With the country still reeling from the Sept. 11 attacks and the New York area just beginning its long, painful recovery, Paul Tagliabue began pondering what it would mean to bring the Super Bowl here.
"It would be great affirmation that the city is resilient, the city is up and running, that the people are resilient, and it would be a vote of confidence for the city and the region, and a vote of thanks in the aftermath of 9/11,'' the former NFL commissioner said Wednesday in an interview with Newsday. "New York is a symbol of America worldwide, it's a massive population center with such a diverse population.''
It was Tagliabue who first floated the idea of having a Super Bowl in the New York area. It originated partly from his decision not to play games the weekend after the attacks, but mostly out of a desire to give his sport's greatest event to a region that had been devastated by one of the darkest days in American history.
Postponing games meant Super Bowl XXXVI would have to be played a week later in New Orleans, creating a conflict with an automobile dealers' convention. As the league and the car dealers engaged in talks to flip dates, the possibility emerged of staging that game at Giants Stadium.
"With respect to the game that we had to move in New Orleans, those were the first conversations we had,'' Tagliabue said of the possibility of a New York-area Super Bowl. The NFL and the car dealers agreed to swap the events, and the game was held Feb. 3 at the Superdome. The Patriots upset the Rams, 20-17, for their first Super Bowl win.
Tagliabue did not give up on the idea of bringing the game to the region. He formed a committee to explore the feasibility of playing the Super Bowl outdoors in a northern city for the first time.
"I came back to the membership that we should play a future Super Bowl in New York,'' he said. "We asked the Super Bowl committee at the time -- Roger Goodell would have been the liaison -- to consult with the Jets and Giants and think about the pros and cons of a Super Bowl in New York that wouldn't be unrelated to 9/11, but wouldn't be so intimately tied to it.''
On May 25, 2010, owners voted to play Super Bowl XLVIII at the new home of the Jets and Giants, now called MetLife Stadium. It was ultimately a reward for the new stadium, but playing it there remains very meaningful and personal for Tagliabue. Not only because of how deeply 9/11 hurt the area, but because of the region's long history of football.
"The game started as an urban game played by immigrants, and playing in New York reinforces that,'' said Tagliabue, a member of the Super Bowl XLVIII host committee. "There was a huge immigrant population in New York that supported the NFL.
"There have been five NFL franchises in New York [Giants, Jets, Yankees, Brooklyn Dodgers, Staten Island Stapletons]. Is there any other city in America that has had five NFL franchises?
"Not only that, but there are seven teams within about 300 miles of New York -- the Giants, Jets, Patriots, Eagles, Bills, Redskins and Steelers. It's an iconic city. It's the entertainment capital of the United States, maybe the world.''
And Tagliabue is a fan of having the game played outdoors.
"The game is about the elements,'' he said. "One of the things that's different about this game from most other sports is that part of what you're competing with is the elements. It could be fog, rain, cold, snow. It's a test, player against player, team against team.''
No one will be happier to see the game here than Tagliabue, who dreamed of it long before others embraced the concept.
"There was a lot of deep-rooted skepticism,'' he said. "It surprised me that there was skepticism from some team owners in cold-weather climates where you thought some of the history would appeal to them. Obviously, that's been overcome.''