Monday, May 17, 2010
NFL Super Bowl to the Cold
Super Bowl in the New York area all but a cold, hard reality for NFL
Don Banks www.si.com
Now that the idea of an outdoor Super Bowl played in the chill of early February is just days shy of making the leap from concept to, uh, cold, hard reality, it's time to take a look at what the 2014 game in the New York area might hold in store, from as many perspectives as we can conjure up.
I'll admit, when I first heard the idea of the NFL playing a Super Bowl outdoors at the Meadowlands, my gut reaction was something along the lines of "You can't be serious.'' But in time, playing the league's biggest game in the winter elements is an idea a lot of people seemingly have started to warm up to. We'll find out exactly how many of the people who count the most are in favor of it at the NFL's one-day owners meeting on May 25 in Dallas, when the vote to award the game to New York, Tampa or South Florida is scheduled to be taken.
But the way I read the tea leaves, it'll require a Giants over Patriots-like upset to keep the NFL's 48th Super Bowl from unfolding beneath the frigid night skies of a New Jersey winter in the nation's largest metropolitan area. So let's all just bundle up and deal with it, shall we? We have a little less than three years and nine months to figure out what to wear and how to layer correctly.
What's in it for the NFL?
The theme chosen by the folks putting together the new Meadowlands Stadium Super Bowl bid is a savvy one indeed. They're going with the evocative "Make Some History'' catch phrase, and that's called playing your strongest hand.
Let's face it, everyone has at least a little drive to be part of something historic, and history undoubtedly will be made when the NFL, for the first time, circumvents its requirement that Super Bowls must be played in regions where the minimum average temperature is 50 degrees for that time of year, or in roofed stadiums.
Some of the most memorable postseason games in NFL history have largely been about the weather conditions that prevailed on game day -- think the Ice Bowl in Green Bay, the Tuck Rule game in Foxboro, or that frosty 2007 NFC title game affair at Lambeau Field. Fans who braved those elements and survived wear it like a medal won on the field of battle.
When you tell people they can be part of something that has never happened before, the rarity factor adds an exponential allure and attraction all its own. I'm not suggesting the league is holding the Super Bowl in New York in an effort to boost ticket sales, because I'm fairly sure the folks in NFL headquarters are confident of a full house, short of a game-day tsunami. But in terms of creating hype and never-before-reached levels of pre-game buzz, which is something the Super Bowl pretty much invented, this Roman numeraled affair might just set the bar higher than ever.
That's a win-win for the NFL in terms of TV ratings, media coverage, and the stop-what-you're-doing-and-pay-attention factor that the league thrives on. Turning the potential negative of the weather into a positive by highlighting the uniqueness of the event is both masterful and straight out of Marketing 101.
If you're wondering if one cold-weather Super Bowl opens the door to Green Bay, Chicago and New England being added to the Super Bowl rotation going forward, just slow down and unbutton your parka for now. The league made an exception for New York this time, largely because it has a new $1.6 billion stadium to showcase, and it fits commissioner Roger Goodell's focus on trying to adopt a few new innovations for the league. The Super Bowl city's minimum temperature/roof requirement was set aside on a onetime basis only, for New York.
In the past, Washington has made it known it would like a Super Bowl, too, but the overwhelming odds are that the NFL will see how the game works out in New York before it even considers another cold-weather outdoor site. Given the three- or four-year lag time between a game being awarded and being played, we're probably at least seven or eight years away from another cold-weather Super Bowl being scheduled -- if it ever happens at all.
What's in it for the fans?
Start spreading the news ... it's gonna be cold. And there's no way around it. Providing fans with self-warming seat cushions, hand warmers, blankets and giant heaters in the stadium concourses will help, but if you're trying to sell the novelty and charm of a cold-weather Super Bowl to begin with, you can't exactly make extending the scope of creature comforts your first priority.
Fire pits in the parking lots for tailgaters is another nice touch that's planned by the host committee. But it's not really the hard-core football fans at the Super Bowl the league is worried about, since roughly half of the league's 32 teams play outdoors in some cold conditions for a good bit of the season and have fans who know how to stay warm. Rather, it's the fat-cat, big-money corporate element that has made the Super Bowl its own private event in the past two decades, and how it reacts to sitting in the elements for four or five hours?
