53° Good Afternoon
53° Good Afternoon
SportsColumnistsNeil Best

Primed for Super Bowl week in New York and New Jersey

Official game ball for Super Bowl XLVIII in

Official game ball for Super Bowl XLVIII in the Wilson Sporting Goods Co. in Ada, Ohio. (Jan. 20, 2014) Credit: AP

Super Bowl XLVIII will be my XIIIth, about half as many as colleague Bob Glauber has worked, but more than four times as many as Peyton Manning.

My first was Super Bowl XXX in 1996, a world in which Russell Wilson was 7 years old, Super Bowls were played in buildings as old as Sun Devil Stadium and the Cowboys won playoff games.

How far we all have come since then! Now, Wilson is a Super Bowl quarterback, the big game is used as a carrot to goad teams and municipalities into building new stadiums and the Cowboys finish 8-8 every year.

My Super Bowl experience is spotty since 2006. I only have covered ones in which Eli Manning beat the Patriots. Still, I figured I could help give y’all a sense of what to expect over the coming week in the metropolitan area.

So, here are a few things you might want to know about the Super Bowl as the fun begins:

I. Follow the money

Perhaps you assumed the Super Bowl is a means of determining an NFL champion, or that it is a celebration of football and a national convention of sorts for those involved in the sport.

It is all of that, to a point. But both of those agendas pale in comparison to the event as a celebration of American culture and commerce. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But that’s what it is.

You already know that from the massive advertising and sponsorship infrastructure that surrounds the game, but that is only the half of it. Take Radio Row, where aging stars sit through questions about long-ago Super Bowls just to get around to pitching the products or services they are being paid to discuss.

This year the biggest brand in New York sports talk radio – WFAN -- won’t even be with its fellow stations on Radio Row. It will be based all week at M&M’s World on Broadway, thanks to a sweet sponsorship/promotional deal.

Jacques Barzun once famously wrote, “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules, and reality of the game."     

Maybe that was so in 1954. In 2014? Try Super Bowl week.

II.      Roman numerals are annoying

There is a widespread misconception the Super Bowl was not called the Super Bowl until Super Bowl III – before which Joe Namath did NOT guarantee a Jets victory as he sat poolside in Miami, yet another widespread misconception.

While it is true that initially the official designation for the game was the AFL-NFL World Championship Game, in fact even the very first game widely was referred to as the Super Bowl, at least informally and in media accounts.

Anyway, in years such as this when there are six digits in the Roman numeral name, it is a very annoying tradition. (Super Bowl 38 had a whopping seven digits.)

The good news is there won’t be six digits in the Super Bowl title again until Super Bowl 68. Two years from now we will be down to a mere one for Super Bowl L.

Come to think of it, that is a terrible name for a sports event. Super Bowl W would be far more positive, no?

III. Weather or not

From the day SB48 was awarded to New York/New Jersey in late May of 2010, the weather has dominated public discussion about it, and will continue you to do so to the bitter end, presumably.

Two things about that: First, relax! This is not Green Bay or Fairbanks, and the odds of weather that will make it impossible to stage the game or play it fairly are low, even with all of the frigidness that has come our way this winter.

Second, despite the above, I do have a pet peeve about those who have defended the idea of a cold weather Super Bowl. Here it is: Yes, football was designed to be played in “the elements,’’ and always has been. But let’s be real here. The game traditionally has been played in the AUTUMN elements, not mid-winter elements.

There was no such thing as an NFL game played in January until 1966, and no such thing as an NFL game played in February until 2002. For most of the sport’s history, high school and college football traditionally ended on or near Thanksgiving, not counting bowl games in warm, sunny climates.

This, obviously, will be the first February game played outdoors in a place with February weather.

It’s fine. I’m all for it. But it is NOT traditional football weather. Please stop saying that.

IV. Change is good

The biggest reason I have favored the NY/NJ Super Bowl from Day One is this:  It’s something different.

