In New York City, celebration for The Big Game

Fans run an obstacle course on Super Bowl Boulevard. The promotional zone spans 13 blocks of Broadway in Manhattan and features games, autographs, music, and a foam pit for catching touchdowns.
Fans run an obstacle course on Super Bowl Boulevard. The promotional zone spans 13 blocks of Broadway in Manhattan and features games, autographs, music, and a foam pit for catching touchdowns. (VICTOR J. BLUE / Bloomberg)
Posted: February 01, 2014

NEW YORK - They are tobogganing on Broadway this week.

And diving for touchdowns in a foam pit just off Times Square. Helmeted mannequins in full NFL uniforms share the Coach and Lancôme displays at Macy's. On 42d Street Wednesday night, the Harlem Boys Choir serenaded America's Game.

The Super Bowl may be played in New Jersey on Sunday, but it is being played out in full measure in New York City this week.

In recognition of an outdoor game at a cold-weather site, the NFL and New York have turned a 13-block stretch of Broadway - the spiritual heart of this great city - to an open-air temple for all things football.

Bracketed by the sport's chorus - pop-up broadcast booths for ESPN and Fox Sports - the mecca for fans offers games, autographs, glitz, glamour, and football.

At its center is the sport's Holy Grail, the Vince Lombardi Trophy, set high on a two-story, glass-enclosed altar where the faithful can queue up to pay homage - and take cellphone selfies.

It is, in the understated view of Aiden Graber, "cool."

Graber, of Hawthorne, N.J., can be forgiven for being laconic. He is only 11, and there was a lot to take in.

All of which is the handiwork of Mary Pat Augenthaler, the NFL's vice president for events and a veteran of 18 Super Bowls.

"This is a home game for us," she said. "This is where we live and work."

Augenthaler spoke not from the NFL's glittering Manhattan offices, but the gutted second-floor interior of a Times Square building that is serving as temporary headquarters. The post-apocalypse decor of concrete, chain-link-and-black-curtain dividers, and industrial-cage lighting stood in contrast to the polish of the circus outside.

"The hardest thing was conceptualizing what you could do and not do on an outdoor street," Augenthaler said. "Once we developed the big pieces, it was full speed ahead."

The largest of those pieces is the fiberglass toboggan run, 180 feet long and more than five stories tall, which was open to all at the bargain price of $5 a ride.

Super Bowl Boulevard, as the area is known, opened with a flourish Wednesday and is there through Sunday. Two years in the making, it went off without a hitch, despite the bitter cold and critics who worried that such midtown madness might be a bit much, even for New York.

Security, for instance, was tight but unobtrusive, a clutch of seemingly good-natured police officers always within a lateral pass in any direction.

There were a number of concerns over shutting down a major commercial boulevard, in the theater district, no less.

"It is going to be catastrophic," one anonymous Broadway producer complained to Variety.

Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of the Broadway League, was more diplomatic: "We are New Yorkers first, and we welcome NFL fans from all over the world to Broadway. The fact is, we need to welcome them. They are already in our backyard."

She did acknowledge that advanced ticket sales for Broadway shows were a bit down.

Times Square Alliance was preaching tolerance, as well.

"We think it can be a good thing as long as people remember the local restaurants and shops," said Gia Storms, the Alliance spokeswoman. "You don't need to avoid the neighborhood."

Zian Ziani, who owns a fine menswear shop at 1400 Broadway, expressed the same optimism, even as he spoke from a store empty of customers.

"It is another attraction, right?," he said. "How bad can that be?"

Among the out-of-towners not shopping at Ziani's were Jane Pratt, of Burlington, and Brian Smith, of Newtown.

"We are retired. We have to fill up our time," Smith said.

Pratt, 60, shot him a look. "That's not the reason," she said. "We're fans and this looked like fun."

Smith chuckled, but acknowledged that the boulevard was as close to the game as they were going to get.

"Sunday, I'm going to be in front of the big screen, with chips and dip, and a bathroom 15 feet away."

The man having the least fun on opening day was Bah Mohamed.

The 46-year-old immigrant from the African nation of Guinea was bundled in parka, hat, gloves, and scarf but still looked chilled as he stood at 44th Street with a sign directing folks to O'Donaghue's Irish Pub. He was midway through a 10-hour-day in sub-20 degree weather.

Someone asked how much he was making.

"This America. I don't have to tell you how much I make," he answered. He did allow it wasn't much.

"The sign job, it is the bottom job in New York. But I'm lucky, my boss is a good guy. He will give me some of the tips."

Welcome to the Big Apple.


chepp@phillynews.com

215-854-2594

|
|
|
|
|