"The weather's going to be a problem. They made a big mistake. The game shouldn't be there. I mean, it's stupid."
That's what Mike Ditka was quoted as saying to the Detroit Free Press on January 27.
With all due respect to "Da Coach," what he said couldn't be further from the truth.
The winter weather of the New York metropolitan area has been a major source of controversy ever since MetLife Stadium was awarded Super Bowl XLVIII in 2010. The clamor was raised to a fever pitch when the Farmer's Almanac "red flagged" the first week of February for a severe winter storm in August.
Ditka is one of the latest in a long line of people that have been criticizing the decision to hold the game in an open-air stadium in a cold-weather city. Let's let Ditka explain his reasoning a bit more:
I’m just saying, if you get extreme cold or you get snow during the game, then it’s unfair to the fans, to the players, to everybody,” Ditka said. “You’re not going to be able to perform at near the level you’re used to. And the element of luck comes into it, and it shouldn’t happen in that game. That game should be based on the people on the field who make the plays.
Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I must flat-out disagree. The argument about the level of play is really a moot point. This is the NFL. EVERY player is playing at a top level, no matter what the weather. If a player can't compensate for cold conditions, he shouldn't be playing in this league.
As for luck, that would be just as important an element indoors at the Superdome or in the balmy climes of Miami or Tampa Bay. Luck was with the 49ers when the lights went out in New Orleans last year. Luck was with the Giants in Super Bowl in Super Bowl XLII when Mike Carey swallowed his whistle rather than calling Eli Manning in the grasp in the backfield—and then Manning's pass somehow stuck to David Tyree's helmet.
It's disappointing that Ditka would so willingly abjure the kind of football that made him famous. Cold-weather football has been the staple of the game for years. Until the advent of the Super Bowl, the champions of the NFL's Western and Eastern Conferences would trade off hosting the NFL championship game. From 1933 until the last pre-Super Bowl title game in 1965, the only "warm weather" city that hosted the contest was Los Angeles. New York hosted it eight times, Chicago six and Cleveland five.
Some of those games were absolute classics. The 1958 title game at Yankee Stadium between the Giants and Colts—played on December 28—has received the honorific of Greatest Game Ever Played. In 1953 the Lions beat the Browns by a single point.\
For those who worry about offenses being cancelled out, I recommend you take a look at the 1960 title game between Philadelphia and Green Bay. The game took place the day after Christmas, and the game-time temperature of 48 degrees thawed out a frozen Franklin Field, making for slippery conditions for both sides. The final score of 17-13 Eagles belies just how well the offenses played that day—they combined for 697 yards in that slop.
We need to stop looking at the potential bad the cold weather in the Meadowlands might cause and look towards the good. Cold weather has provided some of the most memorable contests in the history of the league. Besides the Greatest Game Ever Played, games like the Ice Bowl, the Snow Bowl and the Snow Plow Game still echo in the league's memory.
In his regular column for TheMMQB.com a few weeks ago, Seahawks corner Richard Sherman criticized the placement of the Super Bowl in a cold weather city. A few weeks before knowing he'd be playing in the game himself, Sherman used the Week 14 game between the Eagles and Lions—which was played in a driving snowstorm that saw eight inches of powder accumulate on the field—to try to prove his point. His conclusion: "It wasn't much to watch."
The numbers say the TV-watching public would disagree. Sports Media Watch reported the rating for the 1 PM regional slot for FOX—which showed the snowy contest at the Linc in 69% of markets nationwide—pulled in a 11.8 overnight rating. That makes for a four percent increase over the same time slot from Week 14 of the 2012 season. Clearly the elements had some part in drawing the viewers in.
Likewise, the highest ratings out of the four Wild Card playoff games this year—and incidentally the highest rating for a wild card game ever—was the frigid affair between the 49ers and Packers at Lambeau Field, which pulled in a 27.7 rating and a 44 percent share. TV viewers found the cold weather game compelling, even if the folks in Green Bay may have been slightly uncomfortable.
This brings up another point many people use to denounce the cold-weather Super Bowl—the experience of the fans in the stadium. Yes, there will be more than 82,000 fans who will have to put on a few extra layers to watch the game in person, but the fact of the matter is that the Super Bowl has long been a made-for-TV event. There are seemingly more TV cameras for the halftime show than there are for the game itself. The power of the Super Bowl commercial has grown to the point where companies have begun producing commercials for the commercials.
Does the cold weather sometimes take the air out of the football? Yes. When that happens, the result is usually a game of bone-crushing physicality that takes the game back to its roots. The modern fan loves a shootout between two elite quarterbacks, but something about physical games like the one we saw two weeks ago in the NFC Championship Game strikes a primal nerve in people that can be traced back to the ancient gladiatorial games of the Roman empire. At an instinctual level it's what we want to see—and the numbers seem to bear that out.
The last time an NFL title game was played in this area was in 1962. The Giants and Packers battled each other at Yankee Stadium in frigid conditions. The temperature dipped as low as 13 degrees before factoring the wind. The teams huddled on their sidelines in capes and warmed themselves next to open fires in metal trash cans. Only 23 points were scored that day.
After Green Bay won the game 16-7, Vince Lombardi—who had made his name as the coach of a high-powered offense—gave a quote that has lasted the test of time. "I think it was about as fine a football game as I have ever seen," said the man the NFL would name their trophy after. "I think we saw football as it should be played."
This Super Bowl will easily break the record for coldest ever. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. Maybe, just maybe, the Meadowlands will give us the conditions to again see the game as it should be played, 52 years after our area last showed it to us.