By Erik Matuszewski
NEW YORK — Mike Pereira calls himself a California guy who doesn't like the cold. Never has. The National Football League's former head of officiating once wore a neoprene wet suit under his uniform while working an especially frigid game in Buffalo.
"You looked OK when you walked on the field, but by God if they ever forced me to be timed on a 40-yard dash, I'd still be running," Pereira said in a telephone interview.
Now a rules analyst for Fox Sports, Pereira said potential subfreezing weather at the Feb. 2 Super Bowl in East Rutherford, N.J., will affect the seven-man crew of game officials more than any of the players on the field.
While the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks will get opportunities to sit on warmed benches and in front of portable heaters on the sideline, the officials will be far less mobile and standing on a field for about 3 1/2 hours at the coldest Super Bowl in the game's 48-year history. Bitter cold can cause more than just discomfort; it might lead to a loss of focus for those making snap rules decisions in the NFL's biggest game of the season, former officials said.
"You can find yourself being very concerned with trying to stay warm, making sure your hands are comfortable, getting the feeling in your fingers," said Jim Daopoulos, who spent 11 years as an on-field official and another 12 as an NFL supervisor of officials. "It's that aspect that's so important — to be able to concentrate during the bitter cold that sometimes occurs at the Meadowlands." MetLife Stadium is part of the Meadowlands Sports Complex.
The high temperature in East Rutherford, N.J. on Feb. 2 is forecast to be 36 degrees Fahrenheit (2 Celsius) and the low 28 degrees, according to State College, Pa.- based AccuWeather Inc. The notoriously windy stadium could feel colder with the wind chill factored in. AccuWeather is predicting gusts of about 13 miles per hour (21 kph) in the Meadowlands for Super Bowl Sunday.
The lowest previous temperature at the start of a Super Bowl played in an outdoor venue was 39 degrees at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans after the 1971 season. Only one other Super Bowl played in a non-domed stadium has had a gametime temperature below 50 degrees, also at Tulane Stadium after the 1975 season.
NFL officials have worked plenty of cold weather games before, including a second-round playoff game on Jan. 5 in Green Bay, where the temperature dipped to 2 degrees in the final quarter, with a wind chill that made it feel like minus-13. There were only five penalties called in the San Francisco 49ers' 23-20 win over the Packers, the fewest in any of the NFL's 10 games this postseason.
The other nine games have had an average of 10.6 penalties for 91.6 yards. The 49ers and Packers were penalized a combined 30 yards for their game in Green Bay.
"I thought the game was officiated more loosely than any other of the playoff games," said Pereira, 63, the NFL's vice president of officiating from 2001 through 2009. "Why? Because they purposely let it go? No, because I think being so cold affects your ability to react and concentrate. Cold weather, it does have an effect. You work through it, but it's tough."
Mike Carey, an NFL official since 1990, won't be working this year's Super Bowl, yet he'll still have a presence as he tries to help his colleagues cope with the cold.
Carey, 64, is a co-founder of Seirus Innovation Inc., a closely held company in Poway, Calif., that sells cold- weather gear and will help outfit some of this year's Super Bowl on-field officials in accessories such as gloves, hats, bodysuits, liners and facemasks. NFL officials are supplied two sets of uniforms by the league each year — one lightweight and one heavier — though Carey said the thicker pants and shirt aren't adequate in extremely cold weather.
"A lot of guys will have our products," said Carey who started Seirus in 1984 and was the referee for the Super Bowl between the New York Giants and undefeated New England Patriots after the 2007 season. "Not only do you see it on the field, but you'll see our face masks and our products in the stands."
Terry McAulay, in his 16th year, will be the Super Bowl referee for the third time. NFL rules don't allow McAulay, 54, and the rest of his crew — Carl Paganelli, 53, (umpire), Jim Mello, 56, (head linesman), Tom Symonette, 61, (line judge), Scott Steenson, 67, (field judge), Dave Wyant, 60, (side judge) and Steve Freeman, 60, (back judge) — to talk with the media about any game preparation, including how they'll prepare for the elements.
Freezing temperatures can also cause logistical issues for officials. Some traditional whistles used by referees have a small ball — or pea — that causes the loud trill and will become ineffective if saliva freezes inside.
"When that pea freezes, you're virtually ineffective in term of the whistle," said Pereira, who will assist with rules- related questions on Fox's Super Bowl broadcast. "It won't blow. You just get this shrill noise that comes out, so you have to go with a pea-less whistle."
The NFL said it supplies its Super Bowl officials with both standard and "pea-less" whistles.
Like Pereira, who squeezed into the wet suit to try to stay warm and dry in Buffalo, Daopoulos said he remembers the coldest game he worked "like it was yesterday." It was a 1989 Giants' game in East Rutherford and strong winds not only helped Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham unleash a 91- yard punt, it made the wind chill about 20 or 30 degrees below zero, to Daopoulos' recollection. He said he sat in the locker room for almost a half-hour before regaining feeling in his hands, feet and ears.
"That's what's so unique about this situation, you have a Super Bowl, the biggest game of the year, in perhaps bitter, cold conditions," Daopoulos said in a telephone interview following a round of golf in Hollywood, Fla. "No matter what they say, no matter how much they try to keep warm, it hurts and it's very difficult to keep your concentration."
The coldest game Casey remembers officiating was in Green Bay, where he said the temperature was about 20 degrees below zero with the wind chill. He said his gear at the time was "woefully ineffective" and spurred him to create lightweight, flexible products to help keep others warm. Casey said when he started his business, accessories such as hats and gloves accounted for about 5 percent of the snow sports market. It's now 34 percent of an industry that had $615 million in sales last year, according to SnowSports Industries America, the North American trade association representing suppliers of consumer snow sports.
This year's Super Bowl officials are among those who will benefit from Casey's discomfort 24 years ago in Green Bay.
"I was so cold that I wasn't just shivering, my big muscles were shaking," Casey said. "I could not take the experience. That helped drive what my line is today. I had an environment for research and development not just from the ski slopes but from my NFL experiences too."