NFL: Super Bowl hits the Big Chill

By Oliver Brown in New York

The Old Farmer's Almanac, that indispensable US bible for everything from full moons to the optimum planting date for a carrot, forecast last autumn that a gigantic storm would strike New York at the approximate point of, well, now.

As it transpired, the polar vortex - or "Snow-pocalypse", to use Weather Channel-speak - materialised early to leave Manhattan in its numbing Siberian grip. The city's maiden Super Bowl can forge ahead this weekend without the need for sled-pulling huskies, even if the night-time temperatures are enough to make the polar bear atop the Glacier Mint blanch.

Each journalist at the 48th Super Bowl is being issued with gloves and the none-too-subtle suggestion that, come Sunday, the MetLife Stadium will be reimagined as a multi-storey igloo. We seem certain to surpass the game's record low of 4F (-15.5C), registered in New Orleans in 1972 - not as cold, admittedly, as the "Ice Bowl" of 1967, when Green Bay and Dallas staged a conference play-off in a blizzard so bitter that the marching bands' instruments froze, but sufficiently frigid to ask why the National Football League would bring sport's gaudiest showpiece to a region hardly renowned for its balmy Januarys.

Quarterback Joe Flacco, who propelled the Baltimore Ravens to a second Super Bowl 12 months ago, describes the idea as "stupid". Terry Bradshaw, formerly of the Pittsburgh Steelers and one of only two men to have won four, argues: "I don't think you should be putting Super Bowls in northern cities in wintertime."

Harsh conditions supposedly confer an unreasonable advantage upon teams with a strong running game, although it is refreshing to discover that the protagonists themselves harbour few such petty qualms. As Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas puts it, ahead of the collision with Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos: "Little kids love to play in the mud and the snow. That's just how I am. I don't care."

For the notion that the Super Bowl should be permanently planted amid the palms of south Florida appears at odds with gridiron's essential ethos - namely, to celebrate grunt and testosterone, whatever the weather. Those who would seek to deny New York as hosts forget that the finest NFL games tend to coincide with Mother Nature's more capricious moods.

Take this season alone, when the San Francisco 49ers prevailed in the teeth of a hyperborean Wisconsin wind chill, while the Detroit Lions fell to Philadelphia despite 15cm of snow producing a virtual "white-out". Such are the vicissitudes of a sport which, honouring its code of machismo, would in all likelihood endure through a third Ice Age.

Brazen PR stunt it may be, but Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, has promised to swap the corporate-box heating to sit outdoors with the punters. On a salary of US$33 million, he recognises that a Super Bowl in the world's greatest metropolis is a marketing goldmine that should have been explored long ago.

A 30-second spot in the ad breaks will cost an unprecedented US$5 million, while a quick walk around Midtown uncovers more overt expressions of the occasion's lustre. On the Hudson River, a Norwegian cruise ship is masquerading for the week as the "Bud Light Hotel". "Super Bowl Boulevard" on Broadway contains a 180ft-long toboggan run.

It is all giddily over the top, naturally, but there is also a subtext of touching munificence here. The original notion of taking the Super Bowl to New York was hatched 13 years ago, as a response to the 9/11 attacks, when Goodell's predecessor raised the possibility with the late Giants owner, Wellington Mara. In 2014, the Mara family's wish is granted.

"I think my father would be pretty amazed that we pulled it off," John, Wellington's son, admits. "He would be very pleased." To all the Jeremiahs prophesying the doom of Snow-mageddon on Sunday, it is an eloquent riposte.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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