PUNXSUTAWNEY, Pa. — Groundhog Day coincides with the Super Bowl for the first time, but Punxsutawney Phil’s peeps don’t expect the big game to steal his early morning spotlight.
Rather, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club expects about 20,000 revelers to gather around Gobbler’s Knob when western Pennsylvania’s world-famous rodent emerges from his lair just after dawn Sunday to “predict” the weather, said executive director Katie Donald.
“We really don’t think it will be too much of a factor for us because Phil does his prognostication so early in the morning and people have all day to get to wherever they’re going to watch it that evening,” McDonald said.
The closest the game has come to coinciding with Groundhog Day was in 2009, when the just-down-the-road Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Arizona Cardinals 27-23 in the Super Bowl, the night before Phil’s forecast.
Sunday night’s game featuring the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., will be the Super Bowl’s 48th installment, while Phil has been predicting the weather since 1886.
Legend has it that if the animal sees his shadow, winter will last for six weeks. If cloudy conditions prevent that, an early spring is forecast.
Phil has now seen his shadow 100 times and hasn’t seen it just 17 times, according to the Groundhog Club’s Inner Circle, the top-hatted gents who handle the animal and translate his forecast. There are no records from many of the early years.
The folksy celebration typically attracts about 10,000 revelers when it falls on a weekday, but organizers expect twice as many to attend the weekend event. Groundhog-related festivities begin Friday in the borough about 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh and continue all weekend.
The tradition is rooted in a German superstition that says if a hibernating animal casts a shadow on Feb. 2, the Christian holiday of Candlemas, winter will last six more weeks.
The National Weather Service is forecasting typical weather for this time of year, an overcast day with a high temperature of 31 degrees and a low of 19, which is expected about the time Phil emerges for his prediction.
Last year, a prosecutor from neighboring Ohio light-heartedly filed a criminal indictment against Phil for fraudulently predicting an early spring.
Phil’s handlers, the Inner Circle, took the blame, saying they mistranslated his forecast, so the prosecutor relented with a pardon. In actuality, the forecast is about as real as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy; the Inner Circle conjures up the prediction in advance and only pretends to receive it from the animal.