By Peter Schwartz
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When MetLife Stadium was awarded Super Bowl XLVIII a few years ago, we all had dreams that, depending on your rooting interests, the Giants or Jets or both would participate in the big game.
Unfortunately, that did not happen, but it doesn’t mean that Big Blue and Gang Green won’t be represented throughout the week’s festivities. While current and former players will be making appearances at events including Super Bowl Boulevard, two New York football alumni will be lending a helping hand to a worthwhile cause.
Taste of the NFL is a Super Bowl party that will take place the night before the game on Saturday, February 1, at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal on Pier 12. Proceeds from the event go toward food banks in all NFL cities. A ticket purchased allows you to sample food from chefs representing all 32 NFL teams as well as the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
There is also a current or former player at each of those stations. So while you are enjoying all the delicacies, you get to rub elbows with some gridiron greats, many of whom are enshrined in Canton.
“They call it a party with a purpose and I think that sums it up perfectly,” said former Giants offensive lineman Bill Ard, a member of Big Blue’s Super Bowl XXI championship team.
Ard is in his sixth year representing the Giants at Taste of the NFL. He is one of many players who lend their time and efforts to an event that helps individuals who are in need of food.
“It’s a great event and a great party,” said Ard. “You have all of this great food and great people on the eve of the biggest game in the world.”
Jets fans that go to the party will not be disappointed. Gang Green’s representative is former running back Freeman McNeil, who ranks second on the team’s all-time rushing list. McNeil will be taking part in this event for the 11th time.
The Jets’ first-round pick in 1981 feels that it’s a privilege and an honor to be able to represent an NFL team at such a prestigious event.
“We’re giving back to the community in a way that saves lives,” said McNeill. “They’re doing something that’s so substantial for humanity. It’s one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me in my life.”
While the event is always special, this year’s party has some extra meaning for Ard and McNeil. They’ve always had to travel to where the party and Super Bowl was taking place, but this year there’s no travel because the party is practically in their backyard.
So the two local representatives get to enjoy a home-“party” advantage!
“I’m really excited about it,” said Ard. “It’s going to be exciting. I think Brooklyn is a great venue for it, overlooking Manhattan.”
McNeil was born in Jackson, Mississippi, and grew up in Los Angeles, where he played college football for UCLA. But New York has been his current home for quite some time.
“I’ve been here now for 32 years,” said McNeil. “I’ve become a New Yorker. This Super Bowl being here is commemorative.”
Partygoers receive a plate and wine glass upon arrival. The glass slides into a slit in the plate so that you can eat and not have to worry about what to do with your drink. Speaking of that drink, there’s plenty of that, too, from some of the best wineries in the country.
Throw in a silent auction of some amazing sports memorabilia and a post-party concert and you have one super party!
“It’s just awesome,” said McNeil. “When you come into this venue and you purchase that expensive ticket, it is so extravagant. What’s made available to you are these just exquisite cuisines where you can taste them all from different cities. It’s almost better than the game!”
Speaking of the game, a lot has been made about New York/New Jersey hosting the NFL’s first cold-weather Super Bowl. Many people think it’s a great idea and some people don’t because of the threat of snow and arctic conditions.
“I think it’s 100 percent the right move,” said Ard. “Hey, it’s New York/New Jersey. You can get snow or rain. It’s not baseball. It’s football. For many years up till the mid 60’s, the championship game was played in a cold environment. I don’t see a problem with it.”
Meanwhile, McNeil shares a more historical perspective about the big game in “The Big Apple”.
“The patriarchs of the sport played in these elements and I believe that it’s only fitting that this commemorates all of that,” said McNeil. “It’s one thing to be in comfort, but it’s another thing to commemorate the whole history of the Super Bowl right here in New York.”
While it may be cold at the game, the meaning of Taste of the NFL will certainly warm your heart. You enjoy some of the best food from the best chefs, you get to meet current and former NFL players and you enjoy some good music.
“It is the best of the best!” said McNeil. “It’s the best event at the Super Bowl.”
“It’s a great night and I’m flattered to be a part of it,” said Ard.
So while the Jets and Giants won’t be battling at MetLife Stadium for the Vince Lombardi Trophy, two former players will still get to battle it out for a good cause at Taste of the NFL.
Let’s see which player has the longer lines for autographs, and let’s see which team makes more money for the charity in the memorabilia auction!
But regardless of which local team wins that battle, the entire event is a big winner because it’s a party with a purpose. The generosity of people who are fortunate enough to attend Taste of the NFL will go a long way toward helping those individuals who are not as fortunate.
And that is something really … well … Super!
For more information on the event, go here.
And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @pschwartzcbsfan.
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