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Outdoor Stadiums, Domes, and Cold-Weather Super Bowls

U.S. Bank Stadium

It’s winter time. It’s cold. In certain parts of the country, it’s cold. The forecast in Minneapolis for Sunday, February 4 — the location and date of Super Bowl LII — is 21 degrees and partly sunny, with a low of 7 degrees. Touchdown-sized increments of seven, no less.

Thankfully, these are just the outside conditions; U.S. Bank Stadium’s ETFE roof should keep things inside nice and comfortable for the NFC and AFC champs.

There used to be a tradition of frigid conditions in NFL championships, dating from the 1920s and 1930s battles on frozen tundra in Chicago and New York through the Ice Bowl between the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers in 1967.

Commissioner Pete Rozelle sought to change matters, following the college football bowl script of sunny climates for the sport’s biggest postseason game. The first Super Bowl was played in 72 degrees at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. When Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers repeated as champions the next year, it was 68 degrees at the Orange Bowl. Broadway Joe Namath made good on his guarantee and the Jets upset the Colts in Super Bowl III in 73-degree weather in Miami.

And then, in 1972: The First Cold Super Bowl. In front of over 81,000 at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, Super Bowl VI kicked off at a chilly, blustery 39 degrees. The game was played largely on the ground; the Dallas Cowboys exerted their will to the effect of 252 rushing yards and a 24-3 icing of the Miami Dolphins. “I remember it being cold,” said victorious Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach, who passed for 119 yards, “but it wasn’t anything that disturbed the game.” Recalled longtime Tulane statistician Gayle Letulle, “I don’t think the weather interfered with the game at all, but it was very unpleasant.”

Super Bowl IX was also awarded to New Orleans — with the expectation that the game would be played inside at the new Louisiana Superdome. But the Superdome’s construction was delayed, and Tulane Stadium was again utilized, this time in 46-degree conditions. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings struggled to find offense, stymied by the cold and the famed defenses on both sides, the Steel Curtain and the Purple People Eaters. At halftime, the Steelers led by a scant 2-0, on their way to a 16-6 win. The Vikings managed just 119 yards total.

Detroit was the first true cold-weather host city, welcoming the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals to the 72-degree Pontiac Silverdome for Super Bowl XVI. Outside, there was snow on the ground, freezing rain in the air, and a minus-21-degree wind chill accompanying 13-degree conditions. Inside, Joe Montana led the 49ers to a 20-0 halftime lead before holding on for a 26-21 victory.

Ten years later, Minneapolis hosted its first Super Bowl, XXVI, pitting Washington and Buffalo at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. “To combat possible sub-zero temperatures,” wrote Edward Walsh for The Washington Post, “local organizers are planning to give away 250,000 hand- and foot-warming devices. There will also be nine heated ‘warming tents’ arrayed around the Metrodome where spectators can stop while walking between parking areas and the stadium.”

The preparations proved necessary: The day of the game brought 26-degree conditions outside the Metrodome. The Buffalo Bills’ fans might have felt more at home while arriving, but it was Washington that triumphed in the end, 37-24. (“We can talk forever,” said Bills head coach Marv Levy, “but defeat is still odious.”)

Super Bowl XL returned to the Motor City, hosted by Ford Field. “The good news is,” wrote Darren Rovell in advance of the game, “Sunday’s temperature is expected to be some 35 degrees warmer than it was the last time the area hosted a Super Bowl 24 years ago…. The bad news is, snow is in the weekend forecast.” It was a winter storm warning delivered to the region, forecasting the potential of nine inches of accumulation. But, as it happened, there was just a light dusting upon the stadium, one inch of snow at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, and the worst of the snowfall (up to eight inches) in the suburbs to the north of the city. Temperatures, contrary to Rovell’s hopes, were still unfriendly: 30 degrees, with winds gusting up to 36 mph. The matchup featured two cold-weather teams playing indoors, with the Steelers overcoming the Seattle Seahawks, 21-10.

Detroit and Minnesota were prepared for the worst. As it turned out, it was two cities to the south who had greater cause for concern.

An ice storm hit Atlanta one week before Super Bowl XXXIV at the Georgia Dome, followed by a second ice storm rocking the region the day before the game. Combined, they deprived over 340,000 Georgians of electricity and caused hundreds of car accidents (including one 47-car pileup). 16 power generators were brought to the dome in case emergency energy was needed and workers were placed on the dome roof, tasked to prevent snow and/or water from accumulating. The game itself, overshadowed by the mess, was a classic: The St. Louis Rams survived the Tennessee Titans, 23-16, when the Rams’ Mike Jones tackled Titans receiver Kevin Dyson a yard shy of the goal line as time expired.

Eleven years later, two days before Super Bowl XLV was set to be held at Cowboys Stadium, as much as five inches of snow fell on the greater Dallas region. Flights were thrown into disarray, roads froze, and parties were canceled… but not the Green Bay Packers’ celebration after a 31-25 victory over the Steelers.

By way of comparison, the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears had nothing to complain about in Super Bowl XLI at Dolphin Stadium in Miami. The game was played amid a constant rain, with accumulations of 0.92” of precipitation at Miami International Airport. The Colts won in sloppy fashion, 29-17.

It was these conditions — rainy, blustery, snowy, or some other wintry combination — that led to worries approaching Super Bowl XLVIII, hosted by MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Longtime Washington Post NFL reporter Mark Maske got right to the point in his game story: “After weeks — and perhaps years — of angst over what the weather conditions would be for the first Super Bowl held in a cold-weather location with an outdoor stadium, it turned out all of the fretting had been unnecessary. Good fortune was on the NFL’s for Sunday’s Super Bowl, won by the Seattle Seahawks, 43-8, over the Denver Broncos at MetLife Stadium. The announced game-time temperature was 49 degrees, and the skies were clear. Snow was in the local forecast — but for Monday, not Sunday.”

Cold conditions in New Orleans, rain in Miami, ice in Atlanta, snow in Dallas, sun in New Jersey. There’s an element of unpredictability that lends to football’s drama, evidenced most recently by Case Keenum’s walk-off touchdown connection to Stefon Diggs. Come what may in Minneapolis on Sunday, February 4, on and off the field, inside and outside U.S. Bank Stadium.

Image courtesy Minnesota Vikings.

This article first appeared in the weekly Football Stadium Digest newsletter. Are you a subscriber? It’s free, and you’ll see features like this before they appear on the Web. Go here to subscribe to the Football Stadium Digest newsletter.

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