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The Globe and Mail

Season of change for NFL could culminate with snow-filled Super Bowl

The MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., is set to host the Super Bowl on Feb. 2, 2014.


On a balmy, late-summer evening last weekend, the New York Giants and New York Jets played a tedious NFL preseason game. It began before a crowd of 74,971 in MetLife Stadium, a state-of-the-art facility they share in a North Jersey swamp euphemistically called "The Meadowlands."

Although the game was close, most of the seats and luxury suites were empty when the Jets won 24-21 on a field goal in overtime.

If the two teams meet again this season (the Jets are in the AFC, Giants in the NFC), the atmosphere might be quite different.

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It would be the Super Bowl on Feb. 2, 2014, on the same field.

Few fans, you would think, would flee with the score tied. But what about the "piercing cold" predicted for midwinter by the Farmer's Almanac? What if it comes with snow, sleet, wind or freezing rain?

No matter who plays, no matter the weather, Super Bowl 48 (or XLVIII) will be the first staged outdoors in a winter climate. It also will be the first NFL title game held by two franchises and by two states. Imagine what it would be like if the home teams met.

"It would be absolutely off the hook," Giants tight end Bear Pascoe said. "They'd have to bring in the coast guard for security. It'd be great."

Jets offensive tackle Austin Howard said: "It's a nice thought."

Jets backup quarterback Matt Simms said: "I would anticipate this town being really crazy." (He should know. Simms grew up in New York as the son of Giants quarterback Phil Simms, a Super Bowl MVP.)

All players queried stressed getting to the Super Bowl is a long and difficult journey for any of the 32 NFL teams. The path starts Thursday, when the Super Bowl defending champion Baltimore Ravens visit the Denver Broncos.

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For almost five full months, America's most popular team game again will dominate the minds, television screens and blogs of its followers despite several deep, dark shadows which, ironically, illuminate the game's very nature.

But one of them was settled Thursday, when the NFL agreed to pay $765-million (U.S.) over concussion-related brain injuries to more than 4,000 retired players. The tentative agreement avoids a federal court showdown.

The players charged the NFL hid knowledge of concussion risks, resulting in dementia, depression and suicides. The league admits no culpability.

Another court case next week involves Aaron Hernandez, a former tight end with the New England Patriots, who is to be arraigned in the execution-style shooting death of his friend, semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd.

Coincidentally, Hernandez grew up in Bristol, Conn., home of ESPN, the powerful all-sports cable television entity that pays for NFL rights and helps shape public perception of the business.

Recently, ESPN withdrew from its production partnership with PBS on a football documentary for Frontline titled "League of Denial."

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It is about concussions. Its two parts will air on Oct. 8 and Oct. 15. ESPN backed out, The New York Times reported, after a stormy meeting between network executives and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The league has denied pressuring ESPN, which blamed confusion over editorial control for its decision.

No doubt football fans are aware of the game's inherent danger and the occasional spillover of aggression off the field. But fans will probably be more interested in the addictive drama of the games themselves and the brave and talented stars playing them.

Can the Washington Redskins' wondrous young quarterback, Robert Griffin III, bounce back from knee surgery and can he continue to play that daredevil style? Can Baltimore repeat without retired linebacker Ray Lewis, the outsized personality of the team, who now works for ESPN?

Who might be the next player to be kicked or stomped by the cleats of Detroit Lions defender Ndamukong Suh? Is this the year head coach Jim Harbaugh's San Francisco 49ers complete their climb to the NFL summit? Will Tim Tebow hang on with the New England Patriots? Will Rex Ryan of the Jets be the first coach fired?

And of course, who will reach the Super Bowl, to be played just across the Hudson River from New York City, where the Manhattan skyline can be seen from in front of the stadium?

The game will be the culmination of a winter carnival that will include two outdoor NHL games in Yankee Stadium.

The first, on Jan. 26, will feature New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils. The second is the Rangers against the New York Islanders on Jan. 29.

NHL chief operating officer John Collins worked for the NFL for 15 years, and said football franchises with new, non-domed stadiums have long wanted the Super Bowl.

"New York, Chicago and Washington were always pushing for it," Collins said. "It's time. You've got a great venue in the Meadowlands and you've got the power of New York."

Collins said some travellers to this annual corporate Woodstock would miss what he called "the typical corporate boondoggle: Golf. You're not going to do that in New York."

A former NHL executive, Frank Supovitz, is the NFL's senior vice-president of events. He said he plans for winter weather on a winter day: Each Super Bowl fan will get a seat cushion package with hand and foot warmers, ear muffs and lip balm.

Should severe weather disrupt the schedule, Supovitz said the league could start the game later than the scheduled 6:30 p.m. local time kickoff, or even move it back a day or two. Such contingencies are routine even for regular-season games.

"Our overall philosophy is to embrace the winter," Supovitz said.

Part of Broadway will close for a week, he said, starting at Times Square, and will be turned into a plaza that will include a toboggan ride. Football highlights will be beamed onto the side wall of Macy's department store.

The Media Day sideshow will be indoors at the Devils' home, the Prudential Center in Newark. Good hotel rooms in midtown Manhattan remain available for that week at less than $500 a night. Ironically, should the Jets and Giants both qualify, it would hurt tourism industries such as airlines, hotels and restaurants because many fans would be staying in their own homes.

Supovitz said hotels down the New Jersey Turnpike and even in Pennsylvania will attract tourists seeking lower rates. (Philadelphia is two hours away by train.)

Should the Jets and Giants meet, it would fulfill a prophesy from the sacred football scroll Semi-Tough, written by Dan Jenkins in 1972, when the Super Bowl was still new.

In the novel, with the Giants about to meet the Jets in the Super Bowl, events are seen from the point of view of carousing running back Billy Clyde Puckett, who famously refers to his opponents as "the dog-ass Jets."

Perhaps such trash talk will be heard next winter if the real teams meet. The fans, for sure, would indulge. For now, we'll have to settle for statements like this from Giants centre Jim Cordle:

"That's a long way away, but it would sure be exciting."

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