Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Flacco Catching Flack
He attended the University of Delaware. That's in Newark -- pronounced as if it was two words, "New Ark," not "New-erk" like the large New Jersey city of the same spelling. Delaware Stadium, where he played his home games, is a 45-minute drive from the Philly sports complex, and, in the other direction, an hour's drive from M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, home of the NFL's Ravens.
He is about to complete his 5th season for the Ravens, in Baltimore, which can get cold in winter. He has quarterbacked the Ravens to the Playoffs in each of those 5 seasons. In 3 of them, including this one, he has led them to the AFC Championship Game.
The Ravens play in the AFC North Division. Which means, every year, they have 2 meetings with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Yet the Ravens have finished 1st in the Division the last 2 seasons, and 2nd in the 3 before that. He has now led them into a Super Bowl. He has led them to Playoff wins over Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos in Denver, and Tom Brady's New England Patriots twice in 3 tries, including in the AFC Championship Game just played, in Foxboro no less.
Joe Flacco cannot be called a wimp.
Or... can he?
Perhaps because he is a native of New Jersey -- albeit the side of the State that tilts toward Philadelphia, rather than the one that tilts toward New York -- he was asked about next season's Super Bowl being held at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, just outside New York City. MetLife is an open-air stadium in a cold-winter city.
It will be the first time the Super Bowl has been played in such a venue. Of the first 47 Super Bowls, counting the one that will be played at the Superdome in New Orleans this Sunday...
* 15 were held in Florida -- 10 in Miami, 4 in Tampa, 1 in Jacksonville. Sun Belt.
* 11 were held in California -- 7 in the Los Angeles area, 3 in San Diego, 1 near San Francisco. Sun Belt.
* 9, including this one, were held in New Orleans. Sun Belt. The last 6 of those indoors.
* 3 were held in Texas -- 2 in Houston, 1 outside Dallas. Sun Belt. The last 2 of those indoors.
* 2 were held in Atlanta. Sun Belt and dome.
* 2 have been held in the Detroit area. Cold winter city, but both games under domes.
* 2 have been held in the Phoenix area. Sun Belt. The last of these indoors. So will the 2014-15 one.
* 1 has been held in Minneapolis. Cold winter city, but under a dome.
* 1 has been held in Indianapolis. Cold winter city, but under a dome.
Why in a Sun Belt city, or under a dome -- or both? Because the NFL bigwigs want the biggest game of the season to be held under ideal conditions. They are detail freaks who would fit in just fine in the military. They want to eliminate the possibility of any condition that would make the loser say, "Well, we would have won, if only (something that was out of our control hadn't happened)."
Super Bowl VI in 1972, at the old Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, had a game-time temperature of 39 degrees. That was the worst weather they've ever had for a Super Bowl to this day. Other than that, the coolest one was Super Bowl VIII in 1974, at Rice Stadium in Houston (it had a lot more seats than the climate-controlled Astrodome), 50 degrees at kickoff.
They never even had precipitation for a game until Super Bowl XLI, at the Dolphins' stadium (whatever it was corporately named at the time) in the Miami suburbs, in 2007. In that game, there was a light rain througout. (Though Chicago Bears fans shouldn't blame the weather for their team's defeat: The Indianapolis Colts were simply the better team, and it was Peyton Manning's time to finally get a ring.)
But some of the NFL's greatest games have been played in cold weather. The 1950 NFL Championship Game, a thriller won by the Cleveland Browns over the Los Angeles Rams in Cleveland, was played on a frigid Christmas Eve. The Giants played 6 NFL Championship Games in 8 years from 1956 to 1963, 3 at home at Yankee Stadium, 1 in Baltimore, 1 in Green Bay, and 1 in Chicago, and all were cold, including the legendary 1958 game that gets called "The Greatest Game Ever Played."
Then there's the NFL Championship Game at Green Bay's Lambeau Field on New Year's Eve 1967, known as the Ice Bowl. It was -13 degrees at game time. That's without the wind chill factor. Still an official NFL record. With it, it was about -39. When the set was setting by the end of the game, and with the south end scoreboard casting a shadow over the end zone that Packer quarterback Bart Starr snuck in, to give the Pack the win over the Dallas Cowboys, officially, it was -48. I've seen one source that says that, with the wind chill, it was -55. When the Giants beat the Packers in the 2007-08 NFC Championship Game at Lambeau, and it was officially -4 (-24 with the wind chill) and snowing, but it was a great game.
So it is possible to play a great football game in cold weather.
But here's what Flacco said, when asked about a Super Bowl being played outdoors in New Jersey on a February 2:
The average high temperature for East Rutherford, New Jersey on a February 2 is 39 degrees. The average low is 22. The average amount of precipitation -- rain or snow -- is 1/8th of an inch.
Look, I wouldn't want to attend a football game in cold weather. I have. The first NFL game I ever saw live was a November 3, 1996 game between the Giants and the Arizona Cardinals at Giants Stadium. I was way up on the southwest corner of the upper deck, and it was freezing up there. The Giants won, 16-8.