As insanely powerful and lucrative as the Super Bowl brand is, truth is it’s gotten a tad stale. This shakes it up.

People who attend/cover/work at Super Bowls tend to remember them by where they were played; over the course of a weeklong run-up to the game one has a chance to experience the atmosphere surrounding various sites.

But for the 100 million or so people who watch on television, there is a certain sameness to Super Bowls – not in terms of the action itself but the vibe surrounding it. Few people who experience the game through a television screen remember, or care, where it actually was played.

This one could be different. A little scenic snow will provide a memorable backdrop and give viewers a reminder that this year’s game was special.

It’s another reason to talk about the game. And that is good for the game. Within reason.

V. Beware of economic impact estimates!

Why? Because most economists agree that they are nonsensical, grossly inflated fantasies designed to help municipalities land and justify major sports events.

Super Bowl XLVIII organizers have claimed around $500 million of impact, or somewhere around there, but it really doesn’t matter, because it is pulled from thin air.

If you care to read more on the subject, the best essay I have read recently on the matter was in the Jan. 26 New York Times.

None of which means that hosting an event such as the Super Bowl is a bad thing economically, necessarily. Plus, it’s fun! Just don’t believe what you read about the money (and visitors) allegedly pouring into town.

VI. Plenty of room at the inn

Speaking of economic impact, it is a cliché of Super Bowl (and Final Four, and Olympic, and World Cup) coverage to speak to local businesspeople about their disappointment that not as much business was generated by a given event as they expected.

But such effects are uneven. Take hotels. Two years ago in Indianapolis there was such an acute shortage of hotel rooms in the downtown area that rates were driven through the roof.

The opposite is happening in New York. Rates in the city are far higher than in most American burgs all the time, obviously. But the Super Bowl is commanding very small premiums, if any. Why? Simply because there is such a vast supply of rooms in and around the city that gouging is impossible, or at least impractical.

That’s good news for people visiting from Seattle or Denver, assuming the sticker shock of even an average New York hotel price doesn’t cause fainting spells.

VII.       Lost in the shuffle?

Speaking of Indianapolis, against all odds in 2012 it instantly became one of the favorite sites for the big game among many fans, journalists and even NFL organizers, thanks to its extreme compactness – and aided by the fact the weather was unseasonably warm all week.

New York will not and cannot match that – but most Super Bowl cities can’t.

Let’s put it this way: In Indy when I looked out my hotel room I literally could see into Eli Manning’s room in the Giants’ hotel two blocks away, or I could turn my head in another direction and see the Super Bowl stadium itself a few more blocks away. (No, I did not actually look into Eli’s room. But I could have if he left the curtains open.)

This time around, I would have to go down to Battery Park City and get a very powerful telescope to observe the Jersey City hotel across the Hudson in which Peyton Manning and his friends will stay.

Again, too-spread-out Super Bowls are the norm, certainly in places such as Arizona, South Florida and Dallas. (New Orleans long has been praised for its relatively compact venues.)

Staging the event in New York presents the greatest challenge yet, given the vastness of the area and its population. The great majority of area residents will be impacted by the Super Bowl not at all – other than the fact it will dominate New York-area media for the next week.

That’s not New York’s fault. It just is what it is.

VIII.       Little men in TV sets

As ESPN’s Kenny Mayne has pointed out, games are not played on paper, they are played by little men in our TV sets.

The Super Bowl is no exception. Most people experience both the game and the hype leading up to the game by reading, watching or listening to interviews with the participants, which is why no sports event in the world requires its athletes to do as much talking to journalists as this one. Nothing comes even close, actually.

I covered my first Super Bowl in 1996.

To that point my experience with the big game was like that of most sports fans. There was the wackiness of media day, then some boring preview articles no one read, then the game itself, highlighted by nachos and adult beverages.

