October 24, 2011
It's a well-known piece of trivia that no team has ever played, let alone won, a Super Bowl in its home stadium, a streak which is nearly certain to continue this season with the year's final game set for Indianapolis, home of the 0-6 Colts. Lesser known is that the lack of success for Super Bowl host teams run far deeper than that one statistic.
Of the 20 teams that have played host to a Super Bowl since the playoffs expanded to its current form in 1990, only three have qualified for the playoffs. None of those three teams advanced past the divisional playoffs and only one, the 1994 Miami Dolphins, were a division winner.
The numbers don't get much better when looking back at the entire 45-year history of the game. No host city has ever played in a conference championship game with a chance to get to the Super Bowl. More often, teams have put up mediocre seasons in the year of their Super Bowl, even ones that entered the year as candidates to end the ignominious streak.
Dallas limped to a 6-10 record last season, ruining Jerry Jones' dream of seeing his Cowboys play a Super Bowl in his billion-dollar Cowboys Stadium. The Bucs were a threat to play in the Super Bowl hosted in Tampa in 2008 but the team's 9-7 record wasn't enough to make the playoffs.
Other teams had poor timing. Arizona went 8-8 the year it hosted the game at University of Phoenix Stadium, only to make it to the Super Bowl the following year in Tampa. If the Cardinals were too late, the 1999 Atlanta Falcons and 1997 Chargers were too early. Both teams went to the Super Bowl the year before hosting the title game, then limped to five- and four-win seasons, respectively, in the year the title game was played in their home stadiums.
Those seasons, and the current Colts slide notwithstanding, the records of Super Bowl host teams have shaded more mediocre than pathetic. Of the 20 teams that have hosted a Super Bowl since 1990, only three posted four wins or less that year, the same number of teams that have gone 10-6. The rest had between five and nine wins.
The worst team to host a Super Bowl in recent years: The 1996 New Orleans Saints, who finished with a 3-13 record. The best were those 1994 Dolphins, who were a missed 48-yard field goal away from advancing to the AFC championship game.
Note: The Super Bowl after the 1992 season was played at the Rose Bowl, a stadium which does not play host to an NFL team. In case you were wondering, that year's UCLA team finished 6-5 and out of a bowl game.
There's one simple explanation for all this, although it's not as air-tight an answer as you may think: The most frequent Super Bowl host cities don't have the best football teams. If they played the game every year in Dallas or Green Bay or New England or Pittsburgh or San Francisco or Washington or New York, then a host winner would have happened long ago. The warm-weather locales and domed stadiums favored by the NFL keep those northern cities out of it and dilute the pool of possible victors.
It's not like the game is only played in lowly football cities, though. Of the 45 Super Bowls that have been played, more than half (24) have been hosted by the Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Those teams have five victories in seven total appearances.
Miami has hosted the game 10 times and the Dolphins have played in it on five separate occasions. Those years never matched up. The Saints have only made it to the game once, but not in one of its 10 hosting years, same for the Bucs in either of the four times the game was in Tampa.
One day the streak will end, possibly because of the NFL's newfound desire to occasionally host the game in different cities or possibly because one of the usual hosts will get hot in the right season. It may happen soon; after Indianapolis this year, New Orleans hosts the game after the 2012 season. If that doesn't work, there's twice as good a chance of the run being ended after the 2013 season. In that year, New York hosts the game, giving both the Giants and Jets an opportunity to play a Super Bowl on their own field. Who knows; we could see a New York-New York battle that would put an emphatic end to the jinx. If history follows through (and the prayers of all sports fans outside the Tri-State area are answered), neither will make it and we'll move on to wondering if Arizona can break the streak in 2014 or whether we'll make it to Super Bowl L without a true home team stepping on the field.
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