I would imagine the scramble for the stadium's 10,000 or so club seats is going to be a furious competition in and of itself before Super Bowl Sunday, because if you have to be at the game but still want shelter from the cold, the club level is the best of both worlds. I can't wait to take a head count on game day of how many NFL team owners who voted to award the Super Bowl to New York never leave their amenity-filled suite that night. Do I see ... none?
Who knows, maybe one silver lining of a New York Super Bowl will be a couple dozen fewer stretch limos in the parking lot, and not quite so many corporate jets landing on the morning of the game at Teterboro. Maybe a few thousand more year-round football fans will actually get tickets this time around, what with the jet-set crowd scaled back by the daunting prospects of waiting in line for hot chocolate at concession stands.
My sense is fans will buy into the old-school nature of a cold-weather Super Bowl, if anything that has never been done before can even be called "old school.'' There will be a communal shared experience aspect to it, and people will try almost anything once just to see what it's like, no matter how ridiculous it sounds (Dennis Miller on Monday Night Football, for example).
But the bottom line is the only thing that will make a New York Super Bowl truly special is if the game itself is truly special. Jets-Giants go to overtime in a snowstorm? Probably too much to ask for. But if it's Bears-Ravens in a tight, back-and-forth contest, with just enough weather to know you're outside in the North in February, we'll no doubt have an instant classic on our hands.
That's when you'll have the proverbial 200,000 people telling their grand kids that they were one of the lucky 82,500 there that day to see the game (and their breath at the same time). Everyone will agree it was a swell idea whose time had come, and the NFL will quietly start investigating the idea of a Super Bowl in Iceland.
What's in it for the players?
Well, they do award rings and some playoff money to the winner of this game, so there's that. But beyond those goodies, which get handed out every year, the players with a sense of NFL history will likely love being part of the historic nature of the game. The reward of getting to the Super Bowl isn't about earning the right to a warm-weather game, it's about stamping your name on something that stands the test of time. And this game has a chance to be a one-of-a-kind type event.
True, players have come to expect to compete in the absolute optimum conditions in a Super Bowl, but it wasn't always that way and a champion still got crowned. Check out those old NFL Films highlight reels of Super Bowl IV in New Orleans, where the field at Tulane Stadium looked like a muddy, rut-filled mess, or Super Bowl IX in New Orleans, played on an overcast, wind-swept day that was anything but balmy.
And I like what Giants quarterback Eli Manning said in helping pitch the New York Super Bowl bid this week. Manning has a soft spot in his heart for New York's thrilling overtime win at Green Bay in January 2008, a game played in such bitter conditions that Tom Coughlin's face nearly froze and fell off.
"Some of my friends still talk about that game more than the Super Bowl,'' Manning said. "It's one of my all-time favorite games, being in Green Bay, in negative-20-degree weather. If the NFC Championship Game can be played anywhere, why can't the Super Bowl be played in a cold-weather atmosphere?''
Why indeed? What's one more game in the cold for a player staring at the chance to hoist a Lombardi Trophy? The year the Giants won their latest Super Bowl, they prevailed in the playoffs in three different time zones, and dealt with the heat of Tampa, the chill of Dallas and the bone-numbing cold of Green Bay, before upsetting New England in the climate-controlled air of the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. Whatever. Wherever.
In truth, it might be cold, but far from some historic freeze come game day. According to New York's Super Bowl committee, the average high temperature for the area in early February is 40 degrees, with a low of 24.1, and about 2.7 inches of precipitation. Sure, an ill-timed Nor'easter could come along and make everyone's Super Bowl Sunday a bit more tricky, but at least we'll have a good story to tell.
I'll grant you that giving some still-to-be-determined unfortunate Super Bowl-winning head coach a Gatorade shower late on Super Bowl Sunday night could be complicated by cold weather, but basking in the glow of victory -- and maybe a shorter post-game trophy presentation -- should help offset those concerns. I can think of about 32 current NFL head coaches who would love to grapple with that particular problem on a chilly February night in New York in another 45 months or so.