The home sites of the NFL’s two conference championships games Sunday once again reminds me of the absurdity letting Old Man Winter play such a large role in deciding the Super Bowl finalists.
The season begins in the sweltering heat of summer training camps, continues into beautiful fall afternoons — with occasional fall storms that is part of the charm of football to overcome — and then stretches into January when everyone with common sense is indoors.
When the Chargers lost the 1981 season AFC Championship game at Cincinnati on Jan. 10, 1982, the wind-chill was minus-59 degrees. Chargers Hall-of-Fame tight end Kellen Winslow said after the game he wouldn’t have sent his dog outside in that weather. But the NFL sends millionaire athletes out to decide championships in games that are distorted by the winter climate.
Television money is the blame. The NFL season used to end in December and then stretched into the first week of January with the merger of the NFL and the AFL. Back then, the NFL showed common sense by picking a warm weather site for the Super Bowl.
If playing through the conditions is part of football, why don’t we play the Super Bowl at the home site of the AFC or NFC team? That’s how it’s done in baseball and basketball. If the NCAA can move its teams and fans around the country for the NCAA basketball tournament, football is popular enough to schedule AFC and NFC championship games at neutral warm-weather sites or in domes.
It was 23 degrees with gusty winds of 20 mph at New England in the Patriots’ 21-12 win over the Chargers. And that was balmy site, compared to the New York Giants — whose first playoff win was two weeks earlier in the Florida heat of Tampa — playing at Green Bay on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.
Oh, if only the Dallas Cowboys would have won that famous Ice Bowl game 41 years ago. The TV shots of a frozen Tom Landry wouldn’t have been mythologized and romanticized as much as the images of Vince Lombardi. And before some goof from Boston reads this on the Internet and says I’m blaming the Chargers’ loss on the weather, I’m not.
I’m blaming it on the Chargers’ injuries that made their sideline look like a M*A*S*H unit. But that’s part of football. If anything, the weather hurt New England’s passing game more than the Chargers’ offense. No, the time the Chargers’ lost a Super Bowl trip due to weather was that game in Cincinnati, when Don Coryell was denied his chance to coach in a Super Bowl by North Pole conditions.
That game should have been postponed to the next day at a site such as the Silverdome, which was then the home to the Detroit Lions. I’m sure Cincinnati fans would have made the drive. It was so bad that afternoon in Cincinnati, even TV probably wouldn’t have sent Howie Long and Chris Meyers outside dressed up like a cross between Elmer Fudd and Nanook of the North as they were Sunday at Lambeau.
Football is a fall sport, but the cold Nor’easter of TV dollars lets Old Man Winter influence too many championship football games. Injuries are part of football, but winter climates shouldn’t be.
— TOM SHANAHAN