New England’s secret advantage heading into the playoffs

One of the biggest advantages the New England Patriots have going into the AFC playoffs has nothing to do with their team.

Even though the Patriots lost to the New York Jets Sunday, the team still has a guaranteed first-round bye and a chance to lock up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs next Sunday when the Patriots play the Miami Dolphins. And by losing Sunday, the Patriots made it extraordinarily difficult for the Indianapolis Colts to earn a playoff spot.  The Pittsburgh Steelers also have an uncertain future, needing a win in Cleveland and a Jets loss in Buffalo. It’s certainly possible, but not likely.

If the Steelers and Colts both don’t surmount the odds, that means the Houston Texans, Denver Broncos and Jets will squeak into the playoffs. The Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals have already guaranteed spots.

If the Steelers and Colts don’t make the playoffs, with quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck, respectively,  then the Patriots will have a clear shot at the AFC crown and Super Bowl.

It’s well-known that the NFL is a quarterback-driven league and, as we saw in the 2014 playoffs with the Arizona Cardinals,  starting someone other than your No. 1 option under center is a terrific way to end the season early. Ryan Lindley was thrust into spot last season for the Cardinals and imploded, partly because he didn’t have enough experience.

This season, if the playoff picture holds true, the Patriots will have the most experience in the AFC at quarterback — ever. Tom Brady will move into a tie for the most NFL playoff games played (30) all-time.

But the gap between Brady and his colleagues is stunning. Let’s break them into “categories.” (I know there’s one guy per category, but I like the idea so go with it.)

The “OK, you’ve technically been here before and I guess this is what you’ve got so let’s roll the dice” category

Only Alex Smith of the Kansas City Chiefs has played in the playoffs, a one-and-done in 2013 with the Chiefs and two games in 2011 with the San Francisco 49ers when he game-managed a Frank Gore rushing attack. (I’m not even throwing undeserved shade. Smith was 20th in passing attempts that year and below No. 15 in yards, touchdowns and completions.)

Smith, the 2005 No. 1 overall pick, never blossomed into a quarterback fitting of his draft position, but he excels at directing his offense and takes care of the football. His 18-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio is the best in the NFL. The only problem is: The offense around Smith isn’t good enough to hide his weaknesses. Charcandrick West is running the ball well out of the backfield, but he’s the not the game-changer the Chiefs had in Jamaal Charles, the initial starter who was lost for the season to an ACL tear. Smith’s offensive line has also let him down often. He’s tied for the league lead in sacks taken (44). The Chiefs are on a nine-game win streak, but aside from the Broncos and Steelers, they haven’t beaten high-caliber teams. Once Smith gets into the playoffs, he’ll be forced to do things he’s proven over the last decade that he cannot do.

The “Cinderella” category

You know three things about Ryan Fitzpatrick: He went to Harvard, got a near-perfect score (48 of 50) on the Wonderlic test, the NFL’s QB aptitude test and (this is the coolest) is nicknamed “The Amish Rifle.”

He seemed poised for success, but the off-the-field smarts didn’t translate. In his first nine NFL seasons with five teams, he sported a 33-55-1 record, threw 123 touchdowns to 101 interceptions and lead the league in picks in 2011 with 23. He never had a winning record anywhere, but finished 6-6 as the Texans quarterback last season. The Jets flipped a sixth-round pick for Fitzpatrick this offseason. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. He started 5-5 with 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, but suddenly something changed.

He won his next five games, rifling 13 touchdowns and just one interception. The secret: He shaved his big beard. Now, a trimmed Fitzpatrick has the Jets in position to win one game and make the postseason. The Jets beat the Patriots, its only quality opponent since the razor came out, and could ride Fitzpatrick’s hot hand into the playoffs. How far will they go before Fitzpatrick’s beard grows back out? Who knows.

The “Out the frying pan and into the fryer” category

Peyton Manning played so horribly that the Denver coaching staff had no choice but to make the switch to Brock Osweiler.

Andy Dalton’s right thumb injury (rumored to be season-ending) limited him, forcing Cincinnati to make the switch to A.J. McCarron.

Osweiler, Manning’s backup since the Broncos picked him in the second round in 2012, had thrown 30 passes before this season.

McCarron, Dalton’s backup since the Bengals picked him in the fifth round in 2014, had never thrown a pass before this season.

Yet they are the starters for their two teams heading into the postseason.

Both quarterbacks have turned in mixed results. Osweiler has thrown eight touchdowns to four interceptions, but never more than one in a game. He’s beaten New England, Chicago and San Diego while losing to Pittsburgh, Oakland and Kansas City. McCarron is completing 70 percent of his passes, but was intercepted twice in a 33-20 loss to division-rival Pittsburgh. He came back the next week and beat San Francisco 24-14 with one touchdown and no interceptions.

