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Thursday, May 20, 2010
Debating New York's 2014 Super Bowl bid

By Tim Graham and John Clayton

Meadowlands
The idea of a Super Bowl in the Meadowlands will be a hot topic of discussion next week.
Next Tuesday in Dallas, NFL owners will assemble for their annual spring meeting and consider having the 2014 Super Bowl in the open air and freezing cold of New York/New Jersey.

Although Tampa and South Florida are competing against New York, offering warmer climates and positive experiences from past Super Bowls, the New York bid is the favorite. A Super Bowl in the new Meadowlands stadium that opens for the New York Giants and New York Jets this fall could help market unsold premium seats. Former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle preferred warm-weather, neutral sites for the league's showcase event, but usually once a decade the league would steer a Super Bowl to a northern, cold-weather city with a domed stadium.

The thought of an open-air Super Bowl in February near Manhattan will be a hot topic next week. But should this bid receive such a warm reception? ESPN.com's John Clayton and Tim Graham debate the notion.

John Clayton: While we can get into the football problems of this bid in a bit, let's be blunt about two things. First, it's a bad idea.

Second, it's going to happen because a Super Bowl in New York would help with the economics of this new stadium. It's big business. When the choice is between cold, hard cash and being out in the cold, the cold-hard-cash side wins.

Where this idea leaves me chilled is how it affects the fans. I remember being at the NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field a couple years ago, when the temperatures were below zero and the wind chill at times got to 30-below. I did a stand-up for television and almost got frostbite. The conditions were so cold that fans who bought two beers at a time and brought them to their seats had one beer frozen before they could take the first two sips of the beer in hand. I still remember how red Tom Coughlin's face was from being out in the freezing cold for three hours. And that was in January.

A conference championship game in the cold is acceptable because the home fans are used to the conditions. Imagine some San Diego fan flying east to see a Chargers Super Bowl in 2014, paying more than $1,000 a ticket and needing to spend more on warm clothing? That brings chills down my spine.

Tim Graham: Without a doubt, John, this is about rewarding teams that are able to get stunning new arenas built. Some $1.6 billion was spent to erect the new Meadowlands stadium, and the NFL knows the only way to encourage all of its franchises to pursue new stadiums or significant upgrades is to ramp up competition for Super Bowl bids.

You may view that as a carrot that should be jammed in the middle of Frosty's white, powdery face, but the game isn't about the 82,500 people who will be sitting in the elements. More than 106 million people watched the last Super Bowl and would have whether it was played in a dome, in the desert or on the International Space Station.

Even so, one of the competing bidders for the 2014 Super Bowl is South Florida. Miami Dolphins CEO Mike Dee admitted to me at the NFL owners meetings a couple of months back that the new Meadowlands stadium "is a state-of-the-art, beautiful, world-class facility. While it's an outdoor facility, it has a lot of interior club spaces and entertainment spaces for people to mill around. So it's not your conventional outdoor, northern facility." There are plans to heat the concourses and -- just in case -- to provide seat and hand warmers to everyone.

But I'm not too concerned with the fans who would attend the game.

Scant few of those lucky enough to afford the tickets or merely have access to them will care. Most go to the Super Bowl to witness an event. A Super Bowl in the New York area would qualify as a blockbuster.

JC: I'd rather refer to it as an "ice-blockbuster.'' But is a Super Bowl a three-hour event or a two-week celebration? One of the things Rozelle mandated in coming up with the Super Bowl was a level playing field for both teams. By level playing field, he meant having a warm-weather site that gave both teams a chance to succeed. For the fans, he wanted a quality event.

I'm sure he never fully envisioned how successful it would be as a corporate entity. The reason the Super Bowl isn't played a week after the championship game is because the league wants to give fans a full chance to get to the Super Bowl city, enjoy the festivities and have a memorable experience. If the Super Bowl is given to New York, I contend a lot of the high rollers will be in Tampa or South Florida, holding golf events during Super Bowl week and watching the game on television. We saw that at the Minnesota Super Bowl and the two in Detroit.

What if there is a big snowfall in the 2014 Super Bowl? To have this game qualify as a blockbuster, you might have to hire the "Ice Road Trucker" guys to get fans to the stadium.

TG: Now hold on a moment. Before you start breaking out Sir Ernest Shackleton references, the weather hasn't been that bad in New York.

