Players won't warm to chilly Bowl
Kellen Winslow has bad memories of 1981 AFC title game in minus-59 wind chill
The 2014 Super Bowl will be played in NY/NJ, where cold weather is near-certainty
The risk of harsh weather is not worth possibly compromising NFL's biggest day
In January 2004, the Patriots hosted the Titans in an AFC divisional playoff game in which the temperature at kickoff was 4 degrees with a wind chill of minus-10. Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow was part of a radio broadcast crew doing the game, and as we rode on the elevator to the press box beforehand, he shook his head about the players being forced to take the field in such harsh conditions.
Winslow spoke from experience. Twenty-two years earlier, he participated in the coldest game in league history -- in terms of wind chill -- when he and the Chargers faced off against the Bengals in the 1981 AFC Championship Game. The wind chill that afternoon in Cincinnati was minus-59. You could see the discomfort on Winslow's face as he recalled the brutal conditions.
We were having a casual conversation, so there was no pen in my hand. But I still can recall many of his words, though not verbatim. He said it was "inhumane" to make the players work in such conditions and he talked about how news reports were advising residents to bring in their pets because the cold could be deadly. He mentioned that he still had some physical ailments in his extremities from the cold and how, in his opinion, the Patriots and Titans should not have been made to play in conditions on this day that were the lead story to many local newscasts.
This anecdote came to mind because today the league's 32 owners -- with the backing of the commissioner -- voted to award the 2014 Super Bowl to New York/New Jersey. It will be the first Super Bowl staged in an open-air stadium in an outdoor city, which is great except for one thing -- no one knows what the weather will be like. Meteorologists say February in New York is often snowy. Over the past 40 years, the average high has been 40 degrees (36 degrees at kickoff). Factoring in the wind, the "real feel" is in the 20s.
Winslow is not alone in his feelings about playing in harsh conditions. NBC studio analyst Rodney Harrison, who won two Super Bowls with New England and was on the team that beat the Titans 17-14 in that 2004 playoff tilt that still ranks as the coldest in Patriots history, says a cold-weather Super Bowl won't go over well with the players.
"Part of the reward for getting to the biggest game of your life is the beautiful warm weather or the climate-controlled atmosphere," he said. "Players would hate playing in cold weather."
The league and its owners are touting the historical significance of the game and point out that some of the most memorable games have been played in inclement weather, i.e. the Ice Bowl and the Tuck Rule Game. My response: Big deal. There have been many more great games that were played in warm weather or domed conditions, including recent Super Bowl wins by the Giants and Steelers.
And let's not forget that the league has become a more skill-driven competition, with more emphasis placed on the pass and less on the run. Is it fair for teams to potentially alter their game plans dramatically in the face of wintry conditions?
Ultimately I keep coming back to this question: Is the risk of harsh weather -- and at this point that's all it is, a risk -- really worth it? To me, NFL players are some of the greatest athletes in the world and should be able to showcase their skills under the most optimum conditions, particularly when competing in one of the world's most-watched sporting events.
A wise man once said, "Just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should." Unfortunately, NFL owners did not listen.
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