Both aren’t ideal candidates to direct a team into the playoffs, but both are seeing their first real action in the biggest times, so the front offices of both clubs will see what they have from their young guns sooner than expected. Don’t expect either to be a serious threat, though.

The “Uh-oh, we have to give this guy a start in a playoff game?” category

Remember that Lindley anecdote I was talking about? In that loss to Carolina, he completed 16 of 28 passes for 82 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. From watching that game, I can tell you that the stat line is generous because Lindley looked lost on the field and the Cardinals never had a shot.

The new Ryan Lindley might be the Texans’ Brandon Weeden. At 29 coming out of college, he always had a ceiling as an NFL prospect, but that didn’t stop the Cleveland Browns from drafting him in the first round anyway. Then he went 5-18 with 28 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in his first four seasons with the Browns and Dallas Cowboys. Then the Cowboys moved on, picking Matt Cassel instead. It should tell you something that Weeden was passed over for Cassel.

Dallas promptly dumped Weeden to the Texans. The Texans needed a replacement for injured starter Brian Hoyer. Weeden won his first start against the Tennessee Titans, more to due with the defense than anything he did, but still he has a winning record with a team (1-0) for the first time in his career. When he makes it to the playoffs, don’t expect him to have a winning record there.

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Boxes of Ziti and a Chinese Hardware Store: How I Did Gambling on Sports

There’s an episode of The Sopranos called “The Happy Wanderer” where mob boss Tony Soprano’s daughter’s friend’s father (follow that?) wants in on Tony’s high-stakes executive poker game. A game that Frank Sinatra’s nephew flies in from Vegas to play. The guy, David Scatino, is a respected local businessman, but he has a gambling problem. Tony knows that, so he warns his nephew Christopher not to let Scatino play too far past his limits because Scatino is already in debt. After Tony falls asleep on the couch, Scatino keeps buying back in each time for $10,000 — everyone calls it “10 boxes of ziti” — and Christopher doesn’t stop him. Spoiler alert: Scatino loses a bunch and Tony finds out he already owes multiple boxes of ziti to other area mobsters. Tony & Co. … lean on the guy. I won’t elaborate further than saying it isn’t pleasant for Scatino.

I think my mom envisioned me as Scatino when I told her I started gambling.

I came home in early September from school for my cousin’s wedding and whenever it was mentioned, she stiffened a little and told me once our initial deposit eventually (inevitably) ran out that I should stop. She worried I’d develop into a degenerate gambler. I had gone to my first race track two months prior and lost a little bit of money there, about 30 bucks. I didn’t know horses. I didn’t even know how to read the big book they gave out. I barely understood the terms “box” and “trifecta” then; I don’t really now. (As I type this, I realize how stupid I must seem here.)

… Maybe her fears were justified.

But I really wanted to try something out. I’d spent the summer in New York City without a sustainable income and emerging from that desert to see the mirage of my bank account was disheartening. I’d talked to an uncle who liked to play the stock market and had been reasonably successful. He played conservative. Not getting rich, but his money was making baby money. That appealed to me.

I tried to convince my mother (and myself) that what I was doing wasn’t like the race track.

First, I decided I wouldn’t play the stock market or horses or cards. I didn’t know enough about any of those things to be comfortable risking money. I decided on sports (more on this later). Second, I went into with a partner. My roommate Alex felt similarly about wanting to make a little side money, knew about sports and played a rational foil to my sometimes-overly-optimistic ideas. Third, we researched betting sites and read 20-plus reviews to find the most reliable and user-friendly site. (Our decision to forgo Daily Fantasy Sports like Fan Duel and Draft Kings ended up paying off later when it was found employees of those sites cheated users.) Fourth, we put a hard cap on spending. The site we chose, Bovada.com, offered a 50 percent registering bonus for the beginning of the NFL season. Alex and I mutually invested, splitting a $50 buy-in. Bovada chipped in a $25 credit. We decided that if — no, when — we lost that $75, then we’d stop. Fifth, another reason why I wouldn’t end up like Scatino: No mob involvement.

The way I rationalized it: This was a relatively low sum of money, it’d be fun, I’d learn about gambling and, if we won, I’d have a little bit of money. (Also in the back of my mind: There’s an article here whether we win or lose.)

Our first weekend, we bet conservatively in five-dollar increments across five football spreads. We stuck to point spreads and over/unders for college football and NFL games, preferring those to risking it with the volatility of a regular season baseball game. We won three of five that first weekend, making four dollars and change. Joey and Kyle, our other two roommates, laughed at us for stressing about bets which inevitably yielded such small returns.

