It was Dec. 14, 1958, and I was a 13-year-old boy living in New York City. I was at Yankee Stadium watching my (then) beloved Giants play the Cleveland Browns. We had to win to force the Browns into a playoff to decide who would be in the National Football League’s championship game. There was less than two minutes to go, it was dark, and, worse yet, there were swirling winds and a driving snowstorm. Pat Summerall, the Giants’ placekicker, lined up 49 yards away. If he didn’t make it, the Giants would be eliminated. Given the conditions, I didn’t think he had a chance. He was a straightaway kicker, and he drove it with everything he had.
Some 52 years later, I can still close my eyes and see the ball soaring through the darkness, the snow and the wind. He made it. The Giants won.
That game remains etched in my memory. It captures the magic of football - a game that is played regardless of weather conditions. The NFL robbed me and thousands of other fans of the chance to make some new magical memories by canceling the game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings that was to have been played in Philadelphia Sunday night.
It was inconceivable that the league would call off such a game. In the movie “A League of Their Own,” Tom Hanks, manager of a women’s professional baseball team, utters the famous lines, “Crying? There’s no crying in baseball!” Cancel a football game because of bad weather? There’s no canceling a game for bad weather in football. This is the sport in which Adam Vinatieri kicked a winning field goal through the driving snow in the famous “Tuck” game, in which the Cincinnati Bengals and the San Diego Chargers played an American Football Conference championship game in a minus-64-degree windchill factor, in which Bart Starr dove into the end zone to win the NFL championship against the Dallas Cowboys in near-zero temperatures.
Unbelievably, the game was canceled Sunday morning before one flake of snow had fallen, based on forecasts of a significant snowstorm. An hour before game time, the city had less than six inches on the ground. The western suburbs had less than three inches, and Wilmington, Del., to our South, less than two inches. Canceling a game because of that amount of snow is unthinkable. Vince Lombardi must have been rolling over in his grave. Americans in Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota - heck, even fans in Chicago, Boston and Pittsburgh - must have been astounded. Have we all become wimps?
The NFL explained that the forecast called for perhaps a foot of snow or more and league officials didn’t want thousands of fans to be “trapped” after the game in stadium parking lots. Conditions never got close to that dire. Major expressways remained open and had no significant accidents all night long. The city’s subway system, one of the best in the nation, functioned perfectly. Philadelphia’s center city, a 10-minute subway ride from the stadium, had thousands of available parking spots on Sunday night.
Yet the NFL thought it had to protect the fans. What’s wrong with that?
First, to call off this game because of snow is further evidence of the “wussification” of America. We seem to have lost our boldness, our courage, our sense of adventure and that frontier spirit that made this country the greatest nation in the world. A little snow, a potential traffic tie-up, a long trip home caused us to cancel a football game? Will Bunch, a writer for the Philadelphia Daily News, said that if football were played in China, 60,000 Chinese would have walked through the snow to the stadium doing advanced calculus as they did so. He’s probably right, and it’s no secret why the Chinese are dominating on the world stage.
Second, the NFL didn’t trust the fans to use their own judgment about whether going to the game in the snow was worth whatever risk they might encounter. If I had planned to take a 7-year-old with me to the game, I probably would have decided to stay home and watch the game on TV, but if I were going with some of my friends, I would have driven to center city, parked and taken the subway to and from the stadium. That’s my decision to make, not the NFL’s. We all hear talk about the “nanny” state, but now we have the nanny NFL, so concerned about our welfare, and perhaps potential liability, that it thinks it has to protect us from ourselves. I can’t help but wonder what the NFL will do in 2014 if, on the morning of the Super Bowl to be played outdoors at the new Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey, there is a similar forecast. I can’t be sure, but my guess is that somehow, the thought of postponing the Super Bowl will override the NFL’s “concern for the fans.” Stay tuned, America.
Ed Rendell is the Democratic governor of Pennsylvania.