Life Threatening, Inhumane Conditions No Problem for the NFL

There are a number of critics who have questioned the wisdom of National Football League owners in their placement of the 2014 Super Bowl in a “cold” weather stadium—the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Those naysayers don’t like the fact that the game will be played in possible cold and snowy conditions. Those naysayers don’t know a thing about the business of the NFL either and don’t understand that a city or area is chosen in part as a thank you to the local community for putting about hundreds of millions of dollars to host an NFL team.

New Jersey has put up $300 million for infrastructure at the Meadowlands, has forced Eat Rutherford to get only about a tenth or the assesses property tax value on the property or $1.3 million annually although East Rutherford does get $5 million annually in rent from the property. New York and New Jersey business leaders presented a bid for the game that pleased the Barons of the Gridiron – NFL owners.

Business is business after all.

The NFL owners like the idea of a cold weather Super Bowl. Check out the snowflakes falling in the Super Bowl logo. The National Hockey League just had a successful outdoor event on New Year’s Day in Ann Arbor, Michigan before 105,491 people on a snowy day in 13 degree Fahrenheit (minus 10 Celsius) temperature with a wind chill of minus 1 Fahrenheit or minus 18 Celsius).

The elements are an added part of the entertainment package today. There were no howls of displeasure surrounding the outdoor game between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs in Ann Arbor.  The game did a record tying 2.9 overnight TV rating and was a twitter success.

The complaints are coming from people who more than likely will be nowhere near East Rutherford, New Jersey for the game or the Manhattan-based parties surrounding the game and by those who have already forgotten the snowstorm on December 8 in Philadelphia during the Detroit Lions-Philadelphia Eagles contest. There are very few complaints about the Sunday playoff games that will be held in Green Bay where both players and fans are risking their lives in the brutal cold.

Apparently, National Football League owners have never had a mechanism whereby they can postpone games because of cold weather. NFL owners don’t have to worry about the weather conditions while watching a game. They are warm and snug inside a luxury box which probably was built with taxpayers’ money.

The forecast in Green Bay is ominous.

The National Weather Service has put out a special statement about weather conditions in Green Bay.

“An Arctic outbreak” with “near record temperatures and dangerously cold wind chills.”

The NFL scheduled the San Francisco 49ers –Green Bay Packers game in Green Bay to start at three-forty local time which means a good chunk of the second half will be played at night. The Weather Channel has forecasted a temperature of 6 degrees Fahrenheit or minus 16 Celsius with a north by northwest wind of 17 miles (27 kilometers) per hour. The wind chill at kickoff will make it feel as if it is minus 12 Fahrenheit or minus 24 Celsius. By the end of the game, the air temperature should be 1 degree Fahrenheit or minus 17 Celsius with a 19 mile (30 kilometers) hour winds making it feel minus 19 F or minus 28 C.

In other words, this is going to be a test of how humans stand up in brutal conditions.

The National Football League does take great pride in recounting the history of the “Ice Bowl” or the National Football League Championship Game in Green Bay on December 31, 1967. Chuck Mercein, who played in that game for the Packers, recalled the playing conditions. Green Bay won that day using the weather as a weapon. The players couldn’t get any footing.

The temperature was minus 15 F for that game or minus 26 C.

“At that time it was about 54 (F) below (or minus 47 C) with the chill factor and about 28 F (minus 33 C) below on the clock. It was a very cold day. There was a time out after I had car­ried on a 19-yard catch and an 11-yard run. We tried Donny Anderson on two drives and he had slipped and fallen on the ice. Bart then called a time out.

“He went to the side­ lines and came back with the 31 Wedge. But he didn’t tell me I wasn’t going to get it. It was a successful play. Jerry Kramer and Ken Bowman double-teamed Jethro Pugh. It was the most famous play in football and maybe the most famous drive.”

But how did Mercein, a journeyman player, get into the photo alongside Starr going into the end zone if he didn’t get the ball? “Of course, Chuck Mercein is still waiting,” he said laughingly. “Only in my dreams do I get the ball.”

Where was the ball? In Starr’s hands and Mercein never got it. “That famous picture shows me looking like I might be showing a touchdown sign or blocking. But what really was happening was that I was unable to stop because of the ice and I was showing the referee I wasn’t assist­ing (Bart into the end zone), which would have been a penalty.

“Apparently, only Starr and Vince Lombardi knew what was coming and didn’t let me in and didn’t tell anybody.

Green Bay had won but players got frostbite which isn’t part of the NFL legacy, those players included Ray Nitschke who in 1994 told me that he went dancing after the game with his wife despite having no feeling in his foot because of what he later discovered was a case of frostbite.

Kellen Winslow played in one of the games ever on January 10, 1982 during a playoff game in Cincinnati. The temperature was minus 9 Fahrenheit or minus 23 C at kickoff with a sustaining 27 mile (43 kilometers) an hour wind.

“It was one of the most inhumane things I had ever been a part of,” said Winslow of that game. “Well 59 degree (minus 50 C) below zero wind-chill factor. It just wasn’t a day to play football. I remember listening to a weather report leaving the hotel in Cincinnati where they suggested bringing in your dogs and your cats because they may not be there in the morning. The humane society…I said this is apropos, bringing in dogs and cats and strays on the street and we are going out to play.

“It was very cold, major cases of frostbite on the way back. You don’t prepare for that.

Winslow wore two pairs of gloves that day, Winslow wore a ski mask and thermal underwear but it was to no avail. Everything froze over in the conditions. It was totally unbelievable that we were out there playing that ballgame. They were taking dogs and cats off the street and the football players were going out, I guess that’s where we pretty much fall on the food chain.

The customers, except for those in luxury boxes, are also on the low end of Winslow’s food chain. Postponing an NFL game is not easy. There are television considerations. FOX has committed a block of time and has purchased the right to show that game at a specific time. FOX has sold advertisements based on projections of how many people will watch the game. The same is true with radio and international TV partners. Switching the game to another time slot means FOX would have to find alternate programming and then knock off regularly scheduled programming when the game is rescheduled.

Money is a major factor. Health? Maybe not so much although there will be claims from owners and network executives that they really do care about people and if people want to stay home and not risk health, they can watch it on television.

The last NFL game which was postponed was a Sunday night game in Philadelphia on December 26, 2010 because of a blizzard. That game was rescheduled for December 28, 2010. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter had declared a snow emergency that day. The NFL seems to listen when those types of problems, blizzards, hurricanes and earthquakes, come up and do cancel games.

Brutally cold weather? Not an NFL problem.

Evan Weiner can be reached at . His e-book, “The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition” is available ( ) and his e-books, America’s Passion: How a Coal Miner’s Game Became the NFL in the 20th Century, ( ),  From Peach Baskets to Dance Halls and the Not-so-Stern NBA (  )  and the reissue of the 2005 book, The Business and Politics of Sports (  ) and reissue of the 2010 e-book The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition ( ) are available from e-book distributors globally.

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