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Eisenberg: Super Bowl Should Be Played Outdoors


Like most people in Maryland, I spent the morning of 2010 Super Bowl Sunday digging out from a 28-inch snowfall. That evening, watching the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts play in balmy South Florida, I was envious of their weather but, peeking outside at the tundra, happy to be indoors. If the game had been played in the snow-blanketed northeast, instead of in tropical Florida, the teams might have had to send out search parties for receivers who ran fly routes, got lost and didn't make it back to the huddle.

The National Football League has made sure the Super Bowl never disintegrated into such a farce, always playing its ultimate game either at warm-weather sites or in climate-controlled domes, the idea being to let the teams, not the weather, decide who wins, while also turning the event into an attractive vacation destination for fans and corporate partners. Given the Super Bowl's staggering growth since its inception in 1967, you can't dispute that the concept has worked.

But now the league is contemplating playing the game at a cold-weather site in a stadium without a roof, leaving open the possibility of the title being decided by frozen players on a frozen field. I'm all for it.

The New York Giants and New York Jets are moving into a $1.7 billion open-air stadium later this year, and the league has recently awarded Super Bowls to other teams, such as the Cowboys, Cardinals, Colts, and Lions, that have built similar football temples. Naturally, it wants to do the same for the teams in the country's biggest market. It wants to do this so badly, in fact, that it granted a one-time waiver of its 50-degree minimum requirement for any outdoor Super Bowl bid, allowing the Giants and Jets to seek to host the 2014 game. Miami, Tampa and Glendale, Arizona, are also in the running, with a decision due in May.

The league usually just lets such elections play out naturally, but NFL commissioner Roger Goodell clearly wants the game to go to New York. "I think there are real benefits to the league considering this as an option," Goodell said at the Super Bowl earlier this month. "I think the idea of playing in the elements is central to the way the game of football is played."

I couldn't agree more. Domes are great, but football is at its best when it is played outdoors, in the elements. Some of the greatest games in NFL history have taken place in brutal weather – the Ice Bowl, the Brady tuck game, etc. The conditions were just another factor to deal with, another test of championship mettle. No one put an asterisk by the winner.

Playing Super Bowls strictly inside and in warm weather has been fine, but it also has made the in-stadium environment somewhat bland. I don't know that the game should be played in the cold every year, but it's good to mix in a different backdrop, especially this real-life "throwback." (I keep thinking of my uncle the lifelong Vikings fan who went to every game until the team moved into a dome, whereupon he sold his season tickets, bored.)

Of course, in a league known for seeking to control as much as it can, some people inevitably are opposed. "There are a lot of people who think we should be in a warm climate all the time," Steelers owner Dan Rooney said.

But others think it is time to take a chance, and I wholeheartedly agree. What is the worst that could happen? Well, I guess we just experienced it. The worst is a blizzard that paralyzes the game. But the odds of that are smaller than the odds of the weather just being cold, dank and possibly a little snowy on a February night in New Jersey – maybe not ideal for corporate fat cats, but ideal for football.

It will be interesting to see if the league gets cold feet, no pun intended, but with the New York teams angling hard, I expect them to get the bid. Four years from now, fans in the northeast might be digging out on Super Bowl Sunday, getting in their cars and driving to the game instead of watching it in their warm dens that night. The possibility makes me smile, but doesn't it sound like fun?

John Eisenberg worked in the newspaper business for 28 years as a sports columnist, with much of that time coming at the Baltimore Sun. While working for the Sun, Eisenberg spent time covering the Ravens, among other teams and events, including the Super Bowl, Final Four, World Series and Olympics. Eisenberg is also the author of seven sports-themed books.

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