A bit of foreshadowing: Six days after I registered for allegedly-trustworthy Bovada, my credit card statements showed a purchase of $100 in supplies from a hardware store in a small, northern Chinese province.

Things went really well. We started winning more, betting in higher increments on fewer games. The confidence rose; we researched more, trying to find the lucrative lines. I downloaded a podcast called “Behind the Bets.” One weekend, we went 5-for-5. I even got the $100 refunded (shout-out TD Bank).

In four weeks, we doubled our initial deposit.

I felt like this (except that first scene; Alex and I are just roommates):

But you know where this is going. The fall-from-grace narrative is nearly as cliche as dorky-dude-gets-girl.

It started slowly. We miscommunicated, bet the wrong side of the USC-Stanford spread. We lost a little bit, and it was particularly frustrating because I had learned a small advantage from the podcast. But no worries, right? We were still in it, and still confident.

To compensate, we tried a parlay for the first time, meaning we’d need to get two bets correct to cash in. The higher risk offered a higher reward. While we were placing the bet, Bovada seemed to freeze for a second, so we double-clicked “Place bets” again. The site registered both clicks and suddenly 40 percent of our assets were on the line for one bet.

We won the first game of the parlay, but didn’t come close on the second. The first domino.

And then I realized something. The reason I didn’t bet on horses, cards or stock is that I knew I knew nothing.  I thought this made me better than other gamblers, my awareness of what I did and did not know. While I thought I was playing to my strengths I really just set myself up with faux-confidence. “I don’t just know the roster of my hometown team,” I rationalized. “I pay close attention to the four major sports. I read and watch a lot more than regular fans. I can be successful.”

My biggest mistake was thinking I knew anything at all.

It took about six weeks, with small and sporadic wins, but we ran our account down to nothing. It’s been eight weeks. I hadn’t opened up the Bovada account since then until today to write this story.

When I came home for Thanksgiving, my dad asked how the “wagering” was going (he was always nice about it in that way), and I told him.

Cue my mom, sideways look.

“So,” she said. Lengthy pause. “Have you put any more money in?”

I laughed it off. No, I was not fulfilling her prophecy of becoming David Scatino. If anything, I had realized that by thinking I was any cleverer than anyone else, I had proven just the opposite.

When I logged on to Bovada today, I saw something. With our last bet, we had apparently triggered some sort of bonus. We’d surpassed a spending threshold. Bovada comp’d us $10.

That’s a box of ziti to me.

Sam Fortier is a displaced New Englander living in New York. He likes baseball, crunchy peanut butter and the sound Kanye makes in his songs, which he thinks is spelled “HAAH.” He’s not a fan of grammatical error’s. You can read him here every Monday, follow him on Twitter @Sam4TR, or email him at sam.fortier@yahoo.com. 

Helmet cameras for NFL players leave me with questions

Thursday, before the San Francisco 49ers were trampled by the Seattle Seahawks, 49ers tight end Vernon Davis donned a camera helmet and caught passes. The camera gave fans a chance to see what their favorite NFL players see on an average pass play.

The helmet, made by SchuttVision, live-streamed his warm up to Fox’s national audience. Players had worn helmet cams like it before, but this was the first time an NFL player demonstrated the live streaming capability for a Sports Vision Innovation-designed device.

The camera, according to a public relations email sent on behalf of the company, has been tested with blows as hard as 11.2 meters per second, also known as the equivalent of hitting a brick wall at 23 mph, without breaking or stopping recording.

The camera has also been approved by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment for use by players in any position, and during both practice and game-play.

That leaves us with questions: When do cameras become widespread? When do we get the “helmet cam” as another regular camera angle shown each game day? Do we want to see what’s on it?

The camera will have to be turned on for us to find out.

Sports Executive of the Year: Jeff Long

I groaned and looked over at the girl in the lounge decked out in a red-and-gray sweatshirt, a creepily cartoonish Brutus the Buckeye staring at me.

Marcus Mariota — still with the Oregon Ducks then — picked himself up off the ground and futilely tried to get his Ducks to move forward, to pretend they still had a shot at the National Championship. They didn’t, as the Toledo, Ohio native and avid Buckeyes fan next to me in the lounge shouted. It was all Ohio State.

My freshman year, sitting in the Flint 3A lounge, seems forever ago and yesterday simultaneously. But whether it was yesterday or a million years ago, I will never forget the admiration for Cardale Jones and the Ohio State Buckeyes as the team toppled Oregon, forecasted to beat the snot out of OSU days before. I remember sitting at home with my mother, watching Ohio State-Alabama the week before as the Buckeyes — who barely made the playoffs as a controversial No. 4 team — neutralize the nation’s No. 1 squad. I remember the Bourbon Street Snapchats (OSU-Alabama was played in New Orleans) from a celebrating fan I knew from school.