I was at the December 30, 2001 regular season finale at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, when the Eagles jumped out to a huge lead, but the Giants fought back to within 24-21, before the Eagles stopped a furious last drive to hang on. The Vet was an awful stadium: Whatever the temperature was on the outside, it was magnified on the inside. I'd been to Phillies games where the Vet became an oven, but this time it was an ice tray.
I've been to a few frigid games at Rutgers Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey. I was at Rutgers Stadium went East Brunswick High School, my Dear Old Alma Mater, won its first State Championship in the Playoff era in 2004, at Rutgers, defeating powerful Jackson Memorial. It was cold. It was worse when EB won the next one, in 2009, at The College of New Jersey in Ewing. We played Brick Memorial and it snowed throughout, making it difficult to run and almost impossible to pass. We managed to win, and our players spent much of the postgame making snow angels on the field. I was pretty well bundled up, but my toes were very unhappy.
And I was at MetLife Stadium for the international soccer friendly between the U.S. and Argentina on March 26, 2011, a 1-1 draw against one of the best teams in the world. (Yes, Lionel Messi played for the Argies in that game. Yes, he dribbled brilliantly. No, he did not score, missing or getting stopped on 5 attempts.) It was freezing, and a nasty wind blasted across the Meadowlands parking lot, as it has so many times before, and around the stadium. $1.6 billion, and they couldn't fix the most glaring problem with the old stadium, the wind?
So would I attend Super Bowl XLVIII at the Meadowlands? If offered a free ticket, maybe. If offered a discounted ticket, no.
But would I watch such a game on television? You bet.
Would Joe Flacco want to play in such a game? No.
Flacco is catching flack for his comments. It's bad enough that a football player suggests that he's afraid of something -- in this case, the weather, over which he has no control. But to use the word "retarded"? That is absolutely unacceptable.
I was rooting for the Ravens to win this game. Not because of any ill will toward the 49ers: They're a great organization in a great sports metro area, and I have a lot of respect for what the Joe Montana and Steve Young era teams achieved. But I really like Baltimore as a city, and they've got Rutgers star Ray Rice. (That their icon, Ray Lewis, is retiring after the game has nothing to do with it.) So I had been inclined to lean toward the Ravens.
But after Flacco's comments, I don't know. Maybe I should still root for the Ravens to win, but hope that Flacco gets clobbered. Just once. Just to send him a message.
After all, the 49ers know about playing in cold weather. They still -- for at least one more season, as their new stadium is set to open in 2014 -- have to play in Candlestick Park.
Then again, San Francisco is the one city I know of that has baseball weather during football season, and football weather during baseball season.
I guess Flacco is lucky he grew up across the river from Philly, and not across the bay from San Fran. Not that the Oakland Coliseum isn't without its bad weather days.
By the way, I looked up a list of the coldest games in NFL history, to see if the Ice Bowl is officially the coldest game ever -- and it is.
Number 2 was the 1981-82 AFC Championship, at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. You'd expect the other Ohio city, Cleveland, to be colder, since it's right on Lake Erie, and Number 4 was the 1980-81 AFC Divisional Playoff that the Browns lost to the Oakland Raiders, the infamous "Red Right 88" game. But Cincinnati? Well, the stadium was right on the Ohio River, which is pretty wide, and a wide river can make for nasty winter wind -- I know, having been to Devils games in Newark on the Passaic, and to Montreal on the St. Lawrence in January. The '82 game set a record for worst wind chill, -59, but the official game-time temperature was -9. Bad enough if you're from Cincinnati. The opponents were the San Diego Chargers, who'd just come off a Humidity Bowl in Miami, that 41-38 overtime classic that gets remembered as the Kellen Winslow Game.
Number 3 was a Playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City on January 7, 1996, between the host Chiefs and the Colts. It was -6 -- at least there wasn't much wind. The Colts' quarterback that day? Jim Harbaugh, now the coach of the 49ers, and brother of current Ravens coach John Harbaugh. The Colts won.
Joe Flacco, your head coach is from Toledo, Ohio, which is on Lake Erie. He went to Miami University in nearby Oxford, Ohio. He coached at Western Michigan in Kalamazoo. And at the University of Pittsburgh. And at the University of Cincinnati. And at Indiana University. All in Big Ten Country, if not in the Big Ten Conference itself. All in the Snow Belt. (And the Rust Belt.) He was an assistant coach for the Eagles in Philadelphia for 10 years, including that frigid 2001 season finale I attended at Veterans Stadium that decided the NFC East title, the Eagles holding off a furious Giants comeback. And now he works in Baltimore, same as you.
As George Steinbrenner taught us, a good leader doesn't ask his men to work any harder than he does. And say what you want about the Harbaugh family, but they are not afraid of cold weather, or the football played therein.
Joe Flacco, you're from New Jersey. Sure, we complain about the weather, but we deal with it. And we do NOT use the word "retarded" unless we're a qualified medical/psychological professional. Be resilient. Be Jersey Strong.
Joe Flacco, man up.