NEWARK LIBERTY INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT -- Old Man Winter finally arrived at the Super Bowl — just a day late and plenty cranky.
Blinding, heavy snow fell throughout the New York metropolitan area early Monday, grinding travel in and out of the region to a slow idle, if not a complete stop.
In all, six to eight inches of snow accumulated in a mini-blizzard that gave Super Bowl visitors one last reminder that they weren’t in South Florida (or New Orleans, Phoenix or Tampa).
Because of the elements, league power brokers, deep-pocketed sponsors and run-of-the-mill football fans all struggled to make it home from the first Super Bowl held in an outdoor, cold-weather city.
Just west of Manhattan here at the nation’s 14th-busiest airport, the average delay was more than four hours Monday morning, as snow fell in buckets.
Two JetBlue flights to Fort Lauderdale had been canceled before 9 a.m. Dolphins executives Dawn Aponte and Matt Higgins were among those stuck for hours.
Across the Hudson River, things weren’t much better. Both LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy airports had dozens of flights affected. Will Brinson, who covers the NFL for CBSSports.com, was supposed to catch an 11:30 a.m. flight out of LaGuardia. As of 9 p.m., he was still in New York.
“Snow’s caking the ceiling windows and the combo of snow dumping and the fog that’s descended on the airport make it extremely difficult to see out,” Brinson said early in the afternoon.
In all, roughly 600 flights originating in the Greater New York area Monday had been canceled as of 6 p.m. leaving thousands of travelers stuck.
Even after the snow stopped falling, delays were running one to two hours. Nationally, nearly 2,000 flights never took off.
Vanessa Hoffman was one of the lucky ones that actually got on a plane Monday. The Broncos fan from the Denver area was on a chartered flight home from Newark and boarded about two hours late. And even then, she was stressed.
“It makes me nervous, because they brought so many planes back in,” Hoffman said. “They’ve been sitting [on the tarmac] for two and a half hours, and they have to bring them in and give them a break.”
Big picture, however, the NFL was incredibly fortunate. Had the storm hit just 12 hours earlier, untold thousands of game attendees would have struggled to get to MetLife Stadium — if the game was held Sunday at all.
The NFL had left open the option of moving the game to another time — or even day — in such a scenario. Even in perfect conditions Sunday (it was only the third-coldest Super Bowl in history), hundreds of commuters were stuck waiting for a trains both going to and leaving from the game.
All of these hassles will surely be considered when league owners decide this spring who will host Super Bowl 52. Two cold-weather regions are again being considered: Indianapolis and Minnesota’s Twin Cities.
And even with griping about the conditions this week, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Friday hinted that the Super Bowl map will continue to expand.
“There’s such a demand for Super Bowls right now,” he said. “Weather is a factor when you play in the United States in February, and that’s what we’re going to have as a continuing challenge. We’re prepared for that.
“I believe we need to get to as many communities as possible and give them the opportunity to share not only in the emotional benefits, but the economic benefits.”
That’s bad news for South Florida, which had also applied for the 2018 game but wasn’t selected as a finalist. Sun Life Stadium hasn’t hosted the Super Bowl since 2010 and most likely will not until significantly renovated.
Last spring, the team pitched a public-private partnership to remake the team-owned facility, but the measure died in the Florida Statehouse.
While weather wasn’t an issue Sunday, the game wasn’t without controversy. A 9/11 “truther” — the name given to those who believe that the U.S. government was complicit in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack — talked his way past security without a credential and commandeered game MVP Malcolm Smith’s news conference.
He made a brief statement before getting yanked off the dais by Dolphins senior vice president of media relations Harvey Greene, who was working the game on behalf of the NFL.
The interloper was later arrested, according to multiple reports. Video of the incident has since gone viral, making Greene an accidental celebrity. He declined comment Monday.