So I arrived in my Phoenix hotel room Sunday night, figuring I would settle in Monday, pick up my credential and then head off to my very first media day Tuesday at the stadium.

Then I turned on the television and . . . saw Troy Aikman being interviewed live by a throng of reporters – at the Cowboys’ Arizona hotel.

It turned out the interview sessions began Sunday night upon the teams’ arrivals. And there were more on Monday night. OK, no problem. I went to media day. It was as wacky as promised. But it turned out there was more!

The players endure another hour of questions at their hotel again on Wednesday – and again on Thursday!

And the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday sessions are not the normal locker room gruel fed to media members, in which players have ample places to hide and many excuses to be absent – from lunch to lifting to treatment.

No! For those three days every player and coach MUST make himself available. In olden times, that meant backup guards and quality control coaches sitting at banquet room tables reading USA Today on Wednesday and Thursday.

These days it means fiddling around with portable electronic devices, trying not to look bored and/or jealous of the fact everyone is talking to Richard Sherman.

IX. Super Bowl Boulevard

One of the best things about the Indy Super Bowl was the downtown village the city set up to create a central gathering area, complete with zip line.

The NFL has taken over the concept and created Super Bowl Boulevard, closing Broadway from 34th to 47th Streets to create a street fair of sorts and most importantly give New Yorkers not going to the game something that allows them to feel like a part of it all.

Hey, why not? Just the idea of closing down Broadway is cool enough. Throw in the much-discussed Toboggan Run and chances for people to ogle their favorite sports TV stars on the outdoor sets of ESPN, NFL Network and Fox, and there is much to love.

Still, there are limitations. Food won’t be sold on the Boulevard to avoid hurting local establishments. And some of the activities long associated with the NFL Experience won’t be in evidence.

There will be no NFL Experience at all this time around, actually. There was no place to put it. It turns out even when you plan a big event nearly four years out, stuff can be booked solid.

X. Shrimp

In addition to the media excess at that first Super Bowl in ’96, I was equally blown away by the excess in partying, which didn’t stop until about 2 a.m. the night of the big game itself.

You probably have heard of the traditional Friday night “Commissioner’s Party,’’ and sure enough, it was a lavish as advertised. But what I did not expect was the number of opportunities for even lowly print reporters to down free shrimp on numerous occasions, up to and including the pregame and postgame parties on game day.

To that point, my only prior experience with such things was the nice little breakfast they would serve us at 3 in the morning after Final Four championship games, for which I was grateful.

Super Bowls are very different. And that doesn’t even include the vast array of swanky parties to which I am not invited. Well, to be fair, a friend did get me into the SI party in 2008, during which I had a long conversation with SI swimsuit edition cover model Marisa Miller. She seemed nice.

Anyway, a lot of that stuff has dissipated over the years, especially post-9/11, and these days there is a decidedly lower decadence level when it comes to entertaining visiting scribes and other hangers-on.

Not that there aren’t plenty of parties still to go around, including Leigh Steinberg’s famous day-before-the-game bash, now making a comeback along with its host.

Still, a lot of events, including the Friday night party, are much smaller affairs than they once were, and I do not expect to be attending the one in New York. Which is just as well. Shrimp is high in cholesterol.

XI. Tickets

Another traditional Super Bowl week story in the local media is the profound unfairness of ticket distribution, which mostly shuts out the “average fan,” whoever that is.

The situation is exacerbated this year by the fact there are two host teams, and by the fact that New York is home to many people, many of whom are rich.

Still, early indications are that prices are falling and will continue to fall on the secondary market – perhaps tied to how the weather unfolds. So if you can wait until 6 p.m. Feb. 2 . . . you might get a ticket for less than $1,000.

Especially if it’s cold.

XII. Shhh. It’s the Super Bowl

People have complained for decades about the relative calm and quiet of a Super Bowl crowd, because it is played on a neutral field and because of the high percentage of “corporate’’ types in the crowd.

Well, it’s true. To a point.

