Every year, the NFL's big game is played in a sunny, neutral location in front of corporate junketeers. It's time to let the top team-and its craziest fans-play host.
Author Jason Gay Illustration John Cuneo
EVERY SPORT IN THE WORLD has its Big Game. But in the United States, there really is only one: the Super Bowl. From the torrent of media hype to the parade of grizzled football veterans to the comically high television ratings—almost 100 million viewers in the U.S. alone— the Super Bowl makes everything else (NBA finals and World Series game sevens, U.S. Open Finals, the Masters) look like a festival of obscure European art films. You have to go global—the Olympics or World Cup—if you want to compete on magnitude, but of course, neither of those events will ever feature the comedic stylings of Bill Belichick.
I love the Super Bowl. Love the hype, love the game, love the overbaked halftime show, and love the social acceptance of eating 39 chicken wings in a single sitting. But I have a beef: Why is the most important sporting event of the calendar always played in a dispassionate, indifferent city? It’s the planet’s most watched game, played in front of the planet’s most ambivalent live audience.
It’s an insult to serious fans everywhere. You spend the entire season smearing on face paint, standing shirtless and grilling ribs in the parking lot with like-minded lunatics. You waste nights building a detailed papier-mâché replica of Cris Collinsworth (or is that just us?). You hang in for the highs and lows, the injuries, the coaching crises. Then if your team makes the playoff s, it plays a handful of postseason games in someone’s home stadium, in fair weather and foul. And then, if lightning strikes, it makes the Super Bowl, only to run onto the field and entertain…a bunch of bored guys in khakis.
It’s like following a couple of dry martinis with a nice tall glass of soy milk. In the NFL’s peerless playoff system, which keeps us enthralled through January and early February, this is the one weak link.
I’m not a (total) fool: I know the upside of holding the Super Bowl on unaligned turf. It’s the Super Bowl!
It’s the sport’s marquee event. Like a bride planning her wedding, the Nfl selects locations where it will have consistency, control and veto power over the band. Ever since Green Bay won the first Super Bowl in Los Angeles, it’s been held in warm places. On the rare occasion that it takes place somewhere cold, like Indianapolis in 2012, it’s a cold place with a domed stadium and a lot of hotel rooms. The Nfl does not want Howie Long sleeping in his rental car.
And unlike some hand-wringing purists, I don’t mind that the Super Bowl has a corporate side. Fine with me. If fans want to rave about how well-run, rich and polished the league is, they’ve got to accept that corporations have a lot to do with that. Television network money and deep-pocketed sponsors are the foundation of the league. Sponsors need to be taken care of. Eli Manning does not pay for himself.
Still, the Super Bowl must get livelier before it loses touch with its hardcore fans, the ones who support it the other 364 days of the year. And the most obvious way to accomplish this is also the simplest: Hold the Super Bowl at the home field of the team with the best record. Either that, or alternate it each year between the two conferences, the AFC and the NFC. (Just don’t employ that cockamamie idea that baseball had for its All-Star game, and turn the Pro Bowl into some kind of home-field decider.)
I can just hear the complaints. “Hey, do you really want to go to Green Bay, Wisconsin, in February?” My answer? Why, yes—yes I do want a Super Bowl on the Frozen Tundra in the second-coldest month of the year. Think of the hours of rumination over how teams would handle the weather. Think of the obsessive worry over Nor’easters and Alberta clippers. Think of the ingenious methods fans would come up with to smuggle in scotch. Think of Super Bowl snow.
Besides, I’ve never understood why it’s okay to hold an AFC or NFC championship in freezing-cold howling winds and snow just two weeks before the Super Bowl, but not the Super Bowl itself. It’s as if the Nfl spends 51 weeks of the year advertising how tough it is, only to start whining like a beach volleyball player when it comes to the main event.
Still, the exciting possibility of ugly weather isn’t the main reason to move the Super Bowl (after all, warm weather and dome teams could host too). It’s the energy. Think of what an entertaining zoo a football-mad city like Green Bay—or Pittsburgh, or Baltimore, or Foxborough, Massachusetts, where the New England Patriots play—would be if it hosted the biggest game on the planet. It certainly wouldn’t be any duller than…okay, I’m not going to say it, but just remember that not all warm-climate cities are as swinging as Miami. Sure, they might wind up a few hotel rooms short in Foxborough or Green Bay, but two words, sports fans: buddy up.
Meanwhile, just think of the scene inside the stadium. It would be a madhouse. The crazies would overwhelm the corporate suits. Nobody would be leaving in the fourth quarter to catch an early shuttle to the hotel. There’d be no inexplicable lulls of silence midway through the second quarter. And they wouldn’t have to do that embarrassing thing they do now: importing fake fans to race onto the field and cheer for the halftime act. Do you think Pittsburgh needs to be told to cheer for Bruce Springsteen or Tom Petty?
To be honest, I didn’t care about this issue for a long time, because for a long stretch from the mid-’80s to the mid’90s, the Super Bowl was basically a blowout. You could have put 80,000 Motorhead fans in there and by halftime it would have sounded like a middle-round match at Wimbledon.
Lately, however, the Super Bowl has been extremely competitive. Several times in the past decade I’ve heard commentators speculate that the given year’s Super Bowl might be the “best ever.” Last year’s throwdown in Tampa between Pittsburgh and Arizona, which had the potential to be a dog, turned out to be one of the most exciting games I’ve ever witnessed. Still, you couldn’t help but wonder how much better it would have been on home turf.
Finally, to those who ask, “Isn’t it unfair to give the home-field advantage to one team in the biggest game of them all?” I respond, Yes! It’s unfair. Since when did football start being about what’s fair? Is it fair that the Colts got Peyton Manning and the Cleveland Browns have to hold open quarterback tryouts? Is it fair that the Washington Redskins have become the Washington Generals? Is it fair that a casino took all my brother’s money after I promised him the Patriots would “never, ever lose” to the New York Giants?
Let football play its signature game at home. After all, I too will be home. Watching on the couch in the living room, where it’s nice and warm.
JASON GAY played the half-time show with Seals & Croft at Super Bowl XII.
For many of the Superbowl’s nearly 100 million viewers, it’s as much about the advertisements as the game itself. But those 30-second spots ain’t cheap.
“1984” BY APPLE
COST PER SECOND, 1984: $15,000
“FETCH” BY BUDWEISER
COST PER SECOND, 2009: $100,000