by Paul West
The Weather Was Actually Way Better Than Expected
With all the controversy about the 2014 Super Bowl being in a ‘cold weather city,’ Super Sunday produced weather that favored neither offense nor defense. Mere days after a brutal cold snap, and less than 24 hours before over half a foot of snow, the temperature on game day was a balmy 49 degrees. Players were strolling around in sandals and flipflops, sometimes both at once, during warmups. Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman called the weather “awesome.” It was, in fact, warmer at MetLife Stadium than in either team’s home city. There was negligible wind, and the only real precipitation was a mild rain during the halftime show–in which Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers put on what’s being discussed as the best Super Bowl halftime show ever. From a conditions-oriented standpoint, it was a lucky as one could have hoped for. Those concerned about frigid or windy conditions affecting the somewhat weather-vulnerable Broncos quarterback, Peyton Manning, surely felt he’d dodged a meteorological bullet.
Alas, the Broncos were terrible. More importantly, their offense–in perfect conditions, on a neutral field–was terrible. In fact, if not for a strong early effort by Denver’s under-appreciated defense, it would have been much worse than the 43-8 pounding they suffered. Despite having seemingly avoided averse weather, the Broncos had a terrible day. But the wintry early February climate had more of an effect than many have mentioned; the anticipation of treacherous conditions facilitated what turned into a key advantage for the Seahawks: the crowd.
The 12th Man in East Rutherford
ESPN’s Woody Paige said, “I’ve covered 40 Super Bowls, and this was the loudest.” The crowd boomed–pun intended–from the team introductions all the way through the first half, creating an atmosphere that was more March Madness than the corporate-laden, oft-subdued Super Bowl crowds tend to provide. The noise level was reminiscent, in fact, of a Seahawks home game: it was raucous, exuberant and constant. The Broncos’ home crowd is also known for its exuberance, but a key element of their home crowd was missing: they didn’t simmer down when Denver’s offense had the ball.
You know why Peyton Manning’s “Omaha” audible has become so well known? In part it’s because the Broncos had home field throughout this year’s playoffs, and their home crowd is savvy enough to keep the noise down for Manning’s audible-driven offense. Sunday’s crowd was not only loud, is was so loud that you could barely hear Manning’s cadence, much less his audibles. This was almost certainly the cause of the catastrophic first play from scrimmage, in which the ball was snapped over Manning’s head just as he leaned in to deliver an audible he’d have normally been able to simply bark from an upright position.
The MetLife crowd seemed moderately tilted in favor of the Seahawks, so one might infer that they were deliberately trying to disrupt Denver’s offense. There were signs, shirts and banners with the number “12” all over the arena, and it wasn’t merely the noise level that made it feel more like a Seahawks home game than a neutral-site affair. There were plenty of Broncos fans in attendance, but the general feeling was one of a playoff game–in Seattle.
Weather Panic=Democratized Ticket Prices
In the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, the New York Metropolitan area experienced some extremely wintry and treacherous weather. There were snowstorms, high winds and single-digit temperatures. Reasonably enough, there was some concern. Contingency plans were announced that involved moving the Super Bowl to another day. And ticket sales lagged. In turn, ticket prices began to fall, and word began to get around that Super Bowl tickets were actually somewhat affordable. The democratization of ticket prices meant a lot more ‘ordinary folks’ would be able to make it to the Super Bowl without much trouble; on my own social media timelines, I saw a number of posts to the effect of “what the heck” and “hey, might as well.”
Democratized ticket prices led to a more democratized crowd. And at risk of an unfair implied correlation between income bracket and sports fandom, the percentage of Super Bowl attendees who were actual fans of not only the game, but of one of the teams involved, went up. Here’s where the location of the game is relevant: more than Indianapolis or even Miami or New Orleans, New York is a place where many people from many places reside. So when ticket prices drop, within days of Super Sunday, all the folks in the area who actually hail from Denver or the Pacific Northwest might say, as above, “what the heck.” (In fact, one of the aforementioned people on my social media feeds is, in fact, a friend from Denver who decided to get Super Bowl tickets because “you only live once”…and, you know, they were only about as expensive than box seats at Yankee Stadium.
Aside from the enormous number of expats in the New York City area, there’s the fact that new York City is an enormously popular travel destination. This isn’t the first time fans of a Super Bowl team have traveled to the city where the Super Bowl was being played, whether or not they planned to actually attend the game; but having the Super Bowl in New York City almost certainly had a multiplying effect on many fans’ willingness to travel and see the festivities. Now, imagine you’ve decided to go to York City to hang out in the Big Apple while your favorite team is there for the big game. Then imagine that, just days before the game, you find out that you can actually go to the game for a couple hundred bucks. This is yet another reason the Super Bowl crowd was so enthusiastic. Not only were they more likely to have been actual devoted fans of one of the teams on the field, but they were more likely than usual to have gotten a pretty good deal on tickets to the game. All of this explains the aforementioned playoff/March Madness vibe.
Of course, none of the above necessarily explains why the crowd seemed tilted in favor of the Seahawks. The explanation for this is likely twofold. First, the Seahawks were not only the on-paper underdog, but going against the 5th-time MVP and arguable “greatest of all time” quarterback in Peyton Manning. The Seahawks were not only an underdog, but they were a spirited and interesting underdog. Their quarterback, Russell Wilson, is an undersized non-blue-chip guy who’s known for humility and poise, making him likeable and easy to root for. Their biggest personality is the bombastic, polarizing, often over the top but also unfairly labeled Richard Sherman. Their highly touted “Legion of Boom” defense is composed of low-round picks and castoffs whom relatively few could have named before the season began, and they wear their no-name underdog status like a badge of honor, despite the aforementioned antics of their most prominent player. Their “Beast Mode” running back, Marshawn Lynch, is known for being media-averse and being overly fond of Skittles. Their fullback, Derrrick Coleman, is the NFL’s first deaf player, and is known for reaching out to young hearing-impaired fans. Last but not least, the Seahawks’ fan base are the renowned “12th Man,” known for seismic impact and consistently high decibel levels that energize their team while drowning opposing offenses in decibels. For fans on the fence, the underdog–especially one with so many stories–is easy to pull for, especially against football royalty and an offense that supposedly can’t be stopped. It also bears noting that this was only the Seahawks’ second Super Bowl appearance and eventually became their first Super Bowl championship. Considering the factors above, it makes sense that the “12th Man” would not only travel in force, but happily take advantage of plummeting ticket prices and do their best to make their team feel at home.
This all returns us to the point of departure. While the Broncos didn’t have to deal with the terrible weather that many feared, they dealt with an ironic side effect: weather-related dampening of ticket prices, and the ensuing crowd environment that hampered their offense and energized their opponent.