As I write this it’s mid-afternoon on a Monday (you’re reading it on a Tuesday morning, or sometime far in the future…do we have self re-filling beer yet?). That means almost exactly 24 hours ago, I was laughing while watching football.
Football can provide many sources of comedy, I suppose. Hey, remember last week when Vernon Davis was tackled by his, er, mistletoe? Ha yeah, good times. Or just awful play can be amusing in a “hey all you can do is laugh” sort of thing. This is the overwhelming feeling I get whenever I watch Geno Smith or Brandon Weeden play quarterback, and I’m doing it on purpose.
But this past Sunday was different. The source of the comedy wasn’t any one player or team, and the laughter was mostly rooted in amazement, rather than amusement. It was that mix of smiling and head shaking we do when watching something unique. It wasn’t really laughter or comedy at all then. It was disbelief.
This is what watching football played in a giant snow globe felt like throughout the first half and a bit of the second during the Lions-Eagles game Sunday in Philadelphia. So now seems like a pretty good time to revisit a question we’ll be beaten down with in about two months. Do we still like this whole cold weather Super Bowl idea?
There’s no definitive answer, of course, but how you even begin to go about attempting an answer may say more about you than the actual answer. And because this is the nature of things, it’ll likely also lead to more questions and a broader discussion.
So let’s just skip that first part then, and get to the two fundamental opposing thoughts.
Football is meant to be played in the elements
That’s the way it’s always been, ever since my grand pappy chucked a ball of meat around his backyard in three feet of snow.
What we saw in Philadelphia was clearly on the extreme end of winter weather conditions. Any forecast you landed on prior to the game said that roughly four inches of snow was set to fall, and it would descend over about a five-hour period. Now, that’s nothing to shrug off, but it’s the sort of slow-ish accumulation which would have only a moderate impact on a football game. Then quickly that forecast shifted, and eight inches fell over just a few hours, making seeing anything — including the goal-line (what up, Ed Hochuli) — difficult.
But although the weather elsewhere didn’t quite match what we saw in Philly, it was still blustery and blowy and stuff. There were significant snowfalls in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Washington that created slippery conditions while at times minimizing the passing game. In Philadelphia, the wrath of old man winter grew to the point that attempting any sort of field goal — even an extra point — was downright foolish.
Often we have iconic names for these games which create iconic images, and the names themselves sound frosty and cold. In the snow we’ve had the Ice Bowl, and the Snow Bowl, a generic moniker that’s tossed around liberally, though it applies to one famous 1985 Sunday in Green Bay when a foot of the white stuff was on the ground before kickoff. Weather takes many forms, and there’s also been a Fog Bowl.
More recently, we’re just a few weeks removed from Soldier Field needing to be evacuated for several hours due to a severe storm, but even when the Bears-Ravens game resumed both teams dealt with a 25mph wind, and gusts which far exceeded that. And we’re also not too far removed from a Super Bowl in 2007 that was a Miami slopfest, with rain pouring down all evening. The Colts didn’t mind as they beat Chicago 29-17, and Prince sure didn’t seem to care while he pissed off the loud fringe of America that just wants to puh-lease think of the children.
I could go on, but I think you get it. Cold or unfavorable conditions created by the weather have always been a part of football, and always will be to some extent. What often happens, though, is in those conditions the game is simplified and dumbed down.
All the sliding and inability to properly grip a football creates turnovers, or running lanes where there normally wouldn’t be any, and the first team able to capitalize on those — and do it repeatedly — wins. We saw that Sunday when LeSean McCoy had 148 rushing yards in just the fourth quarter, most of which came on runs of 40 and 58 yards. Then for good measure his backup Chris Polk added a 38-yard score, and 21 unanswered fourth-quarter points were the difference. They came after Lions speedster return man Jeremy Ross took a kickoff back 98 yards, which followed his 58-yard punt return score. As a returner or a running back, finding a seam and cutting once to get upfield led to whiffs and points, because abruptly planting and moving laterally to make a tackle wasn’t happening.
In many ways, in Philadelphia Sunday and to a lesser extent in Baltimore and Pittsburgh too, we saw a battle against the weather, an invisible foe, much more so than the very real and visible one on the opposite sideline. As viewers, we were entertained, merely out of curiosity. It’s fun seeing Nick Foles and Calvin Johnson disappear in the snow, and it’s interesting to see how each team is equipped to battle the elements.
But should those evil forces of nature really be the main battle when it’s time to decide a champion?
Football — and pretty much only football — should determine who wins a championship
And thus we arrive at the opposing mindset, and it’s here where I find myself straddling a fence that doesn’t exist, which is still painful. Was I entertained Sunday by the various weather-related follies? Absolutely. So when the NFL is exposed to an even wider audience as it is every year during the Super Bowl, will that high entertainment value persist if there are poor conditions at MetLife on Feb. 2? Yup.
Here’s the struggle, though, or at least my struggle. Slugging through the weather is indeed part of football, and that’s all well and great. But at what point does a game and by extension its outcome revolve solely around the weather, and not the merits and deficiencies of the two teams that fought so hard to play for a championship? That line when a third-party influence becomes too much is vague and impossible to define, but I’d say it resides somewhere between the weather conditions in Philadelphia Sunday, and those in Washington.
For the record, in a different world where the Super Bowl is played in early December, this would have been the scene at Metlife.
Is this what Super Bowl Sunday will look like? pic.twitter.com/lCGcBdTJAR
— Brian Costello (@BrianCoz) December 8, 2013
And if you put faith in such things, the Farmer’s Almanac has predicted a “Storm Bowl“, with the game played on a bitterly cold day and heavy snowfall expected. If that happens, and if we get anything even remotely close to the dumping in Philly Sunday, the result will be a slip-slidey Super Bowl crash derby, with two core elements of the game — the passing part and the kicking part — either significantly reduced or eliminated altogether.
Sure, that will make for fun, entertaining times. But would the champion truly be the best team in football, or just the team that slid in the right directions that day?
The counterpoint is often that football is meant to be played in the elements, and the glory of nature. But in truth, football can be played in bad weather, and it often is played in bad weather. But there’s no mandate to have the adverse conditions which are being invited by a cold-weather Super Bowl.
That romantic snow globe image will dissipate when the novelty fades. So…halftime?