The Case For an Awesome, Old-School, Cold-Weather Super Bowl

Yes, icy conditions could put some of this year's festivities in jeopardy—but they could also strip the game down to its gutsiest, sloppiest, most gloriously determination-testing form.
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Following a snow storm, crews at MetLife Stadium remove snow ahead of Super Bowl XLVIII on Wednesday. (Julio Cortez / AP)

It would seem, at first glance, that the NFL has done something "asinine" in its planning for Super Bowl XLVIII. For the first time ever, the game will be played in a cold-weather city, in an open-air venue—MetLife stadium in the Meadowlands—and by putting the Super Bowl in the New York-New Jersey metro, some say, the league may have turned their biggest event into the world's biggest mess.

Last year's Super Bowl MVP, Joe Flacco, called the decision stupid. Terry Bradshaw hates the idea. Columnists from CBS and ESPN have objected as well. But while bad weather would be a nightmare for people traveling to the game, and while it might make for a nasty afternoon inside the stadium, a Super Bowl in bad weather would be a delight for everyone else—a gloriously gritty, sloppy spectacle of old-school football.

There are, of course, valid reasons why the Super Bowl is traditionally played in places like Miami and San Diego. The game is a week-long party, and nobody wants to party in the cold. Super Bowl XLV, held in Dallas, proved that: A freak snowstorm hit North Texas, and the city was paralyzed. Half of the NFL's bevy of luncheons, golf outings, and autograph sessions were canceled. Yet the weather had no impact on the game itself, because AT&T Stadium is domed. Indianapolis, host the following year, was even worse. Again, though, Lucas Oil Stadium is domed, so the game itself was played in climate-controlled conditions. Ditto for last year's title tilt in New Orleans. 

MetLife Stadium, however, is roofless, meaning fans and players alike are in for a chilly afternoon at best, or possibly a blizzard. Any Super Bowl is a transit challenge, but bad weather could turn the tri-state's already overtaxed transit system into a gridlock festival. Sure, the league has preparations in place. According to the Star-Ledger, the New Jersey Department of Transportation has lined up 821 snow trucks and plows, 60,000 tons of salt and 440 spreaders, with a crew of 1,600 workers. The league says they have 30 front-end loaders, 12 haul trucks and six plows to work the Meadowlands' parking lots should it snow on Super Bowl weekend. None of that, however, will help freezing fans, many of whom will have paid a small fortune to shiver in their seats.

But so what? The crowd at a Super Bowl is different from that at any other NFL game. Devoted fans go to home games. The Super Bowl, by contrast, is attended by celebrities, rich people, and contest winners—some of them less concerned with the action on the field than the sheer fact of making the scene (think Cameron Diaz feeding A-Rod popcorn in their luxury box). A frigid Super Bowl could mean more room for diehard fans of Seattle and Denver. That, in turn, could mean a more electric atmosphere.

Additionally, the Super Bowl is a TV event as much as it’s a live sporting event—so while blizzard conditions would certainly make life inside the stadium miserable, it would be a slipping, sliding delight for those cozy at home. Bitter winds or snow would ground the high-flying, pass-happy brand of ball the NFL loves. Fans would get run-heavy, smash-mouth football—exactly the sort of grind-it-out game the NFL has all but eradicated with its measures (like new rules to protect the quarterback and prevent defensive backs from making downfield contact) to help offenses to score more. 

Okay, we won't get lots of long bombs. More passes will be dropped. Fumbles will be an issue. Even the snap could be problematic. But what game lacks in beauty it could make up for in bumbling, stumbling excitement.

Bad conditions, after all, tend to make for memorable football. Think of Leon Lett on Thanksgiving, or the Patriots' famed “Snow Plow” game. Or think of arguably the most famous game in NFL history, the Ice Bowl. A snowy Super Bowl could turn out to be one for the ages.

Superficially, at least, bad weather favors the Seahawks. Denver's rushing attack is average. Their defense is slightly below the mean, ranked 22nd in points and ninth in yards allowed. The Broncos win mostly because of Peyton Manning's monumentally accurate arm, and he's famously less accurate in cold weather. When the temperature is freezing or below at kickoff, Manning's career record is 4-7. His completion percentage is roughly 5 percent lower than his career rate, and his passing yardage drops by close to 50 yards per game. The Seahawks, on the other hand, win with the league's best defense, a bruising running game featuring Marshawn Lynch, and a quarterback in Russell Wilson who isn't afraid to tuck and run.

Coaching will be at a premium. The best-prepared teams—especially on the defensive side of the ball—will have a distinct advantage. But most important guys on the field may be equipment managers, as having the right cleats and warming gear will make all the difference.

And that would be the beauty of it. There is, after all, no such thing as “perfect” football weather. Unlike any other major sport, football is meant to be played in absolutely any conditions; cold, heat, rain and mud—whatever cruelty nature can dish out. Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Red Smith proclaimed just how integral a part of football cold weather was when he wrote, “It was an ideal day for football—too cold for the spectators and too cold for the players.”

So, sure, maybe Super Bowl week in New York won't have the sun and fun of warmer climes. Maybe getting to the game will be a mess, and the glitterati fans will be miserable. Big deal. Let the celebrities shiver and the (literally) fair-weather fans stay home. And let the team that adapts the best to nasty conditions win ugly. That, after all, is what football is supposed to be about.

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Hampton Stevens is a writer based in Kansas City, Missouri. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, ESPN the Magazine, Playboy, Gawker, Maxim, and many more publications.

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