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What is time at the Super Bowl?

Let’s talk with theoretical physicist Ronald Mallett about the nature and perception of time.

Philadelphia Eagles v Pittsburgh Steelers

Time is not on your side. Or mine. Time takes no sides.

Time does not care about us no matter how much we care about it. We try to manage time. We try to make the most of time. We try to make up for lost time. We even invent timeouts. We care a lot about time, especially the time of the Super Bowl.

To better understand how the reality of time relates to our perception of it, we talked with Ronald Mallett, a theoretical physicist who is a research professor at the University of Connecticut and the author of Time Traveler: A Scientist’s Personal Mission to Make Time Travel a Reality. His primary research interests are general relativity and gravitation, black holes, relativistic astrophysics, and quantum cosmology.

“I’m a theoretical physicist and my speciality is Einstein’s theory of relativity,” Mallett told SB Nation hours before the big game. “My perspective comes from that direction — what Einstein had to say and the notion of time as the fourth dimension. Whenever we talk about an event, an event doesn’t just take place in space, it takes place in time as well, which of course the Super Bowl is going to be at particular time and place.”

Super Bowl 52 will start shortly after 5:30 pm local time in Minneapolis on Sunday, Feb. 4. At that time, clocks will show it to be an hour later in New York City. It will be three hours earlier in Los Angeles when the kickoff occurs than it is in New York. In Australia, the game will take place on Monday. Tomorrow. Also today. This will all be the same time. But we’re not here to talk about time zones, which can also be confusing.

We’re here learning about time itself.

”In a way, there are actually really two broad perspectives on time: One is the physical, the other is psychological,” Mallett says. “By the physical, what I mean is the perspective that physics has on it, which is independent of us. In a sense, you might say time in a physical sense began with the Big Bang which was over 10 billion years ago. The thing is that that particular perspective is, as I said, something that happened independent of human beings. That happened a long time ago and the universe has been evolving in time independent of us.”

In the Super Bowl, time provides opportunity if you need a comeback. That can be seized. It can be squandered. Time also represents a liability if you need to protect a lead. Just ask the Atlanta Falcons. Anything that can happen will happen in time.

”Well, we were trying to hurry up,” Andy Reid said after his team seemed to squander its time in the final minutes of Super Bowl XXXIX. “It was the way things worked out.”

Sometimes time feels like it moves slowly. Sometimes times feels like it moves fast. But time doesn’t care how we feel about it.

”In a sense, there’s two things that are going on at the time of a game — which is to say the physical time which is what the clocks are measuring, but then there’s the psychological perspective, that is to say how people in the audience are perceiving time,” Mallett explains patiently. “In other words, it might seem like the game is going long for them or it seems like it’s going on too short for them and those things are relative to them.”