Enjoy the Week Off, While You Still Can

Seven times in its history, the Super Bowl has been played without a week off beforehand. The most recent such Super Bowl was Super Bowl XXXVII, played on January 26, 2003, the last Super Bowl to have been held in January.

That year, the start of the regular season was pushed back one week, to the weekend after the Labor Day weekend, to avoid concurrence with college football's opening weekend, which the owners blamed for the low television ratings the NFL was getting on the Labor Day weekend.

There was also no idle week between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl the year before that: as the result of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which caused postponement of what would have been Week 2's games, that week's games were transferred to the end of the regular season — and since it was deemed impossible to change the date of the Super Bowl on such short notice, the idle week between the conference title games and the Super Bowl had to be omitted.

Super Bowl XXXIV had no week off before it because if it had, it would have been played in February — something the owners were afraid to do; but once the owners knew that they could "get away with" a February Super Bowl in Super Bowl XXVII, every Super Bowl since except for Super Bowl XXXVI has been played in February.

Super Bowl XXVIII offered a unique variant: each team was given two bye weeks instead of one during the 1993 regular season, which still allowed the owners to hold the Super Bowl within the confines of January; plus New Year's Day, crammed with all its college bowl games, fell on a Saturday, making it impossible for the NFL to hold its wild card playoff games on that weekend.

In both 1989 and 1990 (and not again until 2002, but every year since), the regular season opened on the weekend after the Labor Day weekend — and this meant that Super Bowl XXV had no week off before, because, as with Super Bowl XXXIV, that would have pushed the game into February.

The 57-day strike that shortened the 1982 regular season from 16 games to nine caused Super Bowl XVII to be played one week after the conference championship games, because the owners added an extra week's worth of games at the end of the regular season.

In 1969, there was a week off between the first round of the playoffs and the league championship games in the AFL, but not in the NFL, causing Super Bowl IV to be played only one week after the AFL and NFL title games (the AFL began its regular season one week earlier than the NFL did).

So much for the past. But what about the future?

The owners have made no secret of the fact that one of the main reasons why they want an 18-game regular season is so that the Super Bowl can be played on the Sunday of the Presidents' Day weekend, making "Super Bowl Monday" a holiday for scores of millions of Americans at least, and saving employers in almost every line of business billions of dollars in lost productivity from unexcused absences.

Added to this, of course, is that with a second bye week for each team — something the owners have more or less agreed to, and for which the 1993 season provides an oh-so-convenient precedent — an 18-game schedule would give the owners the Presidents' Day weekend Super Bowl they desire. One irregularity arises, and that is when Labor Day falls on September 7; in that case, the owners would have to bite the bullet and begin the regular season on that weekend, otherwise the Super Bowl would be played on February 21 — one week too late. The second bye also puts the owners in a position to give every team that plays a Thursday game an automatic bye the week before — something that will go over big with the NFLPA, which needs to sign off on any lengthening of the schedule.

And what would the 17th and 18th games be? That's easy: they would be an interconference game, matching up teams that had the same finish in their respective divisions the season before (first vs. first, second vs. second, etc.), meaning that a division champion would have to play six games against other division champions the following season, while a last-place team would get to play six games against other last-place teams, resulting in more competitive balance — something the NFL could use right about now, coming off a season in which there were one 14-2 team and three 13-3 teams. It also means that some teams not in the same conference would play each other more often than once every four years, just as teams in different divisions of the same conference can play each other more often than once every three years.

Even the Pro Bowl does not pose an insuperable dilemma: It can revert to its traditional date of the week after the Super Bowl — or it can even be played on the Saturday before the Super Bowl.

In any event, the week off between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl is an idea that has long since outlived any usefulness it might have had. Clearly, it needs to go.

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