Atlanta, GA, Jan. 28 (AP by Paul Newberry)--Good thing the Tennessee Titans played their way into the Super Bowl. It doesn't look they'll be playing host to the big game any time soon.
Wintry weather has plagued Atlanta, which endured frigid temperatures and braced today for an approaching storm that threatened to dump up to three inches of snow.
NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said he didn't think the prospect of shivering fans trekking through a snowbound city would damage Atlanta's chances of landing another Super Bowl. After all, Sunday's game between the Titans and St. Louis Rams will be played in the comfy Georgia Dome.
``We always understood this game was part Southern, part Northern,'' he said Thursday. ``The key thing is the quality of the stadium and having a domed stadium.''
One new issue cropped up this morning as the storm moved nearer: Will fans flying into the city be able to make it?
Before a single snowflake fell in Atlanta, Delta Air Lines had already cancelled three Nashville-to-Atlanta flights scheduled for later in the afternoon, along with the 5:30 a.m. flight Saturday.
But the airline wasn't completely giving up on getting passengers there by kickoff.
``We should be able to get them here over the course of the weekend,'' Delta spokesman John Kennedy said. ``However, they should expect to encounter significant delays on the way.''
In the NFL's version of Geography 101, Deep South Atlanta has the potential to become a Northern city in late January. Ditto for Nashville and Charlotte, two other cities that have considered bidding for the game.
Both the Titans and Carolina Panthers play in stadiums that have opened since 1996, but neither has a roof.
``This week could have an impact on some Northern cities that were hoping to get the game in an open-air stadium,'' Tagliabue said. ``This shows us that winter is still winter in the United States.''
Other cities that might be affected: Baltimore and Washington, which have built open-air stadiums in the last two years; Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, both constructing facilities without a roof; and Philadelphia, where the Eagles are seeking a new stadium.
Even with a covered stadium, the problems of taking the game to a cold-weather city were magnified by the unseasonable spell in Atlanta.
``I know a lot of fans who worried about the weather and how they're going to get here,'' Titans owner Bud Adams said. ``It's a big factor.''
The NFL scrambled to plan for the worst-case scenario, knowing that Hotlanta is hardly equipped to cope with severe winter weather. Forecasters provided a bit of good news, projecting less snow and ice for the Atlanta area by nightfall.
Still, the league was concerned that icy roads would prevent local workers from reaching hotels, restaurants and other businesses catering to Super Bowl visitors.
``We know a couple of inches here can totally shut things down,'' said Jim Steeg, the league vice president of special events.
The National Weather Service said 1-3 inches of snow was expected today, with a chance of sleet and freezing rain Saturday.
With the expected bad weather in mind, the Titans and Rams were given permission to move their final two days of workouts to the Georgia Dome. They held their first practices outside Wednesday in bitterly cold temperatures, but were more comfortable Thursday as the mercury climbed from 19 to 43 degrees and the wind settled down.
Meanwhile, extra generators were in place to keep power running at the Dome. Some hotels set aside rooms to house their own employees in case roads became impassable. The teams were advised to anticipate delays in their travel itineraries.
After Wednesday's workout, several Rams complained that it was virtually impossible to concentrate in the frosty conditions.
``It's tough when you're trying to practice for the biggest game of the year and you have to go out in that kind of weather,'' Rams safetty Keith Lyle said. ``You're freezing. No one wants to catch the ball. No one wants to bump into each other.''
The Dome was not available to the teams Wednesday and Thursday; it was being used for pregame and halftime show rehearsals, as well as other game preparations. But the NFL altered its scheduled today, cutting short another rehearsal so the Titans and Rams could use the stadium for 1 1/2-hour practices in the afternoon.
The NFL addressed another weather-related problem: the giant, outdoor tent that was used for news conferences at Tennessee's team hotel.
When the Titans met with the media Wednesday morning, it was not much warmer in the tent than the 26-degree temperatures on the outside. But 16 additional heaters were brought in Thursday, bringing the inside temperature to a downright sweltering 71.
``It's hotter than fish grease in here,'' said Titans linebacker Barron Wortham, stripping off his heavy coat to reveal a short-sleeve shirt underneath.
One thing is certain: the game will be played, even in the most dire conditions. Steeg pointed out that the city's rapid transit system connects the downtown hotel district to the stadium a few blocks away.
The city is just recovering from an ice storm last weekend that knocked out power to hundreds of thousands in north Georgia.
``Last week may have been a blessing to us,'' Steeg said. ``I'm sure it's not to the people who are still without power. But it's made everyone aware of the need to get ready with another storm coming.''
Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press