Have you circled February 2, 2020 on your calendar? It's a double-doozy for those who follow the NFL and the groundhog prognosticator known as Punxsutawney Phil. (Not to mention it's Lisa Rickey's birthday ... but I digress.)
By now you have probably figured out that I'm referring to the fact that the biggest day in professional football, the Super Bowl, occurs on Groundhog day this year.
Made internationally famous, thanks to the 1993 film "Groundhog Day," the whole world has been exposed to the curious tradition that started in 1887 in the borough of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. That was many, many years ago (79 to be exact) before the owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, Lamar Hunt, named the first pro football championship game between the NFL and AFL the "Super Bowl."
February 2, 2020 could have been even more special if the Green Bay Packers could have stopped the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game last Sunday. Had the Packers won, Super Bowl LIV (54) would have been a rematch of the original Super Bowl game 54 years ago. But hey, it wasn't meant to be.
About 12 hours before the Super Bowl kicks off at 5:30 p.m., there will be a lot of activity up in the small Pennsylvania town of Punxsutawney. That's when Phil will be dragged out of his perfectly warm and cozy bed up on Gobbler's Knob and paraded for the world to see him allegedly predict whether we're going to have an early spring or six more weeks of winter weather. It's a complicated process. Phil is placed on a stump where he explains to the President of the Inner Circle in a language known as "Groundhogese" whether he's seen his shadow. If he has, he returns to his hole and we have six more weeks of winter. If he doesn't see his shadow, he's predicted an early spring.
According to what I've read on the subject, Groundhog Day celebrations are rooted in Celtic and Germanic traditions which used a hedgehog as the predictor of more winter or an early spring . When German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania, they brought the tradition with them ... but substituted a groundhog for the hedgehog.
Phil received his name in 1961. It's not quite clear who he was named after, but speculation has it that he may have been named after Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and husband of Queen Elizabeth II. I'm not really sure if that is a good thing or not.
Here in Alabama we have several prognosticating critters ... including the unique forecaster, Sand Mountain Sam. Sam is a possum who takes to the limelight every 2nd day of February. There are also two traditional groundhogs (aka woodchucks). There's Birmingham Bill who hangs out at the Birmingham Zoo and Smith Lake Jake.
Bill takes the spotlight only on Groundhog Day and special occasions. Jake (described as not being an early riser) usually makes his appearance about 10 a.m. And Jake breaks with tradition by ditching the "seeing his shadow." Instead, if the hair on his tail stands up, Jake is calling for more winter weather. If he's calm and happy, look out for an early spring. This info is a little dated — which means one or more of these forecasters may have gone on to meet their maker.
Regardless, we'll put all the prognosticators to bed on the night of February 2nd knowing if Old Man Winter will hang around — and which pro football team will be known as Super Bowl LIV champs.
Until next time.