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They call it the Vince Lombardi Trophy for a reason. As the NFL's most iconic figure, a titan of the tundra whose breath is frozen in time, the coach of the Green Bay Packers earned his link to the biggest game in sports.So before league owners did the right thing and awarded New York the 2014 Super Bowl, the name on the trophy delivered the deciding vote. "My father would've been all for it," Vince Lombardi Jr. confirmed by phone. A proud son of Brooklyn and a proud resident of New Jersey, Vince Lombardi Sr. would've been proud of the league he helped define. The Super Bowl bid backed by the Giants and Jets defeated those of South Florida and Tampa, and the likely reaction from Lombardi -- he of the classic "What the hell's going on out here?" sound bite -- would've gone like this:
It's about damn time."My father and mother had real soft spots in their hearts for the New York metropolitan area; it was home to them," said Vince Lombardi Jr., a 68-year-old motivational speaker whose son, Joe, is quarterbacks coach of the defending champion New Orleans Saints. "And my father would certainly say: 'Hey, you play the game in all kinds of weather. You get up in the morning and play the game whether it's 100 degrees or 13 below.'" Chances are it won't be that hot or cold around the new Meadowlands Stadium in February 2014, when the right matchup in Super Bowl XLVIII could make another Yankees-Mets World Series feel about as small as a rosin bag. But this isn't about the fates delivering the Giants and Jets to the big game at the right time, making for an apocalyptic event. It's about finally putting the Super Bowl in the country's most important and electric marketplace, and honoring the sport's roots along the way.
|Lombardi, with Frank Gifford, was an assistant coach for the Giants in the 1950s.|
With New York the big winner at the polls in Dallas, this remained the best question to ask all league elders:What in the world took so long? How could Miami get 10 Super Bowls before New York got one? How could Tampa get four before New York got one? How could the likes of Detroit, Pontiac, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Jacksonville, Glendale and Indianapolis all land the Super Bowl before someone decided it wouldn't be a bad idea to upgrade the only national holiday in sports from off-Broadway to, you know, Broadway? Bad weather wasn't a good reason to keep the Super Bowl out of the New York metropolitan area, never mind the possibility of bad weather. From the pee-wee leagues through the NFL's epic title games, challenging conditions have long been part of the sport's fabric, part of its human appeal. "There have been some great games played in bad weather," Vince Lombardi Jr. said. He was standing next to his father for two of them. Everyone quickly summons the Arctic images of the 1967 Ice Bowl at Lambeau Field, where Green Bay beat Dallas on Jerry Kramer's block. But five years earlier, in the last title game staged in New York, the Packers beat the Giants in Yankee Stadium conditions unfit for a polar bear. The game-time temperature was 13 degrees, the winds were gusting up to 40 miles per hour, and the wind chill was measured at minus-11. "Those conditions were worse than the Ice Bowl, and a lot of players would agree," said Vince Jr., who's based in Tucson, Ariz. "The Lambeau turf was hard, but in Yankee Stadium it was brutal. You had little chips of ice that cut you and made you bleed when you fell. The Yankee Stadium benches blew over and onto the field at halftime." The Packers won the manhood challenge, just as they always did. Through his famous gap-toothed smile, Green Bay's coach captured the triumph in a way only he could. "I think it was about as fine a football game as I've ever seen," Lombardi said. "I think we saw football as it should be played." No, this isn't Ray Nitschke's or Sam Huff's NFL anymore. Football is a raging corporate monster, and normally its Super Bowl interests are best served in party-time climates. The NFL wants winter-weary big spenders to fly into town with their golf clubs and enjoy the birdies, beers and bimbos. Only New York is worth the one-time exception. For one, the Giants and the Mara family have meant a ton to the league. For two, the island of Manhattan is the ultimate built-in NFL experience for the ticket-holding tourist. "It's an ideal location," said Harry Carson, a Giants Hall of Fame linebacker. "It doesn't get bone-chilling cold here like it does in Green Bay, and the NFL was built on bad-weather games, anyway.
|Lombardi earned fame as one of Fordham's "Seven Blocks of Granite" in the 1930s.|
"I was on the sideline for the Giants-Packers NFC Championship Game at Lambeau [in January 2008], and it was one of the most exciting games I'd seen. It was the coldest weather I've ever been in, and no fans there were complaining about it."Of course, those Green Bay fans were used to the deep freeze. The people who argued against any outdoor Super Bowl being played in a cold climate loved bringing that up. But a fan buying a ticket to the big game in 2014 will make the up-front choice that the possibility for inclement weather is worth the one and only shot to see a Super Bowl in New York. That fan will understand that Super Bowl XLVIII almost certainly won't be a worthy sequel to the Ice Bowl, or the Freezer Bowl, or any other Bowl that left hulking men in pads to quiver like lost and lonely boys. That fan will understand the game-time temperature will likely be around 38 degrees, with a chance of precipitation, and with the possibility of snow turning the New York Super Bowl into the most entertaining spectacle of them all. Even Joe Willie Namath can't guarantee the weather on Feb. 2, 2014, when it could be 53 degrees in East Rutherford. Eli Manning might remind you that his big brother once played a Super Bowl in Miami in the pouring rain. Yes, Vince Lombardi Jr. did point out that a warm-weather team like Miami would be at a disadvantage if playing a cold-weather team in the Meadowlands. But as his father would've surely countered, what about all the cold-weather teams that have been at a disadvantage playing Super Bowls against warm-weather foes at warm-weather sites? "My father did believe in mental toughness and playing through things," Vince Jr. said. "He certainly would've been for New York on this one." So let's face it: If a New York Super Bowl is good enough for Vince Lombardi, it should be good enough for everyone.
Ian O'Connor is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.
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