That excitement and near-unbelievable storyline would have never been possible if it hadn’t been for the newly-instituted College Football Playoff. Instead of Ohio State sweeping in to take No. 4 from Texas Christian and Baylor, neither of which had lost a game or a player to merit moving them down after a win, there’d be a computer saying that (yawn) Alabama would play Oregon in the National Championship. I suppose I’m being unfair. The game wouldn’t have been a yawn, but in retrospect it would’ve because the best team in all of college football, the team on its third quarterback of the season after two Heisman hopefuls were hurt, wouldn’t have played.

The College Football Playoff made it all possible.

And the man that made that event possible was Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long. He should be the 2015 Sports Business Person of the Year.

As the chairman of the College Football Playoff, he’s the man I find directly responsible for bringing me the pure joy of watching four teams duke it out for the National Championship instead of two, for giving me an incredible storyline to tell for years, for giving me the redemption of Cardale Jones, who sent an unintelligent tweet and then made up for it. And when I say “me,” I think I represent every college football fan in the country. Sports fans as a whole even. Sports fans love sports for their unpredictable nature and their analogous look at real life. There are heroes and underdogs and surprise endings, much like the College Football Playoff.

Also, Long showed his smarts and lack of bias when he went with Ohio State, a Big Ten school, over TCU or Baylor, another southern school which faces South Eastern Conference teams, which Long is a part of.

There were more cheers than boos from the fans. In today’s day and age, shouldn’t that be enough? He gave us what we wanted, good sports and good stories. Give the man the medal.

Sam Fortier is a displaced New Englander living in New York. He likes baseball, crunchy peanut butter and the sound Kanye makes in his songs, which he thinks is spelled “HAAH.” He’s not a fan of grammatical error’s. You can read him here every Monday, follow him on Twitter @Sam4TR, or email him at sam.fortier@yahoo.com. 

Comparing coverage of Patriots Super Bowl win (and could the team get there again?)

With the New England Patriots dominating 51-17 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, I found myself slipping into thoughts of another Super Bowl run. I thought I’d throw it back for this week’s post to something I did when the Patriots won the Super Bowl, which was the compare articles written about the Patriots’ win in the biggest game.
1) Magazine: Bill Belichick says Patriots sensed Seahawks ill-fated play call by Vinnie Iyer
• The article focused on a press conference statement from Belichick, which is odd for a gamer, but effective nonetheless. The article focuses on the gamesmanship of Belichick and the mind-chess between Carroll and Belichick
• Predictably, the hero of this article is Belichick who thoroughly outsmarted Carroll by not calling a timeout and therefore winning his team a Super Bowl
• This article emphasized the brazen, brilliant coaching staff for the New England Patriots and de-emphasized the physical prowess and presence of mind required by Malcolm Butler and Co. to actually make the play happen.
2) Newspaper: New York Times, One Yard From Crushing Loss, Patriots Grab Their 4th Title by Ben Shpigel
• The article focused on how the Patriots crushing defeats in previous Super Bowls was handed off to Seattle. It’s kind of a reversal of fortune for the Patriots
• The stars were Butler and Brady, but he didn’t focus on the stars as much as the goat, Pete Carroll. He spent many more column inches to dissecting Carroll’s decision and the Seahawks sideline who sent the play call in
• Shpigel de-emphasized Bill Belichick’s role in playing defense on the play and emphasized the mistakes of Carroll and Darren Bevell, the Seahawks offensive coordinator

3) Sports Website: Grantland, Retro Running Diary by Bill Simmons
• Simmons focused on how the gamesmanship of the final Seattle drive was Bill Belichick’s finest moment, his Mona Lisa or his Jordan taking over the ’98 Finals. He emphasized how smart Belichick (the hero of his column) is, how Patriot fans have known it all along, but never had anything specifically to point to – until now
• Belichick was the star
• Simmons de-emphasized the first three-and-a-half quarters as well as the play call itself by the Seahawks. He focused on Belichick’s genius more than Carroll’s media-purported boneheaded-ness for calling a pass play from the 1-yard-line with Marshawn Lynch.

4) New England Patriots Website: Patriots hold on for epic Super Bowl XLIX win by Andy Hart
• Hart focused on the overall “epic-ness” (a word he used annoyingly often) of the game and gave a brief summary before launching into the “Buy/Sell” part of his column in which he analyzed the strengths and weaknesses in the Patriots game plan
• The stars were (surprise!) Malcolm Butler and Tom Brady, along with undersized slot receivers
• Hart emphasized the Patriots success in the dink-and-dunk passing game as well as the receiving running back role. He de-emphasized the third and fourth corner backs of the Patriots because they played so poorly.

