NFL: Super dilemma: Blizzard at Super Bowl site
NEW YORK (AP) – With all that snow blocking roads, closing airports and even forcing a game to be postponed in Philadelphia, it’s easy to wonder how the NFL and the Big Apple would handle a blizzard in February 2014. You know, when the Super Bowl is in town.
Weather rarely has been a concern for the NFL’s extravaganza, although an ice storm crippled Atlanta 10 years ago and wreaked havoc with events for several days leading up to the game. And it did rain on the Super Bowl for the first time in January 2007 in Miami – not that it bothered Peyton Manning and the Colts any.
Still, two of the next four Super Bowl sites are in cold-weather places, Indianapolis in 2012 and outdoors at New Meadowlands Stadium in 2014, where the elements will definitely be an issue (February in northern New Jersey).
“We, of course, recognized that the 2014 Super Bowl would be played in winter conditions when the New York/New Jersey bid was accepted” and that a storm could hit any time in the lead up to the game, says Frank Supovitz, the NFL’s senior vice president for events.
“Creating a plan for staging a Super Bowl in winter weather is not reinventing the wheel. Super Bowls have often been played in cities that can experience winter storms, including Detroit, Minneapolis, and (2012) in Indianapolis. Coordinated snow and ice removal plans for travel routes, major event facilities, the stadium campus, and parking have always been part of our planning protocol.”
The difference for 2014 is obvious: no dome in New Jersey.
So keeping the field in top condition once the Jets and Giants conclude their seasons is a priority; tarps can be used to cover the surface and work can be done beneath them, all the while keeping the turf heated. Even if a snowstorm hits, maintaining the playing surface before the game begins, while challenging, is doable.
As for clearing out a foot or more of snow in the stands, well, it got done earlier this month in Minneapolis when the Vikings had to host the Bears at the University of Minnesota’s stadium after the collapse of the Metrodome roof. And in the case of the Meadowlands, two states along with several cities and towns, would be part of a cleanup effort.
“The entire Super Bowl bid was a two-state proposal, so all states and municipalities that host major activities and venues, including the game, practice facilities, major social events, the media center, airports, and others, will be involved in the master planning for all aspects of the event, including weather,” Supovitz says.
The New York bid included contingency plans for dealing with inclement weather, plus such unique fan accommodations as fire pits in the parking lots, heated seat cushions and hand warmers in the stands.
Average monthly snowfall in February for Newark, which is about 15 miles from the stadium, is 8.7 inches. For the third Sunday of the month in 2014, when the game probably would be played if the NFL goes to an 18-game regular season, it snowed 2.2 inches in Newark on Feb. 16 this year. It didn’t snow on that date in 2008 or 2009.
The record snowfall for Newark on any Feb. 16 is 9.1 inches in 1958. And get this: The record high temperature for that date was 74 in 1954. But it also has reached only 0 degrees in 1943.
“If fans want an outdoor, winter experience at a Super Bowl, they definitely could get it,” says Matt Scalora of the National Weather Service in Upton, N.Y. “A blizzard, you never know. It’s too tough to predict that far into the future, but it’s a time of year when you can have that kind of weather. Maybe they could go for a record and beat zero degrees and play at negative-1.”
That ought to make everyone shiver a bit.
Snow and pretty much every other scenario is dealt with in the actual bids to host Super Bowls, whether it’s been San Diego and worries about El Nino; Miami and fears of heavy rains; or Dallas this season. Last February, North Texas saw a foot of snow dumped on it days before the NBA’s All-Star game, which drew a mere 108,000 fans to Dallas Cowboys Stadium.
“We’re keenly aware of the ice storm in 2000 that gripped Atlanta,” says Bill Lively, president and CEO of this year’s Super Bowl host committee. “We committed in the bid to create a transportation and public safety plan to address all weather conditions. We started more than three years ago collaborating with transportation agencies and we put together two plans: Plan A for cold and, rain, but no ice or snow, and Plan B if we have ice or snow.”
Organizers have arranged to borrow from neighboring states snow plows, sanding and salting machinery and any other equipment required to remove snow and ice. They’ve created a traffic grid for every major road and access route to the stadium in Arlington, which Lively says is “on the 50-yard-line” between Dallas and Fort Worth, and to the two primary airports, a number of private airports and every convention center site and hotel that might be affected by weather.
Adds Supovitz: “Every event teaches you better ways of doing things, and both the NFL and Atlanta learned a great deal about planning for winter events during the 2000 Super Bowl. Planning for the worst possible case is now standard operating procedure.”
The worst possible case in 2014, obviously, would be such dire conditions that the teams couldn’t get to the New York area or, on game day, to the stadium. Or fans are snowed out of New York – or snowed in the metropolitan area – for part of the week.
In other words, what happened beginning last Sunday, when the league postponed the Eagles home game against Minnesota until Tuesday, prompting some very public complaining from Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell.
“We start with public safety issues,” says Eric Grubman, the league’s VP of ventures and business operations.
“We look at the integrity of the game; can we stage a fair competition? Can we accommodate fans? We need to make sure we can get them in and give them the experience they are used to and have them go to the game for which they hold a ticket. That’s true of every game.”
AP Sports Writers Tom Canavan in East Rutherford, N.J., and Ben Walker in New York, and Pro Football Writer Jaime Aron in Dallas contributed to this story.