Supersized Expectations

A sweat-drenched Boomer Esiason stood on the Miami sideline, rehearsing the phrase over and over: “I’m going to Disney World. I’m going to Disney World.” It was the final minutes of Super Bowl XXIII and the Cincinnati Bengals held the lead. Esiason, an East Islip native, quarterbacked the Bengals to the big game in 1988. But as he readied for his postgame TV spot, Joe Montana wrote a different ending.

“And with every new line that I practiced, Joe Montana hit another wide receiver for a big gain down the field,” Esiason recently told Long Island Pulse. “When he finally hit John Taylor for the game-winning touchdown—in the ultimate game and under the ultimate set of circumstances—before I could get the words out of my mouth ‘I’m not going to Disney World,’ the people who were shooting the commercial were running across the field to get Jerry Rice.”

The Super Bowl era (1966-present) has been defined by such big moments in getaway destinations. Brace yourself: Super Bowl XLVIII may prove to be unforgettable, but it won’t be a trip to Disney World. Put away the tanning lotion and grab a parka for the road. New Jersey is hosting the Super Bowl.

We don’t yet know the participants, but the NFL’s first open-air, cold-weather championship in 49 years promises to be a watershed moment for the league. “There are a lot of reasons this could be a landmark event,” said Al Kelly, CEO of the 2014 New York/New Jersey Super Bowl Host Committee. “It’s the first Super Bowl hosted by two teams and by two states, and the first to take place in an open-air venue in a cold-weather city. It’s finally time for the world’s greatest game to be played on the world’s greatest stage.”

There’s just one issue, one as potentially ominous as a Doppler radar screen filled with an ice blue swirl. MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, will be the center of the football universe on a February day that could very well be arctic cold and miserable.

“Only time will tell whether the NFL made a good decision in bringing the Super Bowl here,” said one-time Jets defensive tackle, NFL radio analyst and Long Island businessman Marty Lyons. “The venue of New York—everything it has to offer—is outstanding. Just hope the weather cooperates.”

The romanticized vision of a New York Super Bowl has Alan Ameche diving into the Yankee Stadium end zone from the fog bank of history. His overtime touchdown gave the Baltimore Colts a 23-17 win over the Giants to claim the 1958 NFL Championship. It was called “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” a nationally televised event that launched pro football into the public consciousness.

But the last time the Giants hosted an NFL title game—December 1962, in the Bronx—conditions were so miserable that bonfires were lit to thaw out tv cameras, a strong gust shredded the American flag and a cameraman suffered frostbite.

Welcome back!

“Even though the game is going to be outside, a cold-weather city can actually do a very good job hosting a Super Bowl, as Indianapolis and Detroit have shown,” said Esiason, now a WFAN sports talk host and CBS commentator who has broadcast the last 14 Super Bowls.

The estimated economic impact of a NY/NJ Super Bowl is $550 million.

What that strategy shift truly illustrates is how the Super Bowl has evolved from the game on the field to a behind-the-scenes grab for money, influence and power. New stadiums are the weightiest chips on the table. So much so that one game has been awarded to a still-unfinished stadium in Santa Clara, CA, and another on the shortlist for 2018 has yet to start construction.

Only pharaohs and kings have built on the scale of our current stadiums, 13 have opened since 2000 and brand-new football cathedrals are slated to debut in San Francisco (2014), Minneapolis (2016) and Atlanta (2017). That’s why the game is going to Houston in 2016 and San Francisco in 2017. The 2018 Super Bowl will be awarded in May 2014; the domed-arena finalists are Indianapolis, Minneapolis and New Orleans.

South Florida and New Orleans are easily the league’s preferred destinations, each has played host 10 times. Still, in announcing Super Bowls L-LII this year, the NFL made it clear costly stadium upgrades were needed before the game returned to South Beach. But the necessary funding was not to be had. The Florida legislature derailed a referendum for $289 million in hotel tax increases to fund fixes and the NFL responded in October by not even permitting Miami to bid for the 2018 Super Bowl.

“All these teams invest in new stadiums to have the venue of hosting a Super Bowl,” Lyons said. “The NFL has said, ‘If you’re going to invest in a new stadium, we’ll try to get you a Super Bowl.’” A New York/New Jersey Super Bowl is the ultimate expression of that promise. MetLife Stadium was the priciest sports venue ever built when it opened in 2010 with a price tag of $1.6 billion. In response the NFL is throwing caution to the winter wind to reward its New York power base.

“Obviously the selection of the Super Bowl site is an NFL decision and we feel fortunate they chose to relax the rules and embrace a cold- weather Super Bowl by selecting the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area as hosts for the first,” Kelly said.

“We are excited to have the chance of laying the blueprint for a successful cold-weather Super Bowl, which offers a whole new set of opportunities to the NFL and host communities.”
The Super Bowl is a weeklong flurry of happenings culminating in the main event. It has been co-opted into one big corporate junket. And in that respect, no city is better suited to play host than the Big Apple.

