Frank Deford: A winter's tale about football - Sports Illustrated

A winter's tale about football

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Every year now, about this time, the thermometer falls and the Roman numerals rise. Why, the Super Bowl is certified vintage now. Patriotic football fans, plus Tom Brady himself, keep filling the Broadway pews of Lombardi, to solemnly listen to an actor pass on the revealed wisdom of one of the Super Bowl's Founding Fathers . . . as sure as we citizens heard members of Congress read us, less artistically, the profound words of Madison and his sacred brethren.

Ah, but the Super Bowl constitution has been amended, too. When Commissioner Pete Rozelle, the General Washington of the pro football wars, found peace and created the Super Bowl, his guiding principal was that the heart of winter was no time to play important football games. No -- the championship must be exported to more benign latitudes, leaving January to do its mischief to temperate America without tarnishing the gridiron game and forcing team season-ticket holders to venture out into an ugly second season.

In 1967, Rozelle's first Super Bowl was played right about now, in mid-January. This year, it will go on three weeks later: Feb. 6, with playoff games scheduled all January, in places like icy Massachusetts and suburban Lake Michigan. Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?

And sacrilege to the memory of Pete Rozelle: the 2014 Super Bowl itself will actually be played in New Jersey, a snow-covered land whose governor was pilloried for abandoning the state to take refuge in Disneyworld.

Jersey? Not so ... sure.

Come on: who knows The Garden State climate better? The chubby governor, who leaves New Jersey for Florida, or the fat-cat NFL, which foists the Super Bowl on us there?

To compound this madness, NFL owners want to add two games to the annual schedule, thus taking the Super Bowl closer to Presidents Day than Groundhog Day. The addition of extra games would come at a time when even the owners agree that no longer can we blithely employ that hoary euphemism, "there's a player shaken up on the field" ... when in fact, he's laid out with a concussion or some other serious battlefield wound.

Pro football -- played by behemoths who clang into each other at warp speed -- is a brutal game that uses up bodies, and to lengthen the regular schedule to 18 games, some on frozen fields, seems irresponsible, if not grotesque.

But NFL ratings are sky-high and winter is great for television precisely because the frosty weather keeps many Americans inside, where they can gather around the high definition and watch January from the safety of their homes.