Obviously the atmosphere in MetLife Stadium will not be what it is in Seattle or Denver. Still, in my experience, there is noise and excitement at Super Bowls, especially late in close games, but it is diffuse and uneven, similar to a Final Four, in which the audience is a mishmash of fans of each side, and of neither side.

Somehow, though, plenty of fans of each team inevitably do find their ways into the building.

XIII. Jerseys in jersey

In most Super Bowl cities, the people walking around town all week wearing replica NFL jerseys are fans of one of the teams involved. That was one thing that made Indy unique; the vast majority of people wore Colts jerseys, not those of the Giants or Patriots, especially early in the week.

It remains to be seen what the dynamic will be in Manhattan. My guess: Business suits will outnumber jerseys of the Giants, Jets, Seahawks or Broncos on Super Bowl Boulevard, especially mid-week.

XIV. Quote sheets

Please do not tell sports editors or travel budget administrators this, but one of the dirty little secrets of covering a Super Bowl is that you can do a perfectly adequate job of doing so from your basement at home – or at least from the Super Bowl media center.

Between the NFL Network, ESPN and cable arms of the broadcast networks who rotate televising the game, plus the mountains of exhaustive, environmentally unsound quote sheets the league churns out and piles up, there is more than enough access to information without actually having to schlep in person to rap with Peyton at the team hotel.

Again, if you know any sports editors or corporate bean-counters, do not tell them about this item. Thank you.

XV. Rock at the Rock

Speaking of things that are different about this year’s game, for the first time media day will not be at the stadium itself, understandable given the weather concerns.

Instead it will be held at the Prudential Center in downtown Newark, where Tom Rock of Newsday and thousands of other journalists – and “journalists’’ – will descend on the Rock.

For the third year, fans can actually buy tickets to watch Rock interview players. No, really. It’s true.

I was born in Newark, by the way. So it’s all coming full circle for me. Someone – by which I mean you, Philip Roth – should write a novel about this.

XVI. Strahan to Canton?

One of the paradoxes of covering a Super Bowl is that by far the busiest time of the week for journalists is the beginning of it. We start to taper down just when the rest of the world starts to get geared up come Friday.

Saturday usually is the quietest day of all for covering the event, with the exception of the announcement of the Hall of Fame class for the coming summer – and other league awards.

I wrote last year that it was just as well Michael Strahan didn’t get in on the first ballot because it would enable him to secure induction during the weekend of a New York/New Jersey Super Bowl.

Well, here we are. Do the right thing, Hall voters!

XVII. People watching

Referring back to Item No. I, the Super Bowl is indeed a convention of anyone and everyone associated with football – and plenty of non-football celebrities.

I am not familiar with precisely how the media center at the Sheraton in midtown will be set up, but in Indy locals quickly identified an area on the second floor of the media center where they could stand and observe a never-ending parade of famous people en route to Radio Row and elsewhere.

There is no better time and place in America for sports-inclined folks to people watch than at a Super Bowl.

I remember late on Friday in Indianapolis when things were starting to wind down and I noticed a couple walking down the hall ahead of me and gathered they must be some sort of well-known people.

So I casually picked up speed, passed them and gave a quick look over my shoulder. Sure enough, it was Andy Roddick and his wife, Brooklyn Decker.

XVIII-XLVII. Carpal tunnel syndrome

The idea of doing 48 of these items sounded a lot better an hour ago. I have a week of endless typing ahead. More importantly, you have a week of endless reading ahead! So, I'll stop now.

XLVIII. Fired up, ready to go!

Even though I’ve been to a few of these things, the truth is I have no idea how it’s going to go down in the big city. No one does, including Roger Goodell or the meteorologists of America, who are giddier than anyone about all of this.

The only sure losers will be the shrimp who give their lives for the cause.

      But that’s what makes this Super Bowl so intriguing, and what made it a good idea in the first place.

      All good. Let’s go!

New York Sports