By Jason Keidel
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Before you brand me a hypocrite, I admit that the moment Roger Goodell announced this Super Bowl several years ago, I was all in.
At the time, I was living on West 24th Street (Chelsea, for the uninitiated), with a pristine view of the Empire State Building. The top seemed to tickle the stars, pierce the moon, and beam my name in red, white, and blue baubles. My chest puffed like a blowfish.
My native New York narcissism flared like a Roman candle. This Super Bowl was not only in my hometown, but it was a chance to show the template, tropical locations how we really throw down for a big game.
Watching WFAN host Mike Francesa morph into a meteorologist last week was, at first, rather humorous. And then rather uncomfortable. Mike has had CBS weather dude Lonnie Quinn on speed dial, gleaning daily updates on Mother Nature, who has been furious with us this winter. Since we’ve already been battered by two snowstorms, it has heightened our fears that a third would render us mute and immobile.
The NFL is testing the ancient axiom that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, inserting itself into every public discourse in America.
People are being slaughtered around the world. The economy never really recovered. We still don’t know when some sick clique will try to blow up some American institution. And all the nation cares about is the weather forecast for Northern New Jersey this weekend. (And Richard Sherman.)
It raises the obvious question: Does this darn game make sense?
Beyond the discomfort of sitting in a hard plastic seat in the icy dark, surrounded by strangers, bored and eventually blitzed from the flask in their vest, an IV coffee drip in your arm, and endless trips to the restroom to unburden yourself of said beverages, you’re being asked to double-down on time, temperament, and temperature.
Your normal three-hour jaunt to your local football stadium, which, under ideal conditions, tests your tolerance, will now be stretched to a good six hours. And you’re doing this just to say you did, that you now satisfied your bucket-list masochism of watching a Super Bowl in person.
But the older some of us get, the less logic we see in the endeavor.
We who were born and raised in colder climes wonder why the NFL throws a dart at Pasadena, Bourbon Street, Florida and Phoenix every year to see where their signature game will be staged. It offends our elitist, big-city sensibilities.
But, upon further review, it makes sense. Mike Lupica made a (rare) lucid remark on the matter. If it took 48 years to get the Super Bowl in a cold-weather state, there’s a reason.
It’s a bad reason.
This game is meant to be played in warmer weather, for a thousand reasons.
Up until today, when the weathermen were finally homogenous in predicting a fairly docile Super Sunday — the generic February day in NY/NJ of upper 20s, tapping the 30s, sans the stormy white meteor shower we had last week — every media outlet in America had NFL VP Eric Grubman on their program, dissecting his contingency plans in the event of an apocalyptic weather pattern.
The fact that we need several movable, mutating plans for what’s essentially just a football game means the idea is dubious at best.
For those who say football is an outdoor sport, and part of its historical charm is in the meteorological whims under which the games are played, you are correct … to a point.
That’s what the playoffs are for. You joust for just one extra win so that you may host all your conference playoff games, for the right to play in the Super Bowl. You play before your home crowd, in the decibel-drenched crucible like Seattle, in the cold, flickering mud of Washington, D.C., or the frigid wind and frozen turf of Lambeau Field.
In fact, the Meadowlands is renowned for the frosty, howling wind.
Back when the Giants played in Giants Stadium it was pro forma to find napkins, newspapers and other refuse twirling like tornadoes across midfield.
Denver, for instance, was sunny and 60 on championship weekend, whereas it could be 10 below on Tuesday, making it a most moody weather town, a surreal city where you can go swimming and skiing in the same day.
But once you get to the big dance, once you’ve passed through the thorny portal of playoff football, once you’ve endured the elements and the elemental hurdles of a road run, like the Giants and Steelers endured over the last decade, you’ve earned the right to play in a climate-neutral field.
There’s nothing more to be proved. Both teams have survived the interminable, five-month march to America’s ultimate game. Does it make sense, at that point, for that game to be determined by the arbitrary drift of high-and-low pressure weather fronts?
A winter storm, which invariably helps the team with the stouter defense — in this case, Seattle — should not determine the Super Bowl.
This is the first time in a quarter-century — since the Whitney Houston Super Bowl between the Bills and Giants, for those under 30 — that the league’s best defense is facing the best offense.
And those strengths should be tested and bested on their own merits, not by the weather gods.
This is no commentary on New York City, which is better equipped than any on Earth to host this game, nor on New Jersey, which is unfairly dismissed as the defacto home of the Sopranos, the smoky ports in Elizabeth, or the bullet-shredded projects in Paterson and Newark, or just little more than a swampy suburb of the five boroughs.
No one is prouder to be a New Yorker than yours truly. And once I land on Super Bowl Boulevard I will no doubt be imbued with the requisite adrenaline that comes with being so close to the biggest game of my favorite sport. Logistically speaking, this is the perfect place to host this game. We have the subways, buses, bridges, hotels, and hot spots for the trendy types to occupy themselves.
But for those of us who love football as is, who don’t need the fluff, tangents, sidebars and celebrities, we want his game to be decided on talent and temerity, not temperature. The placement of this game is about hubris, not hospitality.
The NFL is blinded by its mushroom-cloud collateral. It can’t see the truth over the pyramids of money it makes. It is so caught up in its cash and cachet that it feels it can literally do anything. Issues that thwart other sports are merely fine print for pro football.
MLB has been crippled by PEDs. Basketball has been stained by stereotypes of thugged-out ballers who smoke blunts and make babies by the dozen. Hockey has a penchant for implosion with endless labor spats.
Boxing, my first love, has been marginalized by corruption, nepotism, sadism, and the hard truth that gifted 250-pound athletes have been seduced by other sports for double the money and half the head trauma.
But the NFL can absorb more dirt than a ShamWow. Forget that half its employees won’t remember their names 10 years after they retire. Forget that those who do may very well kill themselves to end the galling pain of mental illness created by endless head-first collisions.
Forget that one of their players was just sentenced for driving drunk and killing his teammate/best friend. Forget that another killed the mother of his baby before turning the gun on himself in front of his head coach in Kansas City.
Forget that the league is about to dish out about $1 billion for denying any knowledge about concussions. And please forget the fact that a substantial number of its players are, in my opinion, almost certainly on some derivation of PED. No doubt some advancement in training and nutrition has spawned a stronger and faster athlete, but nothing natural can explain 270-pound linebackers who run like deer, leap like leopards, and hit like rhinos.
But such observations will be ignored because the game is so damn good. So the only way to hurt the game is to hurt the game. And that means playing Super Bowls in Arctic air, with the chance the players need to replace their cleats with snow shoes.
It seems we will squeak through Sunday without any major meteorological fallout. Which means Boston, Chicago, or Philadelphia will clamor for their pound of financial flesh.
On Monday morning it was 1 below zero in Chicago. But it won’t matter. Our inherent ADD only sees what it sees, the immediate, the instant, never the distant.
So the wise will stay home and watch the game on their glistening, sprawling LED, LCD, or whatever cocktail of consonants makes their television so glittering, colorful and thunderously special.
There’s no shame watching the game from home. You’re actually the smart one, on your smartphone, avoiding the mad rush from Manhattan that will resembles Tokyo in a Godzilla movie. And maybe the NFL will come to its senses and see that the Super Bowl is most Super under palm trees.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel
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