America’s secular religion — football — celebrates its High Holy Day every mid-winter in the form of the Super Bowl. Super Bowls typically are staged in cities with roofed stadiums or in cities that may lack roofed stadiums but are situated further south in milder climates.
By scheduling the 2014 event in an open-air cathedral — that is, a stadium with no roof - in northern New Jersey on Sunday, Feb. 2, the National Football League has affirmed its faith in global warming.
Winter temperatures are undeniably warmer than they used to be (snowmelt and runoff happen weeks sooner than they used to) so how could the weather gods have the audacity to brew up severe cold and drop a snowstorm upon this important event in the roofless MetLife stadium in the Meadowlands?
Yet, one week before the big event, cold and snow was indeed the forecast.
However, by Monday afternoon, Jan. 27, the weather people (as distinguished from the weather gods) had backed away from that prediction. According to nfl.com, “The days leading up to the game will be … unseasonably cold for the region” and will stay that way until Friday, but on Saturday the temperature is supposed to rise to “a balmy 34.” There was said to be, however, a 30 percent chance of rain or snow on Saturday.
That precipitation was not expected to continue into Super Bowl Sunday, and the worst thing about that day was thought to be a chill wind that would make a temperature in the low 30s feel like 20 degrees. All in all, the NFL weather correspondent was hoping that the Super Bowl would “not get walloped by nasty weather.”
The eastern portion of the United States has had plenty of nasty weather this fall, and so far this winter. Storm after storm has rolled in, while much of the West has remained relatively warm and in places very, very dry.
What a relief the amended forecast must have been for corporate sponsors who count on attracting not only devotees of football but also viewers uninterested in football but interested in checking out the famous and expensive Super Bowl TV commercials. Many of these people are devotees of a deeper American religion: consumerism.
Viewers are guaranteed many more minutes of TV ads than of live action on the field. The game is four quarters long – unless it goes into overtime with the teams tied. Each quarter is 15 minutes, and the halftime intermission is 15 minutes. That adds up to one hour and 15 minutes.
But the game clock is not always running. Each team has three timeouts it can use in each half, and there are numerous other clock stoppages: whenever a pass falls incomplete or a ball carrier goes out of bounds; whenever a team scores a touchdown, a field goal, or a safety; when a player ends up sprawled on the ground, injured; when officials need to make up their minds about penalties or other decisions on the field. (Did that ball carrier’s knee touch the ground before his extended hands nudged the football over the goal line? Did that pass catcher get both feet on the ground before he was pushed out of bounds?).
The clock also stops for a “two-minute warning” before the end of the second and fourth quarters, and there are special “TV timeouts” for no reason other than creating more time to insert commercials.
Between plays on the field the clock ticks away, but much of this time is eaten up by the offense convening in a huddle to decide whether to run or pass or kick while the defense decides how to position itself to counter what it thinks the offense may do, after which the clock keeps ticking while both teams line up and wait for the ball to be snapped to quarterback or kicker.
A friend of ours viewed an NFL game while wielding a stopwatch. The entire event lasted about three hours. The on-field action, kicks, passes, handoffs, catches, runs, blocks and tackles added up to 22 minutes.
I’m not mocking football. Elizabeth and I could be called “fair weather fans” of the San Francisco 49ers professional football team, dating back to the years we lived in that city and attended occasional games at Kezar Stadium, which was within walking distance of our neighborhood. But we tend to focus our attention elsewhere when the ‘Niners are not faring well.
This season the 49ers were faring quite well while Elizabeth and I were in California visiting friends and family over the Christmas and New Year holidays. Along with this psychological fair weather, the actual weather was mostly warm and sunny, and we watched the ‘Niners win game after game at the end of the season, all the way up to the National Football Conference championship game in Seattle, which the ‘Niners lost when, with half a minute on the clock, a pass into the end zone that, if caught, could have won the game instead was intercepted.
This sent the Seattle Seahawks to the Super Bowl to face the American Football Conference champion Denver Broncos.
If global warming this year has decided to blast the eastern United States with storm after storm, snow after snow, it’s had the opposite effect in much of the West. California is deep into its second year of serious drought and could use some of that “nasty weather” to build up snow in the Sierra Nevada and keep the rivers running and the crops in the Central Valley growing.
Meanwhile, a certain subculture in the United States not normally associated with football (but interested in one particular crop) supposedly has been rooting for Seattle and Denver to face each other, because they represent the only two states in the union, Washington and Colorado, which by popular vote of their citizens have legalized marijuana for recreational (not just medical) use. The Pot Bowl, some newspapers have called it.
Well, anything to entice more people to watch those commercials. Perhaps a few new fans will tune into the Super Bowl this coming Sunday, and soon discover that the action on the field is occupying less than one-tenth of the total time it takes to decide the winner.
By then, some of these fans may have decided to create their own internal fair weather, and enhance the other nine-tenths of this occasion, by kicking back and lighting up.