“For the New York/New Jersey Super Bowl, we’ve embraced the opportunity to create plans that are as big, bold and unique as New York City and the surrounding region itself,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said last January.

“While we can only fit 80,000 fans into MetLife Stadium for the game, we look forward to hosting hundreds of thousands of people at different attractions and events during Super Bowl week.” One of those is Super Bowl Boulevard. The NFL intends to turn Broadway between 34-44th streets into a corridor of fan-friendly engagement starting January 29th. A schedule of nightly concerts and daily autograph sessions will be part of the agenda, though specific celebrity appearances have yet to be announced.

While you can party for free along Broadway, don’t expect easy entrée to VIP events or the game itself. Be especially prepared to pay New York premiums for a Super Bowl ticket. The bulk of seats gets allocated to the two teams who advance. But on aftermarket sites such as Stubhub.com, prices are already north of $3,000.

Money fuels the game. Passion keeps it relevant.

Fox, NBC and CBS recently bid a combined $27.5 billion to broadcast NFL games—including rotating coverage of the Super Bowl—over the next nine seasons through 2022.

“If I’m a player now I’m excited about playing in the Super Bowl,” said Lyons, inducted this fall into the Jets Ring of Honor. “It doesn’t matter where it is. It’s a long journey to get one.”
Giants fans have been blessed with four world championships, including two in the last seven seasons. And if you’re looking for a possible preview for this year’s game, Boomer has a blueprint in mind.

“I remember the day Brett Favre was freezing his ass off and somehow Eli Manning pulled a colossal upset in an NFC Championship game that was epic in cold-weather,” Esiason said of the 2007 game won by the Giants in bone-chilling conditions. “And the atmosphere—maybe because it was Lambeau Field—was fantastic.” While Esiason’s Green Bay reference may seem extreme The Old Farmer’s Almanac does predict a winter storm for the northeast to coincide with the Super Bowl.

Bruno Mars will jam at halftime of Super Bowl XLVIII, but it’s unclear whether the Jets or Giants—the host teams—will crash the party this time. No matter. Barring a power outage, which stopped play for 34 minutes last year in New Orleans, only a blizzard could derail the spotlight this time around.

Ultimately, the only people who will care about the weather are the fans in the seats on game day. The real audience, watching $4 million, 30-second commercial spots, will be elsewhere. The 2011 game saw 111 million people tune in, the most-watched tv event in US history.

Weather be damned, players are eyeing something bigger. Take Esiason’s own super journey during his NFL MVP season. That culminated with a victory over the Buffalo Bills for the AFC Championship. “I hopped off the field not even realizing that it was 20 degrees,” Esiason said. “All I kept thinking was the kid from Long Island—who many people didn’t give a chance to make it in college let alone make it to the NFL—was going to the Super Bowl.”

This time we’re all along for the ride.

Bad Weather Games: Frozen in Time

Sloppy fields and snowstorms are part of pro football’s DNA. Where baseball players flee at the hint of rain, NFL games have survived downpours, impenetrable fog and winter at its worst.

So too will the first outdoor, cold-weather Super Bowl to grace the northeast.

A little bad weather has turned some big playoff games into unforgettable classics with monikers like the “Ice Bowl” (1967 NFL Championship game on frozen Lambeau Field), “Mud Bowl” (1982 AFC Championship game in Miami) and “Fog Bowl” (1988 NFC Divisional playoff at Chicago).

Former Jets great Marty Lyons slogged it out in the “Mud Bowl,” a game the Dolphins won 14-0 to advance to the Super Bowl. But those conditions weren’t the most extreme he faced as a pro.

“I remember playing in Denver,” Lyons told Long Island Pulse. “It was so cold I was standing in front of one of those kerosene heaters that throws out heat. You couldn’t feel your toes. The heat felt good, but you couldn’t stay there that long because your shoes were sort of on fire before your toes warmed up. If you’re winning, you don’t feel the cold as much as when you’re losing.”

Freakonomics co-author Stephen J. Dubner said analysis shows NFL dome teams win just 20 percent of the time when playing on the road in cold-weather cities. Warm-weather teams won 37 percent.

The show will go on. But make no mistake, weather matters.

“I don’t care where they play the Super Bowl,” former Super Bowl quarterback Boomer Esiason said. “I tell people it was the greatest experience of my life. Even though we lost with 39 seconds to play and it was a demoralizing defeat—it was like getting a sword pierced through your heart—the football player wants to be a part of the Super Bowl. It is the greatest single accomplishment any of us can aspire to. ”

jason molinet

Jason Molinet spent three years at Patch.com as regional editor and was a reporter at Newsday for a decade. He is a four-time Press Club of Long Island award winner. Molinet celebrates his Cuban heritage, reads Ernest Hemingway and roots for the Miami Heat.