NFL preps its biggest game for the biggest stage

Friday - 11/8/2013, 5:00pm EST

FILE - In this Feb. 1, 2013 file photo, Maddie Cooney, 6, just gets her chin high enough for a photo inside a Minnesota Vikings mannequin at the NFL Experience in New Orleans. Feb. 2, 2014, is a day that will be remembered forever in not only the NFL, but in New York and New Jersey, as the Super Bowl will be played outdoors in a northern market for the first time ever. Indeed, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has overcome quite a few challenges in his tenure, but this one may be the toughest. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File)

JIM LITKE
AP Sports Writer

Fans in the stands at Super Bowls past only think they've seen it all.

They've been sun-burned in Los Angeles, soaked in Miami and buffeted by winds at stops in between. Deafened during flyovers. Titillated at halftime, blacked out mid-game and even moved to tears by tributes to servicemen, veterans and the victims of 9/11.

Even so, this next Super Bowl promises those in attendance something different: The chance to freeze their rear ends off.

On Feb. 2, 2014 -- the date could still be changed if a Nor'easter rolls in off the Jersey Shore -- every one of the 82,000 or so ticketholders entering MetLife Stadium will receive a gift bag. Inside are a seat cushion, muffler, ski gaiters, three pairs of hand- and foot-warmers, lip balm and a package of tissues, plastered with enough logos to make a NASCAR driver jealous.

The Super Bowl has been played in northern cities four times before -- inside climate-controlled domes -- but never outdoors. The average daily low for East Rutherford, N.J., in early February is 22 degrees, with temperatures typically falling throughout the night, when the game will be played. Snow, wind and rain, or all three at once, is not out of the question. Exactly how much protection all that swag provides against Mother Nature's wrath remains to be seen.

"We can't provide them with coats," said Frank Supovitz, the NFL's vice president in charge of preparations for the game. "But we will be strongly encouraging them to stay in their seats."

Which begs the question: If the game is for the fans, why stage it outdoors in the New Jersey-New York metro area precisely when the trusty Farmer's Almanac, hardly alone among forecasters, is predicting a blizzard?

Money.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and his owners are taking advantage of a lull in the tourism calendar to turn a swath of Manhattan into a playground and make cash registers sing. A 180 foot-tall toboggan slide will be plopped down in Times Square, and a stretch of Broadway from 34th Street to 48th will be closed to traffic, renamed "Super Bowl Boulevard," and converted into a rollicking theme park, merchandise shop and concert venue called the "NFL Experience."

For a week, kids will punt, pass and kick while their parents shop for replica jerseys in locales where bankers and account executives usually gobble down lunch. It won't be the only place on an already crowded spit of land where jaded New Yorkers trade elbows with their guests. As many as 200,000 out-of-towners will be cast in the role of Jack Lemmon in the movie of the same name, dazzled by the goings-on and trying not to get fleeced by savvy hoteliers and street vendors.

Already, reports are circulating about prices being tripled, with modest hotel rooms in Midtown jacked to $1,000 a night, and even more modest accommodations across the Hudson River in New Jersey, close to MetLife Stadium, offered at the princely sum of $600. That's on top of what's already the highest ticket prices ever -- ranging from $500 to $2,600 -- a hike the NFL candidly acknowledged was intended to make life tough on scalpers.

But hustlers won't be the only folks forced to improvise.

Plans for the event have been three years in the making, but depending on weather, they might not be finalized until the last minute. Moving fans across the region, even aided by the nation's most extensive public transportation network, presents a logistical nightmare -- even before security considerations are factored in.

"You've got two states, separated by a river, and people from the five boroughs and eight or nine counties in New Jersey all heading for the same place in a matter of hours," said Al Kelly, who heads up the host Super Bowl committee. "What we have is a series of contingency plans where priorities shift according to the day and in some cases hour by hour. ... If a storm hits one day, we'll shift resources to clearing certain roads and bridges; if it lands somewhere else at a different time, we could be forced to change the entire blueprint.

"The one thing we better be," Kelly said finally, "is nimble."

But it's not just the region's reputation on the line.

By waiving the normal Super Bowl specifications to grease New York's winning bid in 2010 -- previously, bid cities were required to average 50-degree temperatures during game week -- Goodell and his owners are out to prove the proposition Frank Sinatra laid out in "New York, New York." Namely, that if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.