By Steve Graham
Seattle reader Steve Graham has a Super Bowl fantasy – to stop playing the game at a neutral field. As the craziness and hype of Super Bowl weeks begins in New York City and New Jersey, let’s Indulge his dream.
Every January, the NFL’ s conference championship weekend has much greater appeal for me than the actual Super Bowl, at least in previous years when the Seahawks were not involved. That’s because the Super Bowl lacks a very important feature, one all other NFL games would never be without: a home team, with a home stadium full of fans, some of them unhinged to varying degrees.
Fans create the charged atmosphere so important to any game in any sport, the atmosphere the old AFL and NFL championship games had. Try to visualize an NFL game on TV played in an empty stadium. It would be as watchable as a city council Labor Relations Policy Committee Meeting.
For decades, NFL playoff games have shown the home team is hardly a lock to win. Home-field advantage is not always an advantage. The cold, hard numbers show the guys wearing dark jerseys succeed at a 61 percent clip in the playoffs and 57 percent in the regular season. There are no gimmes.
So why the misguided obsession with creating a so-called “level playing field,” especially for the the ultimate game in our sports-crazy republic’s ultimate sport?
We all know why: The NFL brass is as concerned with catering to the see-and be-seen crowd, the big-monied and well-connected people as it is with the game itself. The result, a large number of neutral in-house fans with no true rooting interest, makes for a noticeably more neutral environment than at other NFL games.
Under these over-engineered Super Bowl conditions, how could it be otherwise? Yet the NFL has never appeared to care, so long as the movers and shakers’ trophy wives can wear their new $5,000 cocktail dresses to the officially licensed parties during game week.
The current Super Bowl lunacy has its origins way back in the Johnson Administration, when NFL and AFL management and team owners determined the champions of their leagues had to play their inaugural title tilt on a neutral site. This happened despite their own league championships always having been played on the home field of one of the teams. In even-numbered seasons, the NFL championship was played in the stadium of the Eastern Conference champ, with the Western champs hosting in odd-numbered years. Under those long-accepted conditions, visiting teams sometimes even won.
Imagine that. In fact, the last time the NFL’s championship game was played in New York, in 1962, Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers beat Allie Sherman’s New York Giants 16-7 in an icy, epic day at Yankee Stadium.Yes, that Vince Lombardi, the man the Super Bowl trophy is named after. The two teams in the first Super Bowl, then called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game, the Packers and Chiefs, both reached that 1967 game by winning their league championships in hostile settings.
Imagine, for a moment, if the 49ers were an AFC team, and the Jan. 19 thriller in front of Seattle’s manic CenturyLink Field crowd had been the Super Bowl. What occurred that afternoon would surpass all previous versions.
Another Super Bowl-worthy playoff contest was last year’s Baltimore vs. Denver AFC championship game that had me on my feet for the last half of the last quarter. It was proof-positive that the visiting team can overcome severe obstacles and come out on top.
The biggest losers under this unnecessary, even-steven system are, of course, the loyal season-ticket holders of the Super Bowl team with the best record. They could be watching the game in person like they did at any previous playoff or regular-season contest, or even those two dreadful practice scrimmages they have to endure every August. They could be watching in their team’s own stadium instead of having to spend $7,000 for travel, tickets and lodging in New York hotels.
I do not have Seahawk season tickets, but I sure feel badly for those who do. If a Red Sox-Rockies World Series were to be held in, say, Tampa, there would be civil unrest. Yet I’ve never heard any football fans utter a peep at this strange set-up that so directly and adversely affects them.
This doesn’t have to be an impossible dream. Why not question authority?
Every February, I always wonder how many in attendance at the Super Bowl are actual-season ticket holders vs. those who never even set foot in an NFL stadium during the regular season. I also wonder how many in the latter group will leave in the middle of the fourth quarter to beat the rush, but not until taking that all-important selfie to prove they were at The Big Game.
This is the wintertime version of Kentucky Derby Day, where the glitterati, who wouldn’t know a furlong from a fetlock, pay exorbitant prices to preen about in those multi-story luxury boxes that have rendered the historic twin spires of Churchill Downs nearly invisible. At day’s end, a few might even step into their waiting limousines knowing which horse won the race.
This year’s Super Bowl brings an extra, ominous twist for the NFL fussbudgets to worry about, due to the lava flow of angst about cold weather. It is as if no NFL game has ever been played in temperatures below 75 degrees. As the game draws closer, nobody really knows what the weather will be that day. Even if it is cold, the players will do just fine, as in the recent 49er-Packer game, along with hundreds of others throughout the decades.
However, some of the second- and third-level VIP’s holding tickets who aren’t quite important enough to score a seat in an enclosed, comfy environment, may not even leave their hotels for the game if the weather drops below 40 degrees.
Maybe some of them will sue somebody. Maybe the Weather Channel? New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie?
Oh, what the Super Bowl might have been. There’s a much better game hidden in there somewhere, waiting to be freed, one that could be treated exactly like any other playoff game.
Which is precisely what it should be: a football game without all the attendant frou-frou, a football game without giant, inflatable helmets for players to emerge from, confetti canons and the like.
George Halas, Norm Van Brocklin, et al, are growling in their graves.
May the Broncos and Seahawks put on a show to match the recent NFC Championship Game.
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