FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Rain drove the New Orleans Saints indoors Monday. The NFL scrambled to move today’s media day activities under cover. And tourism officials tried to shrug off the public-relations blow of a soggy start to Super Bowl week.
“Sometimes you need a break from the sun,” said Nicki Grossman of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Everybody all over the country has weather. And you don’t have to shovel anything that has fallen on us.”
Even so, the less-than-super weather – daylong rain blanketing the region – stirred unpleasant memories of the last time the NFL title game came to town three years ago. That was the first time rain fell on a Super Bowl, and it continued throughout the game, chasing some fans away at halftime and sending others into concourses to watch on television as the Indianapolis Colts beat the Chicago Bears.
“The same weather,” Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning said. “I don’t know what that is – the Colts bringing rain to Miami.”
Although this is the middle of South Florida’s dry season, steady light rain also fell during Sunday night’s Pro Bowl in Miami.
The Colts and Saints landed Monday and were greeted by their Pro Bowl teammates – seven each from Indianapolis and New Orleans – who watched Sunday’s all-star game from the sideline. One Pro Bowler was Manning, who said he didn’t mind making the trip the day before most of the Colts arrived.
“I got to fly on a private plane with six of my best friends and teammates,” Manning said. “We had Ruth’s Chris Steak House food on the plane, took a private escape down to Miami, shook a few hands, did a wave, did one interview and made $45,000. I can think of some worse things to put yourself through.”
The forecast called for a 30 percent chance of showers today, prompting the media day switch. And there is at least a slight chance of rain every day this week, with a 20-percent chance Sunday.
“We’ll get prepared for it just in case we have to deal with some of the same issues we had to deal with last time,” Colts coach Jim Caldwell said. “It looks like it may rain during the course of the week, so maybe we’ll have an opportunity to practice in it. But our game plan won’t change.”
Media day will, however. Instead of conducting interviews on the field at Sun Life Stadium, the NFL will hold them in an indoor concourse on the club level.
“This should not be a major problem,” NFL spokesman Michael Signora said. “It just will look different.”
The Saints’ first practice Monday was moved 30 miles north from the University of Miami’s outdoor fields to the indoor bubble at the Miami Dolphins’ complex. The starting time was pushed back while equipment was moved between sites.
“It is what it is,” said quarterback Drew Brees, whose Saints have hurricanes in their history. “Weather the storm – we know how to do that.”
Rain also affected preparation of the playing field, Signora said.
“I wouldn’t say anything is delayed,” he said. “I’d say work continues, and weather is one more factor built into the preparation.”
The weather made South Florida’s daunting traffic even more sluggish. Team hotels and practice sites are separated by drives of up to an hour – sometimes more – and while the Colts and Saints are whisked about with police escorts, getting around is more arduous for fans, volunteers, NFL officials and the media.
“We’re a regional effort, and we need to spread it around,” said Rodney Barreto, chairman of the South Florida Super Bowl host committee. “It’ll be judged afterward whether it really works out.”
Tourism officials said the wet weather didn’t tarnish the Pro Bowl, which was moved from Hawaii as a one-year experiment and drew the largest crowd for the game since 1959. But the stadium was half empty by the third quarter.
The Super Bowl is in Miami for the 10th time, the most of any city. While the rain may not dampen visitors’ enthusiasm for South Florida, the NFL says the Dolphins’ 22-year-old stadium needs upgrades, raising concerns about the region’s attractiveness as a site of future games.
The Dolphins have proposed adding a roof that would cover fans as part of stadium improvements that could cost $250 million or more. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says the upgrades would help South Florida remain competitive in bidding for future Super Bowls.
“They’re saying, `Your whiskers are getting a little long,’ ” Barreto said. “I don’t think we ought to fall asleep and sit on our laurels. We should take a good look and see if there is some way to partner with the Dolphins and figure out how to get something done.”
South Florida leaders are expected to seek public money for the project, but at the moment, they’re focused on praying for some sunshine.