Thursday, April 17, 2014
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Are we playing the Super Bowl or ‘Hunger Games?’

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From page B6 | December 22, 2013 | Leave Comment

For all the dire predictions making the rounds, you’d think they were playing “The Hunger Games” at MetLife Stadium on Feb. 2 instead of the Super Bowl.

“Cold or snowy is one thing,” San Francisco 49er Phil Dawson said, “but if it’s a blizzard it could be bad. . . .That would make things crazy. I’m not sure how that would work.”

Keep in mind Dawson is a kicker. And to be fair, scratch a half-dozen other players and NFL owners – who have the final say on Super Bowl sites – and you’ll get differing opinions about the wisdom of playing the season’s biggest game in the elements. Plenty grew up playing or watching the game that way and still love to; others were only too happy to get in out of the cold and stay there.

But the players and owners all agree with something Colts lineman Cory Redding said recently about trading a few uncomfortable hours outside for a shot at the title.

“Snow, wind, freezing rain, it doesn’t matter,” Redding said. “It just makes the confetti feel that much better.”

The guys that employ them feel just as strongly, even though all but one or two of the 32 owners will be ensconced in sky boxes that night instead of down on the field. But another handful or so will be paying even closer attention than usual, and not just to the game, but to the weeklong buildup.

Like co-hosts John Mara of the Giants and Woody Johnson of the Jets, those owners have franchises with outdoor stadiums in cold-weather towns. And if this Super Bowl makes it big in New York, then the reasoning goes that the big game can make it anywhere. Foxborough, Philadelphia, Washington, Nashville, Chicago, Kansas City, Denver – take your pick.

Owners at those sites, and several others, have broached the subject before and especially lately, though none has been required thus far to put any money or resources where his mouth is – and won’t until the bidding process for the 2019 Super Bowl begins late next summer.

After New York, the next three Super Bowls are set for Glendale, Ariz. (2015), Santa Clara, Calif. (2016; the 50th anniversary of the Superpalooza), and Houston (2017). The 2018 field has already been narrowed to Indianapolis, Minneapolis and perennial favorite New Orleans. All three finalists have — or in the case of Minneapolis, will have – a domed stadium. That winner will be announced in May.

By then, serious ownership contenders for 2019 will have begun raising cash from civic, business and community groups and helped formed bid committees. It’s not a small commitment. After winning the 2014 game, in a vote taken at the 2010 NFL owners meetings, the host New York-New Jersey committee raised $70 million to cover the cost of staging the event. Their final bill will have to cover everything from erecting a 60-foot-tall toboggan slide in Times Square to a series of contingency plans on clearing snow and delivering upwards of 80,000 fans to MetLife Stadium on game day.

Other than coming up with the cash and an organizational plan, the bar for entering the Super Bowl lottery is low.

A bid city must have 29,000 hotel rooms within an hour’s drive of the stadium (sorry, Green Bay) and be able to seat upwards of 68,000 fans on game day. It also has to provide two NFL-caliber practice facilities for the teams, buildings large enough to house a media center and the “NFL Experience” – essentially a weeklong fan convention – and range of sponsor and corporate hospitality gatherings. Even towns where the field gets chewed up during the season can confidently bid, since NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league has arranged to bring in an entirely new playing surface for the big game in the past.

“At the end of the day, the considerations are the same as they would be for a game in a warm climate or indoors,” McCarthy added. “What did the product on the field look like? Did the logistics work to the benefit of everybody? How was the fan experience? How did it come across on TV? How were the sponsors treated?

“This is the pinnacle of our game. It’s the one stage that everybody is looking at.”

For handicapping purposes, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder put down the first marker among his cold-weather counterparts during a break in those 2010 meetings. Just before he and fellow owners agreed to waive the so-called “50-degree rule” to pave the way for a successful New York-New Jersey bid — previously, hosting cities required an average temperature of 50 or above during the week of the game – Snyder emerged from a midmorning session and said, “I think Washington should get one, no matter what. It is the nation’s capital.”

More than three years later, Snyder is part of a growing chorus of like-minded owners. But until they assess the final product in New York, all those pledges of support are only conditional.

“Everybody says, ‘What if it snows?’ We’ll take the snow off the field,” Denver owner Pat Bowlen said, “and we’ll play the game. … The championship game should be played around the league. Everybody should have an opportunity to have it.”

“This is where it all started. Right here,” New England owner Robert Kraft said, referring to the region where football first took hold in the United States. “We would love one day to hold it here if it’s a good experience there.”

“I will, yes,” Philadelphia owner Jeff Lurie said about entering a bid back in March. “I will, if it’s a success. New York will help us.”

Meanwhile in Chicago, hewing to its reputation as a deal-making town, the mayor has been lobbying on behalf of the Bears behind closed doors. Rahm Emanuel made his case to Commissioner Roger Goodell last June in a conversation “about several things that would allow Chicago and the NFL to expand their already wonderful relationship,” according to a mayoral spokesman.

Whether any of those cities, or more stealthy contenders like Tennessee, Carolina and Seattle, make it into the final mix remains to be seen. In the 47 Super Bowls spread across 15 different venues so far, no hosting team has ever made it to the big game. But two came close: the then-Los Angeles Rams lost the 1979 game played just down the road at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena; five years later, the 49ers ventured just 30 miles from home to play at Stanford Stadium.

Based strictly on the numbers, the cold-weather franchise most likely to break that curse would be the Patriots. Using the 32-degree benchmark, New England is an NFL-best 23-6 (a winning percentage of 79 percent) in such games.

Among teams with at least 10 games in those conditions, its closest pursuer is Philadelphia (10-4), followed by Cincinnati (11-5), Green Bay (28-13-1) and Chicago (14-7). Five teams – St. Louis, Arizona, San Francisco, New Orleans and Detroit – haven’t won even once in the cold over that same span.

Not that any or all of them wouldn’t welcome the chance to try their luck in 2019.

“If they have it in Alaska, if that’s where they want to play the Super Bowl, I want to get my team there. That’s how I look at it,” Buffalo coach Doug Marrone said.

“. . . either I’m there playing it, or I’m at home feeling pretty . . .” and here Marrone paused to glance at Bills spokesman Scott Berchtold. “Can I say the word I want to say?” he began.

“Lousy?” suggested Berchtold.

“Lousy,” Marrone repeated. “OK.”

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