Sam Fortier is a displaced New Englander living in New York. He likes baseball, crunchy peanut butter and the sound Kanye makes in his songs, which he thinks is spelled “HAAH.” He’s not a fan of grammatical error’s. You can read him here every Monday, follow him on Twitter @Sam4TR, or email him at sam.fortier@yahoo.com. 

The Super Bowl: A Holiday

Only the Super Bowl. Only this event can change the church schedule, force states to change laws (Arizona and M.L.K. recognition), and spark debates over whether or not it deserves to be a federally-recognized holiday. It piques the interest of the public, brings people together and emblemizes Americana. Therefore, the Super Bowl host city becomes subject of intense scrutiny. The geopolitical and socioeconomic aspects of a city go under the magnifying glass. Houston, Texas presents a prime example because it’s up-and-coming, set to host the 2017 Big Game. From who foots the bill to the city’s infrastructure to the Astrodome, many questions are raised. Hosting the Super Bowl is an arduous affair even if it’s more than 600 days away. There are many details which need finalizing, which means the public, NFL, county legislature, host committee and stadium landlords all have many questions.

Money: The answer to most questions. It drives countless decisions every day for everyone. The process of reeling in America’s brightest spectacle fares no differently. Politicians and host committee members boast gaudy figures with many dollar signs when discussing the added economic benefit the Super Bowl will bring. Sallie Sargent, President and CEO of the Houston Super Bowl Committee, created a Texas-sized buzz when she appeared on a local NBC-affiliate news program and projected Houston’s game in 2017 could earn the city $500 million.

But, there’s a catch. Though NRG Stadium (formerly known as Reliant Stadium) only opened in 2002 and hosts the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and the Texas Bowl every year, it still must undergo $50 million in repairs to satisfy the NFL’s host requirements. The renovations address needs in club seats, suites, the general concourse and seating area, concessions, restrooms, infrastructure like plumbing or air handling systems, and especially WiFi capability, which the stadium doesn’t have at all now. Those demands, set forth in the NFL’s 153-page manual of hosting stipulations, are in addition to growing fresh sod for the game.

Who pays for all of this, however, is creating a political plume of smoke which doesn’t seem far from fire. The host committee – an extension of the NFL – does not have a budget; its only power is to fundraise. Sargent appeared on the news program to implore the citizens of Houston to invest $50 million for a $500 million return. But citizens are hesitant to pay. This leaves the NFL looking at corporate sponsors, who look at the city of Houston, who looks at the landlord of the property of NRG Stadium, who looks at the county, who looks at the NFL because the region has invested heavily into its own infrastructure. Political jockeying ensues as each group blames the others while progress stagnates. The manager of the county’s budget said Harris County has neither the funds nor the power to underwrite the Super Bowl.

Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack said to the Houston Chronicle in April 2015 that appropriating public funds to improve suites for corporate executives and billion-dollar companies would not happen. “I’m not about to vote to spend a single dollar of county money updating these luxury suites,” he said. Furthermore, Precinct 4 – the landlord body of NRG Stadium – and its Commissioner Jack Cagle said they would not pay for the improvements either, but a clause in the lease agreement says the county must maintain the facility in “first class” condition and “a manner comparable to other stadiums.” At the time of the 2004 Super Bowl, it was first class at just two years old, but now the tenants of NRG Stadium (Texans, Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo) argue the prevalence of WiFi requires the county to pay because it’s not comparable to other stadiums. Currently, negotiations between the tenants, county, and the NFL are ongoing and strained. A high-ranking executive on the Host Committee board said that the taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for anything and that the committee is raising money.

Who raises the money isn’t the only concern host cities have. How much money will be brought in? The average Houston tourist (non-Super Bowl) spent $103 in 2001, which is $137.66 in 2014 dollars. But that’s not a fair valuation of how much people will spend because the city grew tremendously since 2001. Business Insider minted Houston America’s best city in a 2014 article and Forbes called it “one of America’s coolest cities” in 2012, citing the fact that the city actually grew during the Great Recession with 2.6 percent in job growth. If the city was a skinny, pimply high-schooler struggling to lift weights in the early 2000s, Houston is now a 250-pound linebacker with a sub-4.3-second 40-meter-dash time. In 2013, 13 million visitors to Houston spent $16 billion, which equates to $175.82 per tourist per day – a 28 percent increase from the expected value. Super Bowl visitors spent between $350 and $375 per day in 2004, meaning a Super Bowl tourist spends more than triple the regular tourist. The 300-plus percent increase in spending by Super Bowl tourists has been established as a baseline through games over the last decade. By this extrapolation, Houston can expect visitors to spend nearly $525 per day in 2017. The average visitor stays 3.7 days – Friday through Monday, usually – and Houston expects just over 100,000 tourists to head to the Bayou City the first weekend of February. If the averages of visitors and money-spending habits follow expert prediction, $250 million should be invested into the local economy.

