Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.
The last two NFL weekends have been great theater -- a Week 17 full of do-or-die regular-season games followed by a wild wild-card weekend.
But with eight teams now left on the road to MetLife Stadium, most of what has transpired has been potentially bad for the business of Super Bowl XLVIII.
We are left with an elite eight in which five teams are based on or west of the Mississippi -- including three of the favorites in the divisional round -- half are from markets ranked 25th or lower in population and missing entirely are several teams that traditionally have national fan bases that travel well in the Cowboys, Steelers, Packers and Bears.
"It's a bad thing for New Yorkers and anyone here who was trying to capitalize on doing business for the Super Bowl in terms of anything from renting out their house to restaurants and venues," said Robert Tuchman, president of Goviva, which arranges packages for companies and individuals around big events. He has worked every Super Bowl since 1997.
Tuchman said even the Patriots -- the only remaining team based within 600 miles of MetLife Stadium -- might not salvage Super Bowl travel dynamics.
"The issue with them is they've been to so many Super Bowls over the last bunch of years a lot of people are kind of tapped out from that 'once-in-a-lifetime experience,' '' Tuchman said.
To be clear: The identities of the Super Bowl participants will not make or break the event economically. Many packages, including those organized by Tuchman, already are accounted for by companies more interested in the experience than the matchup. And the NFL long since locked up its hotels and other venues.
But for some hotels whose rooms are not yet spoken for, a Panthers-Colts or Seahawks-Chargers showdown might be worse for business than no Super Bowl at all, given that there always is demand for rooms in New York, and the Super Bowl will scare away other potential business that week.
Of course, hotels also would have suffered had the Jets or Giants made it, because many fans would not have had to travel to the area. But the price of tickets (and stadium suites) on the secondary market would have skyrocketed, as they would have if the Eagles had beaten the Saints Saturday. Those prices still will be high regardless, but demand will soften if the matchup goes wrong.
The best possible qualifiers might have been the Cowboys or Bears against the Steelers, but those possibilities were dashed in Week 17. So what would be the ideal Super Bowl in business terms among the teams still eligible?
Tuchman had to think about that one but settled on the Broncos and 49ers. Still, when he surveyed the remaining NFC field, he said glumly, "That's pretty bad."
"Business owners from the street vendor guy who's set up in Times Square to the restaurants to the actual hotels, if they're watching the game and it's San Fran vs. whoever, you want to be pulling for the big-market teams that have big followings," Tuchman said.
While the size of fan bases and/or markets matter in business terms, traditionally that is not a major factor in Super Bowl television ratings.
For one thing, they are massive regardless of who plays. For another, the closeness of the score is a bigger factor than which teams are playing. (For the record, the 49ers and Patriots are the only teams left from top-10 TV markets.)
This year there is an added factor: weather. Fox will not publicly guesstimate viewership, but many in the industry believe a well-timed snowstorm would help shatter the previous record for an American TV program.
NBC holds the mark with an average of 111.3 million viewers for the Giants' victory over the Patriots in 2012.