion, and building it was a huge gamble. The stadium’s average capacity is 65,000, but its expected capacity will probably exceed 70,000 on Feb. 11.

The CBS network is counting on big ratings. On Feb. 11, Super Bowl 58 will enter the stage, and people worldwide will ask important questions like: Will the commercials be better this year? What is Usher going to wear? Will Reba McEntire hit the high notes of the national anthem? Who will win, and who is going to lose? As I write this, all is still unknown.

Many people are serious about their sports teams and consider them part of their extended family. When asked, “What are you doing on Feb. 11? Most people will say, “Watching the big game.” The next question is, “Oh, yeah? Who ya bet on?

I know that for me, I have some split loyalties. I am originally from good old Detroit, so I’m a Lions fan. But I lived in the Bay Area for many years and have long been a big 49ers fan. I also lived in Houston in the late ‘70s and went through the heartbreak of the Oilers missing out. I am just looking forward to a good game with no bad calls.

Diana J. Ingram

Diana Ingram has been a columnist for Los Banos newspapers for four decades.