ST. PAUL, Minn. — Had there been a mountaintop nearby, Jeffrey Lurie would have climbed it to bestride it. The always-strange sights of Super Bowl opening night, the oddballs mingling for no apparent reason and the ex-athletes mugging for the cameras, were swirling around him Monday here at the Xcel Energy Center, but Lurie seemed apart from and above it all. The team he owns had made it back to the Super Bowl for the first time in 13 years, and the Eagles had returned there both because of Carson Wentz, the franchise quarterback Lurie had been so desperate to acquire, and without him. How did they do it? What was it that made this Eagles team so special? Lurie was content to stand there as long as necessary to answer every question. He was proud to.
There was, perhaps, just one way he might have been prouder.
Outside, the temperature was steadily dropping, falling to 5 degrees by midnight, but of course the unforgiving Minnesota winter won’t be a factor in Sunday’s game. U.S. Bank Stadium, which cost a reported $1.1 billion to build and opened in 2016, is domed and climate-controlled. Even amid the plow-pushed snow banks and the Inuit-style dress requirements, the Eagles and Patriots will play in a setting that will have no effect on the game and be perfectly comfortable for everyone on hand. It’s one of the primary reasons that one of Lurie’s goals as an NFL owner — hosting a Super Bowl at Lincoln Financial Field — seems so remote at the moment.
The NFL has gotten in the habit of rewarding franchises and ownerships that build new stadiums by awarding them Super Bowls to host: the Cowboys and what now is named AT&T Stadium in 2011, the Giants and Jets and MetLife Stadium in 2014, the 49ers and Levi’s Stadium in 2016, with new-stadium Super Bowls to come in Atlanta (2019) and Los Angeles (2022), with Las Vegas a potential site. The league, at the moment, appears in no rush to try another Super Bowl at an open-air venue in the Northeast, and Lurie himself acknowledged as much.
“I think Philadelphia would be an awesome city to host a Super Bowl,” he said. “I don’t know if the rest of the league and the rest of the country wants to do more cold-weather, outdoor Super Bowls. I don’t know. I don’t know if the attitude is there. We’ve got so many new stadiums in great places with domes like this and warm weather. With two teams in Los Angeles, with a new stadium coming there, Las Vegas, the list goes on and on and on. I think you’ve got to be realistic.”
In the days ahead of Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium — an open, East Coast stadium, just like the Linc — the Eagles were happy to promote the idea of an outdoor Super Bowl and made clear their desire to host one. Philadelphia certainly has the infrastructure to handle such an event: the hotels, the culture, the public transportation. And if the NFL was willing to risk playing a Super Bowl in an ice storm or blizzard, if the prospect of bad weather heightened the game’s drama, well, Philadelphia could serve as such a site just as easily as the New York/North Jersey region could.
As it turned out, a day of unseasonably warm weather for early February contributed to a mess of a situation hours before the Seahawks’ 43-8 thrashing of the Broncos: transportation delays, people stuck on train-station platforms and fainting from the heat. And a winter storm the following day created travel problems. Those issues could develop in any cold-weather city, but domed stadiums such as U.S. Bank Stadium or Ford Field in Detroit at least ensure that the game itself won’t be influenced by weather. The Linc offers no such luxury.
“Having an open-air stadium vs. a dome stadium was certainly something that was discussed at the time of construction,” Eagles president Don Smolenski said. “But the cost to build a roof is very expensive. I think you’ve seen that if you look around the league. And with the number of times the roof is open, is it really worth that kind of investment? Tough to say.”
Besides, would Philadelphia’s football fans, their entire cultural ethos tied up in the concept of toughness, have accepted a domed stadium? Unlikely. And the Eagles’ power people knew that. “It would have been a change in the dynamic, right? To go from Franklin Field to the Vet to a dome?” Smolenski said. “Yeah, that probably would have received criticism for making it” — he signaled air quotes here — “ ‘too corporate’ to be for Philadelphia. I don’t know that it had a tangible factor in the decision, but it certainly was probably somewhere in the subconscious.”
For his part, Lurie said Monday night that he had no regrets about the Linc’s lack of Super Bowl-friendliness. “I love our stadium,” he said, “and our fans love it. … It would be great, but I don’t know if that’s where it’s going to go.” No doubt, Jeffrey Lurie would still love to have Philadelphia host football’s biggest game and greatest spectacle. He’d be proud to host a Super Bowl at last. In the meantime, he’ll settle for winning one.