Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Start wearing the layers:
Super Bowl XLVIII to New York/New Jersey

This was one of those things that, when you heard it, you said to yourself, “you mean they don’t do that already?”

If you’re a less than diehard pro football fan, you might have thought they’ve already played the Super Bowl in the New York metropolitan area. The towering symbolism of New York City is so ubiquitous, it’s just assumed that anything of any consequence in this country’s history has already gone down in the Big Apple.

Likewise, even if you’re a blood-in-the-veins fan, you might think the Super Bowl has already been played at least once in its XLIV years in some cold-weather city. Right?

Sadly no. Never happened before. Not the Super Bowl.

That changes in February 2014, when Super Bowl XLVIII comes to the sparkling $1.6 billion New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. The stadium — the most expensive ever constructed — actually opens for business this fall, but somehow it’s all a dress rehearsal for its Super Bowl debut.

On Tuesday, the NFL team owners agreed to award the game to the NY/NJ metrocell. The big industrial east edged out bids by South Florida, where Super Bowl XLV (one of the greatest ever) was played in February, and Tampa. The shift breaks the stranglehold of the Southeast and Southwest as the presumptive locations for the national gladiator game.

The NFL has long had the traditional requirement that a Super Bowl host have a 50 degree climate or be held in indoors, in a climate-controlled structure. The New Meadowlands got the nod because of what the bid committee called a "unique, once-only circumstance based on the opportunity to celebrate the new stadium and the great heritage and history of the NFL in the New York region."

“Hosting the Super Bowl in the New York/New Jersey area will not only place the game of football on the largest stage it’s ever seen, but the positive economic impact for the region will be substantial,” said Woody Johnson, Jets chairman and CEO, earlier this month. "Studies have shown that the economic benefit would exceed $550 million, providing a major boost to this area on many levels.”

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All the civic advantages aside, it’s fitting that, despite the conveniences of artificial turf and retractable roofs, finally a game whose very performance depends on acreage, space and externality will see its professional championship determined amid the elements.

And count on the elements being there. According to AccuWeather, the average high in NYC in February is about 41, and the average low about 28. The About.com reference Web site says the average high is 32°F, the average low: 29°F. The KLGA weather station at La Guardia Airport places the average high for February 2010 at 38 degrees F. The low: a butt-numbing 16°F.

All of which is somewhat academic. When the mercury dips below 40 degrees, stationary human beings can’t generate the body heat needed to stay warm. When the temperature drops to the teens, you only hope your constant jittering shivers won’t disrupt your own ability to see the game. For the vast majority of 82,566 relatively immobile fans sitting in the stands in the dead of dead of winter, the word cold is likely to take on a whole new meaning.

The challenges of cold weather that wouldn’t be a problem in a smaller city like Green Bay or even Philadelphia are magnified, like everything is, in New York City. The roads and bridges leading to and from the stadium, the traffic logistics, police and paramedics — all the things that affect travel in smaller cities are added to a two-state, multi-county transportation grid whose operation and navigation is already complicated on any given day of the year.

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The Los Angeles Times Sports blog sampled the opinions of four sportswriters as to whether the Super Bowl should be played in an outdoor venue.

With both the temperature in mind, and more than a little hometown booster’s pride in tow, Sarah Talalay of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel defended the idea of doing it. “Sure. Once. Then the NFL will finally see the error of its ways.

“No one doubts New York will put on a good show, but that’s not the point of hosting the Super Bowl," Talalay observed. "This is the NFL’s biggest party of the year -- the league’s equivalent of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue: a February respite from the long, cold winter.”

Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune took a harder line.

“It belongs in a city that won’t be disrupted by snowstorms, ice storms or sub-zero arctic blasts. It should be played in a climate that will not affect the most important game of the year.”

But Pompei’s argument really doesn’t hold water when you consider the various divisional contests that precede the Super Bowl — games played in the swirling snows of Green Bay or the dense chill of San Francisco or the thinner, mile-high air of Denver.

Games are played throughout the season in a variety of unpredictable weather scenarios. Building logically on that fact, why, then, should the deciding game of that season be played in conditions any more predictable, and artificial, than those games that lead to the Super Bowl?

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We’ll probably never know if the mandarins who own the teams thought of that. Or if they’ve considered the ways in which a justifiably terrorism-sensitive region of the United States will cope with tens of thousands of international visitors who’ll descend and presumably depart in less than a week — a rapid infusion of cash and, quite possibly, dangers.

And what about the halftime show? It’s February, so the Rockettes won’t be available. Who’ll keep asses in the seats for that twenty minutes? Can’t see BeyoncĂ© struttin’ her stuff in long johns and a North Face jacket. Bruce Springsteen — pride of Jersey — might be persuaded as a homeboy gesture.

Whoever plays at halftime, whoever plays the game, will be breaking through an old barrier, one that maybe should never have been there in the first place. Anyway … It’s a one-and-done. But if NY/NJ Super Bowl I is a success, maybe the owners’ll have second thoughts.

Why not? Not that long ago, nobody thought they’d be playing NFL games in London. Until they started playing NFL games in London.

Image credits: New Meadowlands Stadium: Kostroun/Associated Press via New York Daily News. New Meadowlands Stadium logo: New Meadowlands Company LLC.

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