Its location puts Detroit on sidelines as Bowl host

February 01, 2005|By SUSAN REIMER

YOU CAN expect to hear some complaining out of Jacksonville, Fla., this week. The football press and football fans always expect a tropical Super Bowl, whatever the geography of the host city.

Wait until they figure out that Jacksonville is more Georgia than it is Florida. And it isn't the least bit Miami. Temperatures might not get out of the 40s and 50s all week.

But Jacksonville isn't Philadelphia in January. And it certainly isn't New England.

And it isn't Detroit in the dead of winter, either.

Detroit is more Canada than it is the United States, but it was the site of Super Bowl 16, or "XVI" as depicted in a towering ice sculpture outside the hotel headquarters for the National Football League in January 1982.

FOR THE RECORD - A column in yesterday's Today section implied that the National Football League would never return the Super Bowl to Detroit. The football championship is scheduled to return to the city next year.

I was covering pro football in those days and, as you might imagine, there wasn't a long line of reporters begging for Super Bowl credentials that year. The NFL, in a sop to a struggling auto industry that had been among its biggest advertisers for years, had agreed to the first Midwest Super Bowl.

The big fear was that a snowstorm would hit the city and keep 70,000 fans from getting to the game. Detroit actually made its pitch to the league with charts showing that no more than 2 inches of snow had ever fallen on a Super Bowl Sunday. The prognosticators had been right. There was no storm, but the press bus and one of the buses carrying players was nail-bitingly late for the game when the drivers got lost.

Never mind that the Pontiac Silverdome would be a comfortable 72 degrees when the San Francisco 49ers and the Cincinnati Bengals took the field at game time. Temperatures outside had been in the single digits all week. However, Pontiac, in the grip of 25 percent unemployment more chilling than that of any arctic wind, did its best to put a smile, albeit a frozen smile, on the faces of its guests.

Pontiac city fathers, anxious to get some of the $60 million fans might just as soon spend in the cozy comfort of their hotel bar, turned the abandoned storefronts on once bustling Saginaw Street into a B-r-r-r-bon Street North.

In what had been a dress shop, faux Pat O'Briens offered drinks-to-go called Blizzards, adapting the name of New Orleans' signature drink, the Hurricane. In other abandoned retail spots there was Dixieland music and naughty films and hot food. Black cast-iron railings and window boxes bursting with geraniums had been painted on storefronts in this Frozen French Quarter. There was even the black-stockinged, red-gartered legs of "The Lady on the Red Velvet Swing" flying out of a second-story window, just as you'd find in New Orleans.

Elsewhere, there were plenty of outdoor activities: snow-mobiling, skiing, dog-sled races, ice sculptures, ice skating. But the big challenge was keeping your feet under you on the icy sidewalks of Pontiac.

An unexpected all-night rain had covered the streets with ice. Revelers on Bourbon Street North were slipping and falling before they had downed their first Blizzard.

It was Detroit's hope that a successful snowbelt Super Bowl would put it in the unofficial rotation of Miami, Pasadena and New Orleans as host cities.

Sadly, the NFL has never returned. The Midwest Super Bowl experience had been an unofficial failure, at least in part because reporters spent the week making fun of the weather in all the newspaper stories they sent home.

Perhaps if Detroit was in Florida -- even in the northernmost tip of Florida -- the Super Bowl might have come back.

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