The 2014 Super Bowl likely will be played Feb. 2. The Newark Star-Ledger listed the high and low temperatures for the past five years, and it has gotten above 45 three times and has gotten more than 1 degree below freezing once. So we're not talking arctic conditions here.

A level playing field is relative. Back in Rozelle's day, we didn't have a fraction of the technology that's used to maintain these amazing synthetic fields. We're not going to have a reprise of the 1975 Raiders-Steelers AFC Championship Game, where the field was a sheet of ice. And warmer locales aren't immune to weather problems. There was a downpour in South Florida three years ago.

As for the idea there won't be as much to do as in South Florida, Arizona or another warm destination, are you telling me there's no activity in New York? In addition to the usual array of diversions in the Big Apple, organizers plan to hold events at places such as Ellis Island, Liberty State Park and the Museum of Natural History.

Here's what Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank said about the possibility of a Super Bowl in the Big Apple:

"You have to ask yourself, are people going to come for three or four or five days and deal with the elements? Are people prepared to come to New York and deal with cold weather? Without a Super Bowl, they do it now."

JC: Let's put things in perspective here. You made the decision to leave the warmth of South Florida in the past year to be embraced by the chill of Buffalo. You wanted to wear the heavy coat, gloves and snow boots. As you know, I'm a Pittsburgh guy who lives in Seattle, but I don't miss the snow. But let's move from the Weather Channel debate to the football field.

You would have to concede the on-field product for this game will be different in an outdoor venue in the East in February. More and more, the NFL is becoming a quarterback-driven league that excites its fans with passing offenses more than running offenses. You cover an AFC East that has two pure running teams -- the Jets and Dolphins -- who combined for 16 wins last season. I know the Jets made the AFC Championship Game, but the league is set up to reward passers, not runners. Peyton Manning beat the run-driven Dolphins even though he had the ball for only 15 minutes last season.

A Super Bowl in the cold would neutralize the passers, which would go against the trends in this league. About the only thing you can say definitively about having a cold-weather Super Bowl in New York is that Brett Favre won't have any part of it. He may decide to retire and unretire for a few more years, but he would never sign on for a season that ends in a New York open-air Super Bowl.

TG: I won't dispute the NFL is a quarterback-driven league and cold weather has a tendency to neutralize a pass attack. But if sterile conditions are so important to deciding a champion, then why aren't the games that determine who reaches the Super Bowl controlled?

If the 2007 NFC Championship Game isn't played in a minus-23 wind chill, maybe the Giants don't win in overtime and then ruin the New England Patriots' perfect season. The road to the Super Bowl has gone through Gillette Stadium and Heinz Field a few times over the past decade. Unless every playoff game is moved to a dome, weather can impact the tournament and, therefore, who wins it.

And let's not forget wintry elements have created some of the greatest memories in NFL history. The Ice Bowl in Green Bay, the Tuck Rule at Gillette, the Freezer Bowl in Cincinnati, the 1948 title game in a Philadelphia blizzard, the Sneaker Game at a frozen Polo Grounds. In baseball, the players skedaddle when it rains. But football players are supposed to slog through any conditions shy of lightning strikes.

The game is supposed to be played outside and in the elements. The Super Bowl can handle it.

JC: Now you are using the Brian Cushing defense by questioning every thing and every rule. Sure, the Super Bowl can handle a cold-weather game, but why should it? Obviously, it's the money, and that's why this vote is going to pass in favor of New York.

When it comes to Super Bowls, the games should be the memories, not the weather conditions. The best memories are the fourth-quarter comebacks. It's Joe Montana getting that last drive against Cincinnati. It's Tom Brady coming back and getting the game-winning, field goal drive against St. Louis. It's Eli Manning beating Brady with a late drive.

It's not Tim Graham jumping on a snow-blowing machine and doing spins. I give you your New York Super Bowl next Tuesday. Bundle up, big guy.

TG: I can guarantee the public overwhelmingly would prefer to watch me drive figure eights on a Zamboni than see you strolling South Beach in your shorts.

Sorry to bring up that mental picture when you conjured some dramatic Super Bowl imagery. Those sure were some fine moments, but you also have 44 years' worth of climate-controlled Super Bowls to draw on.

Who's to say similarly phenomenal memories wouldn't have taken place in the open air of a Northeast winter?