EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Super Sunday and Groundhog Day will arrive simultaneously in a couple of weeks, and it's fitting that the first cold-weather Super Bowl played outdoors should fall on a day traditionally associated with the exigencies of winter.
The question is whether weather worthy of winter might also arrive simultaneously. The NFL, a leviathan that dominates American culture and cuisine each Super Sunday, has a blizzard of contingency plans in place should Mother Nature offer storms on or around Feb. 2 — even plans under which the game could be played on another day.
That possibility is a long shot, but sub-freezing conditions is not. The average daily low temperature for that date here is 24 degrees Fahrenheit, according to AccuWeather.com. Fans will get "Warm Welcome" packs that include ear muffs, hand warmers and lip balm. Even Commissioner Roger Goodell plans to sit outside, the NFL says.
"We're an all-weather sport, watched by all-weather fans, and this year we're in an all-weather city," Eric Grubman, NFL executive vice president of business operations, tells USA TODAY Sports.
So, how often does he find himself looking at long-range forecasts? "Oh, 30 or 40 times a day," Grubman says.
Running the world's most-watched single sporting event is always a complex mix of logistics and planning, sort of an outsized version of the game plans that the Super Bowl teams will put in place, except with standard operating procedures and exacting security measures rather than Xs and Os. This time, the possibility of snow and ice adds extra layers of logistics.
As does playing it on the doorstep of the City that Never Sleeps — and too often, gridlocks. Traffic can be snarled on the bridges and in the tunnels connecting New York and New Jersey, even when all lanes are open.
Organizers are touting this as the first mass transit Super Bowl. It had better be: MetLife Stadium parking lots will have their number of spaces cut from roughly 29,000 to around 11,000. That's because the security perimeter and space for support vehicles and satellite trucks gobble up acres of pavement, as do the tented security checkpoints where screening will include metal detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs.
The New Jersey State Police, FBI, Department of Homeland Security, Port Authority Police Department and New York Police Department will have roles in keeping the game, and the week preceding it, safe. They'll work with roughly 100 agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard.
MetLife Stadium is here in East Rutherford, more famous as a dateline than a hometown. James Cassella is its mayor, and he complains that New York City gets the parties and the banners and the credit while his burg gets, well, left out in the cold.
"Maybe we should close some roads around the stadium because we get dissed by the NFL," he says. "That's a joke! That's only a joke. Boy, that would make a headline, wouldn't it?"
Rain, er, snow date
The Super Bowl and Groundhog Day have never coincided — never the twain shall meet — until now. Make that Mark Twain, who reputedly said everyone talks about the weather but no one does anything about it. And then there is the NFL, trying its level best to do something about the weather even before it arrives.
Grubman explains that contingencies for the possibility of winter storms fall into two categories: Grappling with snow and playing as scheduled. Or grappling with even more snow and playing it at another time.
"No. 1 is all the contingencies that you have to think through in order to be able to play the game at its appointed time," he says. "That means snow removal. It means having fans and working people prepared for the conditions they're going to face. It means having the gear — trucks and sand and spreaders — and the qualified staff to operate them. Having it, sourcing it, staging it ... so that it is a well-oiled machine.
"No. 2 is the contingency planning where it looks either impossible, or unwise, or some combination ... to play Sunday at the appointed time. We have a contingency plan to move it a little later in the day, earlier in the day, earlier in the week, later in the week, or moving it as late as we'd have to in order to end our season in Super Bowl fashion."
In the most unlikely scenario, that could even mean moving the game until the following weekend, when the Olympics are starting in Sochi, in Russia's balmiest region, raising the risible possibility of a Super Bowl with snow — and a Winter Games without.
Grubman points out that the NFL plays many late-season games in cities that get more snow and cold than New York — Buffalo and Green Bay come to mind — and games are rarely delayed. The last NFL game postponed by snow came in Philadelphia in December 2010, notable because Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell mocked the decision as evidence that the USA is becoming a nation of "wusses."
But NFL games have also been postponed for natural disasters that have nothing to do with snow and cold, such as hurricanes (Miami, 1992) and earthquakes (San Francisco, 1989). New Orleans' entire home schedule became a movable feast in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina.
"I don't think the NFL has got a monopoly on contingency planning," Grubman says.
True enough. Even family picnics have rain dates. But what makes this feel so unusual is that the Super Bowl has always been played in warm-weather cities or in northern climes with domed stadiums. One NFL concession to the potential for cold in this year's schedule — Media Day activities will be moved 12 miles and held indoors at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., rather than outdoors at MetLife.
Kitchen stays a step ahead
History's coldest Super Bowl came in New Orleans in 1972. Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach, MVP of Super Bowl VI, wasn't aware of that until contacted by USA TODAY Sports.
"It wasn't around 20 degrees or something, was it?" he asked. Nope: 38 degrees. "Well, that's nothing. As long as it's not windy. ... The wind is what kills you, especially for a quarterback."
Staubach, who played in short sleeves, completed 12 of 19 passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns as the Cowboys won their first title, 24-3 against the Miami Dolphins. "I remember it being cold," he says, "but it wasn't anything that disturbed the game."
He hopes snow or cold or wind won't disturb this one. "When you have this one game, it's not like it's the best of seven," he says. "It's one game, and you don't want it spoiled by weather. ... I do think there's the risk."
NFL field director Ed Mangan does all he can to minimize that risk. His troops have covered the field with a tarp most days since the December holidays, with heaters blowing warm air underneath. "We're worried about everything: Precipitation, snow, everything," Mangan says.
Executive chef Eric Borgia of Delaware North oversees MetLife menus and his crews are doing much work ahead of time: Breading 2,000 pounds of chicken tenders, making 500 gallons of marinara sauce, brining the wings that will later be smoked.
"Weather could mess with us," says Borgia, who is bringing in 30 chefs from arenas across the USA. "If there's a major storm a week and a half before and I'm behind, I'm in big trouble."
Romancing the snow
If life gives you lemons, the saying goes, make lemonade. As the NFL sees it: If God gives you snow, make snow angels, or at least the corporate equivalent: Super Bowl-branded napkins for parties here say, "This is football, weather you like it or not."
Frank Supovitz, senior vice president of events for the NFL, thinks there's romance in the combo of football and flakes: "I actually think it would be better if it snowed a little bit during the game. Let it snow."
New Jersey is ready if it does. State Department of Transportation deputy commissioner Joseph Mrozek says more than 16,000 workers, 2,400 trucks and dozens of snow-melting machines will be at the ready, with a stockpile of nearly 60,000 tons of salt within 30 miles.
"Our job is to plan for the worst," Mrozek says. "Our goal is very simple and that's to deliver a level of service that basically renders us invisible" — which is pretty much how the officials feel.
"People are going to revel in the fact that they were there, and they were ready, and they stayed and watched the whole game," Grubman says. "I think there's bragging rights in that."
Left unsaid: Blue skies and no snow would be just fine, too, even if that means missing out on the romance of stadium as snow globe, lightly shaken. Or, as Twain also once said, climate is what we expect. Weather is what we get.