But it’s not that simple. In 2004, the host committee expected the impact to be around $330 million, but the Houston controller found that it only made $129 million of direct impact in the week before and the week after the game. The disparity is because the host committee accounts for all Super Bowl spending in addition to regular spending without overlap. Also, a lot of money is made by large hotel and restaurant chains, which increases local tax revenues, but most of the money doesn’t stay in the community because business’ corporate owners pocket it. (Also, the NFL affords heavy tax breaks during the Super Bowl, which lowers local profit.) Host committees also tend to leave out how much the city will need to spend in order to prepare for the Super Bowl, according to CBS.

While host committees bandy about gaudy figures, they explain little about how significant the impact will be. For example, Harris County, Texas, where Houston resides, is the 34th-richest county in the state, of 254. The county has nearly $160 billion in personal economy (roughly equivalent to economic activity), so the Super Bowl – if it reaches $500 million, like the committee said – will only be adding 0.31 percent to the economy. It is an addition, but it may not overwhelm like projected.

The NFL’s generous estimates also don’t include the fact that many of the things people buy – beer, lawn gnomes, other Super Bowl-branded items not attached to the local economy – get-outta-Dodge as soon as the game’s over. Holy Cross professor Victor Matheson, an economist who’s studied Super Bowl impact, says, “Imagine an airplane landing at an airport and everyone gets out and gives each other a million bucks, then gets back on the plane. That’s $200 million in economic activity, but it’s not any benefit to the local economy.” This is also comparable for when Super Bowl visitors buy up all the hotel rooms, it leaves none for other visitors. The Super Bowl economic impact is not on addition, it is addition by subtraction – but usually the addition is bigger than the subtraction. Ultimately, a Sports on Earth columnist concludes – through extensive research of about a dozen economic analysts – that the safest “guesstimate” is about $100 million in economic impact. It’s not nothing, but it’s also not the wild fantasies the NFL and some economists forecast. Some experts doubt economic impact is the real reason cities so badly want to host the Super Bowl anyway.

Perhaps economic impact is only a peripheral vision of the Host Committee’s. After all, when Houston won the bid in 2013 to host Super Bowl LI, all city and county officials either said they did not know what the economic impact would be or referred the asker to the bid committee. The committee said trying to forecast the impact of an event nearly four years out was like “nailing Jell-O to a wall” to the Houston Chronicle. They pointed to New Orleans’ net of $480 million in 2013 from the Super Bowl and Greg Ortale, president and CEO of the GHCVB, said, “You have to assume we’ll be bigger.” Still, there’s assumption there. Usually, to tax-paying citizens, assumptions aren’t good enough explanation. So if the economic uncertainty didn’t deter any bidding, there must’ve been another factor spurring Houston forward.

Chalk it up to civic pride. When visiting the official site of the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee – housuperbowl.com – a 60-second video montage consumes the screen. It’s a heart-pounding, prideful anthem which makes even someone from New England want to move to Houston. The first screen reads, “Houston is…” followed by “The Home of Friday Night Lights,” “The Home of Team Work” and finally, “The Home of Team Spirit.” The text is interspersed with highlights of the Houston Texans football team and fans with face-paint, Texan hats and other garb cheering at stadium-shaking levels. It flashes a clip of J.J. Watt, the NFL’s most interacted with player on social media, spurring on crowd noise as if to market one of the league’s most visible – and liked – faces as synonymous with the stadium, even though the Texans likely won’t be playing in the game.

The promo focuses on the mystique of Texas football. The home of transcendent books about high school players, the state which produces countless legends in the League, and the setting for a television series which shows crazed-parents pushing 10-year-olds as if they play in the Super Bowl every day at practice. There’s a reason ESPN the Magazine produced a special issue about Texas, which a cover teaser blared, “America’s football holy land.” Texans know their reputations for football, so what better plan than to host the Super Bowl? The crowning jewel of America’s most popular sport will be played in the place it’s most popular.

