John McGrath: Seattle has every reason to host a Super Bowl

February 8, 2014 

Between the Seahawks’ acquisition of the Vince Lombardi Trophy and the remarkably civil celebration that followed it — 700,000 party guests, no arrests — the first week of February was a breakthrough week for Seattle and its traditionally maligned pro sports fans.

One game changed decades of defeatist thinking.

Old attitude: Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.

New attitude: Was that fun or what? Let’s do this again!

A community’s self-esteem shouldn’t be determined by the performance of its sports teams, but I’m not a psychologist. I’m just somebody who sees things. And what I saw Wednesday was a city — a region, really — that radiated pride and joy.

A fleeting sensation? Perhaps, but I’ve got this hunch a sort of philosophical corner was turned.

Old attitude: Nobody outside Seattle cares about Seattle.

New attitude: Look at us now!

From the moment I got a sneak-preview tour of the jewel now known as CenturyLink Field in 2002, I was convinced Seattle deserved the opportunity to host a Super Bowl.

I presumed others were similarly impressed by a gorgeous, centrally located football palace offering fans every transit option — they can drive there, ride the bus or train there, even walk there from a downtown hotel — and that the idea of Seattle joining the rotation of Super Bowl cities would gain traction.

It didn’t happen, but this did: A Super Bowl bid was co-submitted by the two New York teams that share a home in New Jersey — the

Giants and the Jets — and the NFL owners approved. The first Super Bowl held in an open-air stadium outside the Sun Belt drew rave reviews from everybody.

Well, almost everybody. Fans who commuted to MetLife Stadium by rail found themselves mired in two-hour delays, to and from, victims of a mass-transit system designed to handle no more than 15,000 gameday passengers. About 30,000 took the train. Oops.

Aside from the Not So Little Trains That Couldn’t, Super Bowl XLVIII revealed the benefits of thinking outside the box. The NFL has been so committed to Sun Belt sites for the sport’s showcase game that it actually ended up nine years ago in Jacksonville, Fla., home of three nightclubs and 10,000 Waffle Houses.

The possibility of inclement weather at MetLife Stadium was trumped by the electric-avenue vibe on the other side of the Hudson River. New York City turned out to be such a natural fit for Super Bowl hoopla that speculation doesn’t dwell on if the NFL will grant it another chance, but when.

Philadelphia has taken notice. Mayor Michael Nutter was asked Wednesday if his city would be interested in holding a Super Bowl.

“Heck yeah, we want it,” Nutter said. “And we can do it better than anyone else.”

I once crashed on a friend’s couch in Philadelphia, and liked the place so much I ended up staying a month.

Its gifts to the world include the cheesesteak sandwich and the glorious “Sweet Philly” sound of the Spinners, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, the O’Jays and the Delfonics.

If for no other reason than the potential of the halftime show, Philadelphia is worthy of a Super Bowl.

But as a host city? A midwinter destination spot for fans looking to be entertained four or five days? Seattle ranks above Philadelphia. Seattle ranks above every “cold-weather” city vying to join the Super Bowl cycle.

Let’s go to the checklist.

Recreation: There are two national parks within a few hours’ driving distance. Tourists can hop on a boat or ski down a slope or even play a round of golf. Check.

Lodging: The NFL requires a Super Bowl host city to offer 25,000 hotel rooms within an hour of the stadium. There are 34,200 hotel rooms in King County, with another 5,000 in development, and Pierce County is more than equipped to house the overflow. Check.

Transportation: A light-rail system already exists between Sea-Tac Airport and downtown Seattle. An extension to the University of Washington should be completed by 2016, around the time the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement tunnel is expected to open. Check.

Stadium capacity: The minimum for a Super Bowl is 70,000. CenturyLink Field seats 67,000, but expanded seating is doable. Check.

Weather: It could rain, and it could be windy, but chances are nil that a major snowstorm will disrupt the flight plans of visitors, as it did Monday in New York. Check.

Beyond all those checks is a plea for balance. Of 48 Super Bowls, 27 have been played in three metropolitan areas: Miami (10), New Orleans (10) and Los Angeles (seven). Tourists to a Super Bowl typically provide the host city with a $400 million booster shot. It’s time to share the wealth, but the line is long.

Next year’s Super Bowl is headed to Glendale, Ariz., outside Phoenix, and the year after that it’ll be played in Santa Clara, Calif., outside (way outside) San Francisco. Houston is next in the rotation, and the field of finalists for the 2018 Super Bowl is down to Minneapolis, Indianapolis and New Orleans.

The earliest Seattle could be awarded a Super Bowl site is 2019, and now that the cold-weather barrier has been broached, the competition is substantial: Foxborough, Mass., wants in, as does Denver and, of course, Philadelphia.

Seattle’s challenge is to compete, and to compete with the ferocity espoused by Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who has done more than mold a team into the stuff of a dynasty. Carroll has changed the perceptions of Seattle fans, liberating them from the purgatory of low expectations.

Old attitude: Why in the world would the NFL want to schedule a Super Bowl in Seattle?

New attitude: Bring it on.

john.mcgrath@ thenewstribune.com

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