As the patron columnist of lost causes and hopeless desires, I have a new hobbyhorse. It came to me as I watched the two games Sunday and thought about how conference championship Sunday is the best football day of the year.
The Super Bowl should not be played at a neutral site. It should be a home game for one of the teams, weather be damned. I don't really care how the home field is decided. The team with the best record can host, as in the NBA or Stanley Cup finals, or the conferences could alternate as hosts, the way the World Series worked before baseball lost its mind. One way or the other, though, a hometown atmosphere would do wonders to make the Super Bowl as exciting as the conference championship games. And I say that after Sunday's games, which weren't even particularly thrilling.
But let's think about it: How great is the Sunday when the two conference title games are played. The football-to-crapola ratio is terrific, with no more than the normal hype and two games played at stadiums where the fans are going berserk. Sometimes cold weather adds spice to the games. Imagine what NFL Films is going to do with slow-motion footage of Peyton Manning walking back to the bench after one of his four interceptions in Sunday's loss at New England, pained look on his face, hands up in puzzlement, snow falling cruelly around him. If only the barrel-voiced John Facenda were still alive to narrate it.
Compare that to the Super Bowl, a festival of relentless hype in which the football game, usually a lousy one bifurcated by an hours-long halftime show featuring the Children of All Nations twirling ribbons while this year's teen pop sensations and a superstar or two lip-sync their hits, is an afterthought. The few fans for the two teams present are sprinkled in among thousands of fat cats and trophy spouses who are there for the party.
For the multitudes, Super Sunday is all about checking out the new 50-inch plasma H.D. in Uncle Tony's basement while scarfing down Grandma's famous guacamole and gossiping about your nephew's new girlfriend -- does she own a shirt that covers her bellybutton? Conference championship Sunday is about football.
I realize the Super Bowl will always be played in warm weather cities or domed stadiums because it's not a football game but a corporate party for the NFL, and the people buying the incredibly pricey tickets aren't the kind of people who pay big money to go sit outside in Buffalo in the first week of February. I have confidence in the NFL's ability to milk maximum profits from any arrangement, but I also know that there's no reason for the league to tinker with a successful formula.
No reason other than better football, which isn't the league's top concern.
In a column in the New York Times last month following a snowy Steelers-Jets game in New Jersey, Dave Anderson pleaded with the NFL to abandon its plan to try to hold a Super Bowl in Giants Stadium in the next decade.
I agree there shouldn't be a Super Bowl in Giants Stadium -- unless the Giants or Jets win a conference title and have home-field advantage. Wait, can you imagine the Giants and Jets both getting to the Super Bowl, and then that game being played in Tempe, Ariz., or Tampa, Fla., or New Orleans? How dumb that would be when the Meadowlands would be an absolute madhouse, even if it were filled with beer and car executives? The lunatics would overtake them.
Football purists huff that the NFL's showcase game should be played in pristine weather conditions, so that real football skill, not weather, decides the winner. These are the same people who can practically bring themselves to climax by watching highlights of the Ice Bowl, the NFL Championship Game played on Dec. 31, 1967, in balmy Green Bay. It's not a stretch to say there are religious overtones when these people speak of the overtime Colts-Giants championship game played on Dec. 28, 1958, in that tropical paradise, the Bronx. If Bart Starr and Johnny Unitas weren't above contesting the championship while their breath turned to steam and their toes to ice, why should Tom Brady and Jake Delhomme be too good for it?
"You want both teams at least to be able to perform at their best," Anderson wrote. "And you want a sellout crowd."
Oh, as if, Dave.
Patriots fans filled their park and happily tossed snow around for a regular-season game against the Dolphins last month. You don't think they could fill the joint for the freakin' Super Bowl? I've noted before how divorced from regular fandom the media can get, but that about takes the take.
Anderson wrote that a Super Bowl will sell out anywhere, but if the big day dawns with sub-zero temps and snow, the fat cats are going to watch the game on TV from their hotels. I think the home field will take care of that, but if not, great. Give the fat cats until the middle of the first quarter to get to their seats, and then release those seats to the public. They'll be lined up at the stand-by gate, ready to pay 50 bucks to watch the last three quarters and the four-hour halftime show. Look! Janet Jackson in mukluks! It'd be complicated, but the NFL could organize a trip to Mars if there was money on the ground there. I'm sure the league could handle it.
And I don't want to hear how the home field is too great an advantage for a championship game. It works in every other sport, and the home field hasn't helped much in the conference championship games lately. Over the last 12 years, home teams are 13-11. Going back to the 1970 NFL-AFL merger, home teams have won about two-thirds of the time, but I think a dozen years are enough to make the argument that in this day and age, home field doesn't mean a whole lot when the top teams are playing for a title.
Championship games in both conferences have tended to be better than Super Bowl games, with more close games, fewer blowouts and smaller average margin of victory. I won't bore you with the numbers, but all of those trends are intensifying in the last dozen years.
But it doesn't matter. I'm not holding my frozen breath. I'll add an entertaining, exciting, hometown Super Bowl to my list of quixotic causes, alongside football with no kicking, basketball with no free throws and hockey with goals.
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