Carl Eller takes my hand and makes it disappear in his massive grip. Shaking hands with the still-hulking 6-foot-6 Hall of Fame defensive end is like grabbing onto a rocket ship. You’re just along for the ride. Eller ends the shake with a message and a smile that creases his bearded, well-worn face.
“You guys really set the bar high,” Eller says, shaking his head.
The NFL legend is talking about Houston’s supreme efforts for the Super Bowl, about the work of people such as Ric Campo, Sallie Sargent, the indefatigable Kevin Cooper, the Super Bowl Live Discovery Green orchestrater Doug Hall and the army of always-smiling volunteers who gave their all for little more than hometown pride. Eller is a little torn about Houston’s overwhelming Super Bowl hosting success because he’s involved with Minneapolis’ Super Bowl LII Host Committee — and he knows his city’s efforts in 2018 will be immediately compared to the Bayou City’s triumphs.
“We have a lot to live up to,” Eller says.
No one was saying this after Dallas hosted Super Bowl XLV in 2011. There have been two Texas Super Bowls in the last seven years and there’s no doubt which one stands out as a runaway success and which one experienced more issues than a Real Housewives star given access to an open bar.
Dallas’ turn at Super Bowl hosting was haunted by a city-crippling ice storm, a seating fiasco that tied the NFL up in court for years, transportation headaches and even injured stadium workers. In contrast, Houston emerged from its Super Bowl week with glowing reviews from visiting media members and league officials — and no notable controversies.
If Houston ripped off a 90-yard touchdown, Dallas threw a Pick-6 on its own 10-yard line.
So Houston should have a huge edge in the competition to host the next Texas Super Bowl, right? Not exactly.
If the national media and attending fans picked Super Bowl sites, Houston would be a lock for another big game in the near future. But that’s not how the NFL operates. Super Bowls are used as rewards, bargaining chips and often the ultimate hammer. And every city in the NFL wants one — or another one.
In truth, Dallas’ Super blunders are unlikely to haunt it — and it still likely holds a better chance than Houston of landing the next Texas Super Bowl. Jerry World — the shining behemoth that’s still the venue that all new stadiums are compared to, the one with the 100,000-plus seating capacity (in theory) — all but assures that Dallas will get a do-over.
The weather’s unlikely to be that horrible in Dallas in early February again — and maybe the whole North Dallas obsession of having everything way too spread out across the entire region will be rethought. (It’s not like Houston put Super Bowl events out in Katy or The Woodlands to make everyone feel involved. The activities need a central point).
The next three Super Bowls already have been awarded to two cities with brand new stadiums (Minneapolis in 2018 and Atlanta in 2019) and an old favorite with a completely revamped stadium (Miami in 2020). But this orchestrated rush campaign to renovate NRG Stadium in the wake of an ultra-successful Super Bowl week ignores some simple timing truths.
Starting in 2021, the NFL needs to hold a Super Bowl in uber billionaire Stan Kroenke‘s new $2.6 billion Inglewood NFL playground and whatever new stadium the Raiders end up in. Then, Houston likely has to hope that Dallas gets its Super do-over sooner rather than later to eliminate any concern over Texas fatigue.
There will be no Final Four repeat. Yes, Houston hosted college basketball’s biggest event twice in five years, but that just doesn’t happen with Super Bowls.
No matter what is done to NRG, Houston is looking at a wait of likely at least a decade before landing another Super Bowl. Even New Orleans —one of the cities in the NFL’s so-called Super Bowl rotation — waited 11 years after the 2002 Super Bowl before getting another. The last city to get two Super Bowls in the same decade was Phoenix/Glendale, which had the big game in 2008 and 2015.
The NFL’s already changed since then. You don’t think the NFL would love to hold a Super Bowl in London by 2027?
This race will have little to do with the fact Houston absolutely killed it when given a chance. Maybe it’s time to stop obsessing over the next one and appreciate the fact that Houston blew away Dallas in the competition for the best Texas Super Bowl of all time.
That means plenty — even if it does not come close to guaranteeing a swift big game return.
“Houston did an incredible job with this,” Hall of Fame offensive lineman Jackie Slater says. “One of the best Super Bowl weeks ever.”
Slater would know. His son Matthew Slater plays for the Patriots, who seem to make the Super Bowl every other year.
“What a host city Houston has been,” lead Fox voice Joe Buck says. “They put their heart into it.”
Houston trumped Dallas by a landslide — and beat almost all the rest. That says something about this city that should resonate no matter what Game of Thrones-like calculated decisions the NFL makes about future Super Bowl host cities in the next decade.
It’s not about them, it’s about us.