By Mike Bianchi Orlando Sentinel
Isn’t it weird that the dissenting voices you hear complaining about the cold-weather Super Bowl aren’t coming from the current, new-age players and coaches, but from the former, old-school players and coaches?
You’d think if anybody would relish football being played in the frozen, wintry elements, it would be a crusty, old, firm-jawed coach like the iconic Don Shula.
“I hate it, and I think it’s a bad thing,” Shula told me earlier this week about the Super Bowl being played in New York. “You don’t want weather conditions to decide or help decide a game this big. And you want fans to be able to go to the game and enjoy it. … Why would you want the fans who make such an effort to get to the game to be miserable during the game?”
You’d think if anybody would love to see players knocking heads on a glacial gridiron it would be tough, brawny, old bird like Mike Ditka.
“They (NFL) made a big mistake,” Ditka told the Detroit News of the New York Super Bowl. “The game shouldn’t be there. I mean, it’s stupid. … 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.”
You want to know why dinosaurs like Ditka and Shula don’t like a cold-weather Super Bowl? It’s not because they’ve become soft in their old age. It’s because they come from an era when the fans themselves actually mattered.
More and more today, big-time sports leagues care less and less about their most loyal fans — the ones who actually spend their hard-earned money to attend games. The NFL was so enamored with the marketing potential of its showcase event being in New York, er, New Jersey that league commissioner Roger Goodell and others made the unprecedented decision to hold an outdoor Super Bowl in a cold-weather city. Just call the whole idea Goodell’s Gaffe.
Temperatures Sunday at game time are expected to be near freezing, and there is at least a chance of snow. Earlier in the week, there was talk that “ice pellets” may rain down upon the Super Bowl. That’s right … ice pellets! How would you like to be a Seattle Seahawks or Denver Broncos fan who traveled across the country and paid $5,000 for a ticket — just for the right to freeze in the stands and try to avoid falling ice?
Coming soon: NFL announces Super Bowl will be held on Pluto.
Seriously, holding the Super Bowl in New Jersey is like hanging a Picasso in the hotel lobby of a Red Roof Inn in Ocoee.
Joke: Why did Frank Sinatra sing about New York? … Because he’s from New Jersey, that’s why.
How bad is New Jersey?
Well, Jeff Turner, the former Orlando Magic player and current TV color commentator, told me the story a few years ago of when he played for the New Jersey Nets in the 1980s. On the last day of his last season with the team, Turner loaded up a U-Haul with all of his belongings, hooked it up to his Ford Bronco, drove it to the arena and left town immediately after the game.
“I didn’t want to stay in New Jersey any longer than I had to,” Turner said. “I wanted to leave as quickly as possible. It’s not exactly a place where you hang out and enjoy the scenery.”
But this is where the NFL actually chose to hold the Super Bowl — the paramount event of American sports and pop culture. Just another glaring example of how sports leagues care more about the fans who watch on TV then they do the fans who actually attend the game.
Remember last year at the Arnold Palmer Invitational when the PGA Tour refused to move its tee times even though a powerful storm was on the way that downed trees, snapped power lines and spawned a microburst of hurricane-like winds? Who cared about the safety of the fans on the course when Tiger Woods was scheduled to tee off at 1:40 p.m. sharp on live network television?
Likewise, who cares about the comfort of Super Bowl fans when the NFL has a chance to bring its big show to the Big Apple?
Roger Goodell has become the Marie Antoinette of sports commissioners looking down his nose at the freezing peasants attending the game.
“Let them eat ice pellets.”