NEW YORK -- Here's a pretty safe prediction: This will be the last Super Bowl they ever have in New York/New Jersey.
Super Bowl Week, so far, has not been poorly run. The weather is cooperating; it's even supposed to be sorta warm on Sunday. The Sheraton Times Square hotel has served as an efficient, well-located media hub; Radio Row is the madhouse it always is, but not in any particularly unusual way. Volunteers are helpful, transportation is reliable and all schedules are being vigorously adhered to. It's all working out. It's not Atlanta, it's not Jacksonville, it's not Detroit. Everything is going fine.
But this will be the last Super Bowl they ever have in New York/New Jersey for one reason: No one in New York seems to notice the Super Bowl is even happening.
Two years ago, when Indianapolis hosted its only Super Bowl (and quite well, at that), the entire city turned into Super Bowl Town for at least 10 days. Normal life in Indianapolis ceased to exist; they had a zipline through downtown, for crying out loud. Any wise local got out of the city, out of the way, before NFL World descended on them. When the Super Bowl arrived, the Super Bowl was all that mattered.
This is what happens in most cities that host the Super Bowl, to the delight of both the cities and of the NFL. (In Indianapolis, the Super Bowl's arrival was a main reason the town got a new airport.) The NFL carnival blows into town, takes over everything and then whisks away to the next destination, presumably leaving a breathless populace in its wake. These are big cities. But the Super Bowl itself is always supposed to be bigger.
That is not what is happening this week. Here in New York, the Super Bowl is... just another thing going on. The NFL, as it usually does for its Super Bowls, has turned a large section of downtown (in this case Times Square) into a NFL-branded monstrous mini-playland, with a massive slide and every square inch of space branded with beer logos. In most cities, this becomes the centerpiece of all local activity. Here? It's just another reason to stay the hell out of Times Square.
Everywhere you look here, a New Yorker is ignoring the Super Bowl. Downtown, among the folks who get nosebleeds every time they venture above 14th Street, you would have no idea a Super Bowl is happening at all. (And the Super Bowl will never have a home in Brooklyn until it is locally sourced and grown. A Brooklyn Super Bowl must be free range.) The Super Bowl is taking place in two places: In the Sheraton Times Square hotel and surrounding Times Square area, and East Rutherford, N.J., at MetLife Stadium. Everywhere else here, life is just going on.
It is driving everyone involved with the game crazy. This is the NFL! All that we survey is ours! There is an undeniable sense among those involved with Professional NFL -- from league execs to former players to, most of all, media -- that this New York Super Bowl is going terribly because, unlike every other city, New York is not bending over backwards to just hand its city over. By becoming just another thing in town -- by becoming just one more thing that changes your cab route or alters your train schedule -- the Super Bowl is somehow... diminished. And that is something that cannot stand.
So you hear it in every corner. This sucks. This isn't what the Super Bowl is supposed to be. This isn't even that big of a deal. The Super Bowl has obviously grown into much more than merely a football game, and the rolling corporate conference that surrounds it serves, anymore, solely as a yearly trade junket for peddling sports junk. (I saw someone yesterday promoting an app that lets you draw up plays on your iPhone with your finger. I do not think this product is going to succeed.) People want this conference to be held somewhere warm, but more than anything, they want to be told that what they are doing is important, that they are important people who should draw the attention of everyone in the room when they enter.
Generally, when you are involved with the NFL, this happens all the time. The NFL is the driving force in the world of sports these days, particularly in television, which means the NFL is the driving force in the world of popular culture. An entire entertainment industry revolves around television ratings, which the NFL delivers in a way nothing else even comes close to. The NFL stands up, and people Show Respect. It is the big dog in every room.
But not here. Here, they're just another sideshow. When I arrived at the airport, greeters were there to welcome weary travelers to the host city, as is usual when the Super Bowl is in a town. And in most towns, the airport population would be almost exclusively Super Bowl attendees. But here, the greeters were just cheerful dopes dressed in yellow getting in everyone's way. You think we're here for you? This is New York. You ain't the only show in town. Tell your story walkin'.
This is the problem: The Super Bowl, for the first time in recent NFL memory, feels smaller this week. That is unacceptable to NFL World. This sort of insubordination will not stand. The NFL is supposed to run everything, and here, it doesn't. It won't be making that mistake again.