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Dan Levy
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Dan Levy

The host of On the DL with new episodes every weekday.

The Spectacle, Not the Game

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In baseball, home field advantage matters. And while I'd like to think my vociferous yelps from the right-field corner helped the Phillies to win game three of the World Series and ultimately propel them to the championship, in reality, I had very little to do with the outcome of the game. The reason home field matters in baseball is for one very simple rule: last ups.

Last ups. The only true home field advantage.

In all other sports, no matter what we fans think and no matter what the players tell us on the stage whilst hoisting a trophy they won "for you (enter city), the best fans in the world," the fact that there is an advantage to playing in front of a friendly crowd, or for that matter the disadvantage of playing in front of a hostile crowd, is indeed real, but not real enough to change the outcome of the game.

Do I think that players get rattled in 'enemy' territory? Yes. And has a hostile crowd forced the occasional timeout or added to a team's confusion at the line of scrimmage? Yes and yes. But it's hard to believe that a player tried harder because I was there screaming for him. Or that another player was overcome by my love for his opponent and could not perform to the best of his ability. Maybe in college, but it's hard to believe that a professional athlete, in the playoffs, would let that get to him.

Arizona got to the Super Bowl with the help of two home wins. By accounts in the crowd, it was the loudest anyone had ever heard a stadium (the closed roof helped). Maybe it impacted the play of rookie quarterback Matt Ryan, but did anyone on the Eagles complain that they aren't jet-setting to Tampa today because 'it was too loud' in Arizona? No. They lost to a team that played better than they did. And frankly, with a team like Philadelphia, I'm not so sure the home-field is much of an advantage (at least for their quarterback).

In fact, in the playoffs over the last four years, home field hasn't been that much of an advantage at all. In the Divisional Round, teams coming off a bye (1 and 2 seeds) are 7-9 in those game. Teams with home field advantage and an additional week to prepare and scheme have a losing record. That said, home teams have faired better in Conference Title games, going 6-2 in that span. But there's a case to be made that those teams made it to the Super Bowl simply because they were better teams, not because they had the fortune of playing at home.

The bottom line: both teams got to the Super Bowl. That should even the playing field -- and the surrounding crowd.

One of the good things about the Super Bowl is that it's all planned in advance, so the hosting city can be ready for the party. And isn't that what the Super Bowl is about -- the parties? Does anyone even go to the game? Most athletes and celebrities go down to the Super Bowl to plug their hastily compiled list of sponsors and get out of town before the game even starts.

Could you imagine if we had to wait until last weekend to determine if the Super Bowl was being played in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Arizona or San Diego? Those are big cities with a history of hosting big events. But imagine if Green Bay hosted a Super Bowl? Or Buffalo? On two weeks notice?

Nobody would go. The hotels filled with celebrities, former players and international media who know nothing about football but invariably end up getting more photographs taken on Media Day than the players would disappear. Remember how many complaints people had about Detroit? And I think Kornheiser is still kvetching about Jacksonville (and that's in Florida). I'm sure some Skins fans down there remember the wonderful trip in January to Minnesota for the Super Bowl. Fun!

The Super Bowl is a spectacle. And it should remain a spectacle. That's why we'll remember more about Janet Jackson's performance in Super Bowl XXXVIII than we will Tom Brady's. The Super Bowl has struggled to produce quality games enough in its history (only 14 of 43 games were single-digit margins, while 20 were decided by more than 14 points), at least let people enjoy some nice weather.

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Two points to add:

First, growing up in a cold-weather city, I think that everyone deserves to host a Super Bowl. That is to say I thought that. As much as I wouldn't trade any sporting experience for being able to witness the Phillies winning a World Series game at home (I wasn't there for the clincher), having waited through hours of delays for rain and wind and frigidity and the inevitable cold that took two weeks to get out of my system -- where was I? Oh yes -- to subject fans to that in October is bad enough, but February? When the goal is to determine the best team in the sport? That's kinda silly. It'd be fun, but silly.

Second, Did you know that in the 43 years we've had the Super Bowl, only 10 times has a team from the city hosting the big game made the playoffs. Think about the motivation of getting to a Super Bowl and having it be in your own stadium and only 10 times has that team mustered up enough ability to get to the playoffs.

In the last 18 years, since the league went to a 12 team-playoff structure, only three times has a team made the playoffs when their city was hosting the Super Bowl (Tampa in 2000-01 and Miami in 1998-99 and 1994-95).

In the history of the Super Bowl, no team has ever played in the game in their home stadium. Twice a team from the 'area' made it to the big game. In Super Bowl XIV the Rams lost to the Steelers in Pasadena. In Super Bowl XIX, the 49ers defeated the Dolphins in Palo Alto.

It'll happen at some point. Arizona was only one year off. Miami has a chance next year. And, gulp, Dallas two years from now. Then we might see what advantage home-field would be in the Super Bowl.

By Dan Levy  |  January 26, 2009; 12:45 PM ET  | Category:  Pittsburgh Steelers Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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