To say that the Super Bowl induces civic pride bordering on jingoism within the city of Houston may be an understatement. In a clip of the video, a crowd of 30 passionate fans stand outside of NRG Stadium dressed in Texans colors and yell, “We live for Houston! We live for football!” It seems as if the host committee is trying to make the words ‘Houston’ and ‘football’ synonymous. The music begins to fade away, but before the video ends, the official logo glosses over the screen and a voice growls, “We live for football.”

Houston hopes to capitalize on its state’s reputation for football prestige, but the state won’t benefit unless Houston, like the player’s on the field, showcases it prowess under pressure. This means the city will improve its infrastructure and progress community development in order to “put its best face forward,” like Sargent said. Houston already figures to be ahead of where it was in 2004 when it hosted for the first time. Then, Houston’s hotel sector downtown had only four properties with 1,800 rooms. Now, the city maintains about 25 properties and 7,500-8,000 rooms, not including the 1,000-plus room new Marriott hotel scheduled to open months before the Super Bowl in September 2016. The hotel – named the Marquis – will have over 100,000 square feet of meeting space and will be connected, via skybridge, to the George R. Brown Convention Center, the second-largest convention center in Texas. Also, per the Marriott website, the Marquis utilizes “a one-of-a kind Texas-shaped lazy river and affinity pool, a full service spa and fitness center, high energy two story sports bar, two specialty restaurants, wine bar, cafe, and pool bar & grill.” The hotel is smack-dab downtown and overlooks Discovery Green Park, which is conveniently where the NFL plans to host Super Bowl Central, its entertainment zone for 10 days leading up to the game.

The NFL event in Discovery Green Park was originally called “Super Bowl El Centro” in an attempt to attract fans from Mexico, Central America and South America, but the plans were scrapped and the name changed to the Anglicized equivalent because they wanted to be more inclusive to all fans, currently and potentially, a member of the host committee said.

The hotel industry isn’t the only one being re-vamped before the game. “I believe between now and 2017, there is $3 billion worth of development happening in and around downtown alone,” Sargent said in a September 2014 article in the Houston Business Journal. A.J. Mistretta, senior public relations manager for the GHCVB, said the investment is closer to $3.5 billion. Upgrading hospitality is the biggest concern because the food and beverage sector is “pretty good,” and the entertainment and attractions part of it “seems to be really doing well,” said Bob Eury, the President of Central Houston and director of the Downtown Management District. Houston also has a new 48-story, 1.05 million-square-foot office tower under construction downtown, scheduled to open in early 2017. No tenants have been announced, but the city continues work on 13 other projects including a 1,600-space parking garage, thousands of rooms in smaller hotels and more than 3,000 units of apartment buildings. All projects are scheduled to open between the end of 2016 and early 2017 – just in time for the Super Bowl.

While the accommodations and business sectors make a push to give Houston a good name in 2017, Sargent still has one big fear for the city.  “The last thing we want to do…” Sargent said in a 2015 Houston Business Journal article, “Is have people be disappointed because they couldn’t make it from one location to another because of traffic.” In February, a rough plan was established which utilizes light rail and a park-and-ride service to reduce stress on Houston’s congested highways. The light rail would connect direct to NRG Stadium with many stops on the way because Sargent sees opportunity to place events at various locations like Minute Maid Park (MLB’s Astros) and the Toyota Center (NBA’s Rockets).

To make these strides in bettering an already-successful Houston, the city will boost employment in order to meet the demands of construction leading up to the event and to accommodate the high-volume influx of tourists which comes with the Super Bowl. One of the construction projects currently underway in Houston is southeast and east end land lines for METRORail, extending 6.6 miles southeast of downtown and 3.3 miles east. This created about 100 jobs. When Atlanta hosted the Super Bowl in 2000, 2,736 jobs were created. The new jobs helped not only the citizens of the city hired to do those jobs, but also the local economy because the employees are more likely to spend their earnings in the area. Besides the direct economic impact, hiring citizens also required interviews and training for the employees, which helps the education of the employees, a boon for the Houston population and businesses.

Houston’s costly initiative to better itself by drastically improving its infrastructure, developing its community, and employing locals is in search of something money cannot realistically buy. Reporters gushing on television, column inches devoted to description of the city of Houston, and tourists returning home thinking, “Wow! Houston was incredible. I should go back.” The advertisement and positive impression – the chance to receive “free” advertising from the media and rope in first-time visitors – is an invaluable opportunity. Houston essentially has 10 days to pitch its city’s greatness to people with millions of followers on Twitter. Look at the Sochi, Russia Olympics. Journalists slammed the place over and over, tweeting pictures of deficient amenities and laughing at the preparation. Should Houston pull a similar stunt, its reputation would be damaged with its visitors, but even more negative words would spread to the public. This is why Houston has spent so much time preparing. If the masses flocking to Houston for the Super Bowl enjoy themselves, then they create a reputation and lasting image for all its visitors. That could generate an economic impact of return visitors or intrigued visitors far beyond February 2017 and well into the long-term.

