Howard: Getting chills thinking of Super Bowl

It was a tear-provoking, eyelid-welding 4 degrees in New York City on Tuesday, less than four weeks away from the first Super Bowl that has the disaster potential to match the title game Detroit hosted in 1982 when all those buses went careening off I-75 in the ice and snow.

But what kind of crank NFL fan would point that out now, especially amid all the revved-up propaganda about how New York/New Jersey is just busting to host the game, and the NFL is even throwing up a tobogganing run in Times Square to embrace the wacky lunacy of deciding the NFL title here on Feb. 2?

Cutting-edge fans such as me, that’s who. We could have saved the NFL some trouble. Because I am precisely the sort of wimp sports fan the NFL is worried about now, and I am not afraid to say it loud, say it proud.

When the temperature dips below 32 degrees, I am even worse than Peyton Manning.


And as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell long ago admitted in his many pubic musings about the dimming attractiveness of the “in-game stadium experience,” I am hardly alone.

When Goodell spoke at the 92nd Street Y in New York City this week on the same day the Polar Vortex gripped the area, he predictably faced flurries of what-if? weather questions that, deep down, must have been about as enjoyable for him as having to swim the Hudson River in an NFL-licensed fleece onesie to affirm the spin-doctor lengths he’ll go to gild The Shield. (Did I mention great portions of the Hudson were covered in parking lot-size sheets of floating ice this week?)

But there was Goodell on stage, bravely sticking out his granite jaw and actually tempting fate — ba ha haha ha ha! — by saying he’d prefer “a little snow” for Super Bowl XLVIII. This even though he later admitted he expects this to be the last outdoorsy, cold-weather Super Bowl the league has for a while.

Even before the nation was swept by the advent of 80-inch flat screen TVs or the health-nut craze of stuffing your face with gluten-free crackers and cheese at home rather than stadium nachos, I had committed to a pretty good and sheltered, sports-fan life. Except for a cameo at a Steelers game in which my mother, the Catholic school teacher, was tailgating with my sister’s usual crowd and did her first Jell-O shot — when I asked, “Mom, are you cold?” she blinked and said, “Why, not at all, honey!” — the last time I froze in a football stadium was as a college freshman at Pitt-Penn State way back in 1977.

I remember everything about that awful, late-November day. Two friends and I trudged up Cardiac Hill and sat in the bleachers at old Pitt Stadium to the bitter end as the snow just kept coming down. Pitt’s Elliott Walker tried to run in for a two-point conversion on the last play of the game, and the refs literally had to clear the goal line of snow before controversially deciding he hadn’t tied the score at 15. And Pitt coach Jackie Sherrill wasn’t the only one who was chapped.

My red and swollen feet literally didn’t thaw out till very late that night. My hands stung as if they’d been stuck with 1,000 needles. Nello, the frat kid who always got too drunk while tailgating before the game and reliably threw up in the stands by the second quarter — did what he usually did, right on time.

I vividly remember thinking, “Never again. It is lunacy to sit out here for four hours, no matter how much I love football.” And the same could be true when Super Bowl XLVIII is played in New Jersey.

I imagine many NFL high rollers at the game sending stand-ins to fill their empty outdoor seats, much like they do at the Oscars, while they’re off eating $84 shrimp cocktails in their luxury suites. I imagine what fans do remain in the stands will be clapping with their mittens and making a muted sound akin to the beating wings of a thousand pigeons taking off in Washington Square. I foresee another wise guy in the press box posting a pregame photo on Twitter like this one that was taken of the non-existent tailgating scene last weekend in Green Bay, a place long heralded as the home of the toughest fans alive.

Tailgating update at 11:40 CT…

— Kevin Seifert (@SeifertESPN) January 5, 2014

It’s fair to ask if those days are nearly over.

It did not go unnoticed that three cold-weather playoff games — even Green Bay’s — were slow to sell out last week.

But the NFL had no choice but to hold those games there.

As The Daily Beast has accurately pointed out, the reason Super Bowl XLVIII was awarded to New York/New Jersey traces not so much to the NFL’s desire for every fan to experience the Carnegie Deli at least once in his or her life. It hews to the NFL’s long and transparent history of awarding the game to places that have built new stadiums with municipal funding, which the Giants and Jets did with their shared stadium.

The NFL likes to boast the Super Bowl XLVIII will pump an estimated $550 million or more into the local economy (or about the same as the Knicks’ bon vivant J.R. Smith spends on Cristal champagne at Jay-Z’s 40/40 club some nights. Especially if Rihanna is in the house). But The New York Times has reported that some economists have seriously challenged such projections for years, and last month, New York hoteliers were complaining Super Bowl reservations were lagging behind expectations.

Even the whole idea of New York and New Jersey joyfully collaborating on anything, even this big game, is — how can I say this nicely? — a big, fat fabrication.

A shotgun wedding is what it is.

Perhaps people in other cities didn’t hear about the time New Yorkers noticed a sour smell of rotten eggs wafting across the Hudson River in 2007, which even city officials naturally blamed on New Jersey. Just because, you know, it’s Jersey. Perhaps outsiders forget how Jersey Gov. Chris Christie boycotted the 2011 New York Giants‘ ticker tape parade down Manhattan’s Canyon of Heroes, saying he instead preferred to attend the other ceremony that was held later that afternoon in not-nearly-as-charming MetLife Stadium.

New Yorkers and New Jerseyians are always bellowing, “Love you! Love you not!” at one another.

I hope I will be wrong about all of this. Instead of the Polar Vortex, maybe we’ll all be talking about global warming if the game is played in one of those scary 70-degree winter days we also get around here that almost make you wonder if the nearby Indian Point nuclear plant just went kaboom. Perhaps the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick will only add to the legend that made him the tough-guy star of this “Sleeveless Wonder” chart the Wall Street Journal slyly put together last week that listed what quarterbacks wore in the five coldest games of the past 10 years.

But I doubt it.

At least Goodell is clear about the boom-bust scenario that this Super Bowl poses for him and the league. If cold and snow and sleet indeed do arrive on game day, if the receivers slide around the field as if they’re wearing ice skates and running backs skid an extra four yards when they’re tackled, if the ball thuds off players’ hands like a curling stone and Peyton irritably admits in his postgame press conference that yes, it certainly is hard to bark out 6,000 audibles before each play while wearing a ski mask that made him look like a Mexican Lucha Libre wrestler, well….Goodell knows what awaits him. No one will blame it on Jersey this time.

“If it goes well, the owners did it,” Goodell said at the 92nd Street Y. “If it goes poorly, I did it.”

And wimps everywhere — wimps like me — will get to say, “I told you so.”

  • Columnist, ESPN and ESPNNewYork
  • Formerly at Sports Illustrated, The Washington Post
  • Author of “The Rivals”

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