The Host Committee wants to leave that impression, but there must be something to distinguish from Houston from all the other cities, a “wow factor” as Sargent calls it. New York City had a fan toboggan in 2014 and Glendale had a locally-built rock wall the next year. The Host Committee has yet to pick their specialty, but one blogger suggested Houston use its iconic, seldom-used, “8th Wonder of the World” as it’s called by the Houston Chronicle, the Astrodome, vacant since 2006. The world’s first domed stadium, where Elvin Hayes led the University of Houston in an upset of Lew Alcindor’s top-ranked UCLA, where Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in the famous “Battle of the Sexes,” and where Earl Campbell and Warren Moon ran the Oilers in the “Luv Ya Blue” era. In a poll at the bottom of the article, 53 percent of the over 10,000 voters wanted the stadium stripped out, converted to venue space and used to house activities before the Super Bowl.

Whether or not Houston decides to utilize the Astrodome, the Super Bowl will have a “wow” factor, simply because it is singularly the largest and most tuned-into event in America every year. Though the economic impact may not be as rewarding as the host committee may portray, it still offers some direct economic impact. More than the direct, though, is the ability to host hundreds of thousands of visitors and the opportunity to give them an incredible impression of the city. As media members write about their experiences, if it’s a good experience, then it’s advertising money couldn’t even buy. And then there’s civic pride. The biggest game will be played where the sport is the biggest. If the blend of parties, patriotism and pride doesn’t make the Super Bowl worth it, then it wouldn’t be played every year. But it will be, because it’s ingrained in the fabric of America. Only the Super Bowl.

Sam Fortier is a displaced New Englander living in New York. He likes baseball, crunchy peanut butter and the sound Kanye makes in his songs, which he thinks is spelled “HAAH.” He’s not a fan of grammatical error’s. You can read him here every Monday, follow him on Twitter @Sam4TR, or email him at sam.fortier@yahoo.com. 

Summer Recap 2015

Sunday, when I returned to Syracuse from Maine, I stepped off the bus and felt thoroughly too cold. It was jarring. When I left Friday, Syracuse was balmy, too hot even. A sweltering 93 degrees on day. This was more my speed. I know this Syracuse.

But putting on sweatpants for a trek downtown signaled to me that summer is over. I’d been ignoring the signs for weeks, but I now I have to give up.

So in homage to summer, here are some of the adventures I traveled on since May:

It all started when I got the Esquire gig.

Before I left campus, I had to illegally stream a boring boxing match and found out why boxing is dead. In more realizations before New York, I tracked Bill Simmons’ saga right after leaving ESPN for Part I and then in Part II the one month later fallout was dissected.

Then I got to New York and THINGS STARTED HAPPENING.

I saw Bartolo Colon, Least Likeliest Major Leaguer to Hit a Double, hit a double.

I saw an unbelievable baseball game in Yankee Stadium featuring a crazy comeback in the ninth inning that a friend of mine wanted to skedaddle early from.

After that, history in Belmont Park as American Pharoah raced to the Triple Crown. I was totally under dressed and under duress.

Coney Island, Brooklyn, a train ride away, was the site of summer’s greatest moment: The Hot Dog Eating Contest, and the summer’s greatest man: George Shea.

I also got time this summer to write a story about Strafford, New Hampshire’s own, Bobby Wegner, he of the 7-foot-8 stature.

Then I started wandering around Harlem. First, I went to historic basketball court, Rucker Park.

Then I realized Harlem represents the struggle baseball and basketball are having for national attention.

It struck me, through my friend Joey, that relationships are like saving baseball games…everyone will blow some every once in a while, just have the confidence to come back out and pitch.

Lastly, and most dreadfully, I spent a lot of time at Citi Field and sort of fell in love with the New York Mets. I’m sorry, everyone.

Then I came home. And after subjecting me to a summer of dreadful offense and atrocious pitching, the Red Sox did a nice thing for me.

(End note: This is a list of me getting very lucky and being in the right place at the right time. I feel #blessed to have been able to do all this. Thanks so much to my family and my friend Sam Blum, who made many of these adventures possible.)

Sam Fortier is a displaced New Englander living in New York. He likes baseball, crunchy peanut butter and the sound Kanye makes in his songs, which he thinks is spelled “HAAH.” He’s not a fan of grammatical error’s. You can read him here every Monday, follow him on Twitter @Sam4TR, or email him at sam.fortier@yahoo.com.