NEW YORK — The air was somewhat crisp here Friday morning, as it is should be on Jan. 31.

NEW YORK — The air was somewhat crisp here Friday morning, as it is should be on Jan. 31.

Still, there was a line at the 9/11 Memorial at 10 a.m., through the security, leading to the two large, somber rectangles.

There were orange-clad Broncos fans, a few Seahawks fans in blue and green. There was a distinguished-looking fellow, perhaps a lawyer with visitors around him, saying, "Twenty-six sets of brothers died here."

The rectangles are where the World Trade Center towers stood. A 30-foot waterfall from each of the four sides lands in the pool. Then the water disappears into a smaller rectangle.

This can either symbolize the irretrievable loss, the endlessness of the grief, or the journey from noise to silence. Or maybe the contrast to the busy jack hammering, all around, as commerce presses on.

Everyone sees something different.

Everyone also stops and reads at least some of the names that are etched onto the sides of each pool, not only the World Trade Center victims but those who died in the 1993 attack, and at the Pentagon and in that field in Pennsylvania.

The names are organized by function. First responders, office employees. In fact, the firemen and policemen are broken down by unit and station. DiStefano, Cruz, Coyle, Maloney, Rosenberg, Reyes — a silent testament to the generations who were drawn into New York's magnetic field.

When you visit the Broncos' hotel in Jersey City, you look across the river. Ground Zero seems only a handshake away. Author Jonathan Franzen got it right, about the closeness and the loudness. It still terrifies.

And yet New Yorkers generally did not turn 9/11 into self-congratulation, or a hashtag.

Seven weeks afterward, the Yankees got game-tying or game-winning home runs from Tino Martinez, Derek Jeter and Scott Brosius in a World Series they would eventually lose.

Those instants, and the primal roar that greeted President Bush on the first pitch of Game 3, were perhaps the most emotional in American sports history, a declarative oath: Yes, we're still here.

Since then, New York and New Jersey have built two huge arenas in Brooklyn and Newark, two new stadiums for the Yankees and Mets, and MetLife Stadium, home of today's Super Bowl.

Manhattan is more fantastically expensive than ever. It even costs $13 to enter it through the Lincoln Tunnel. Young people ride the late-night subways the way they never would have 30 years ago. They ride and chat and laugh, almost like Londoners.

New York never was interested in normalcy. What it has retained is uniqueness.

To that end, any skepticism about this Super Bowl is just curmudgeonly.

For one thing, the high today will be 46 (the latest forecast, anyway). Denver and Seattle rarely have winter days that nice.

Because the cold snap scared off visitors, you can still get a three-star hotel room in Manhattan for $132 per night. You can also pay four times that, but the city has digested all the ambient Super nonsense, as we all knew it would.

Credit the NFL. It does not usually take such chances.

It recognized football is an outdoor activity. A cold Super Bowl is far less absurd than a stadium-based NHL game. One reason the Super Bowls were so bad for so long is that they were played in biospheric sterility. At least no one will have trouble remembering where this game was played.

But New York also deserved this game because it has been the epicenter of the NFL.

If the 1958 NFL championship between the Colts and Giants in Yankee Stadium wasn't really "the greatest game ever played," it was the most consequential. It drew 45 million viewers, even though it was blacked out in New York. And it showed there was enough national interest to inspire the "Foolish Club" to launch an American Football League two years later.

Then there was Joe Namath, who told a heckling Baltimore fan that he would "guarantee" a Jets victory in Super Bowl III. Namath also said several AFL quarterbacks, including Jets backup Babe Parilli, were better than the Colts' Earl Morrall.

The 18-point underdogs beat Baltimore, 16-7, and it wasn't that close. And Namath, football's Ali, showed that it was OK for a guy to enjoy life's nocturnal pleasures at night, throw for 400 yards during the day, wear fur coats and a Fu Manchu mustache, and speak fearlessly. Today, Namath might be Richard Sherman. Certainly no one is Namath.

Contrary to myth, Super Bowl III did not trigger the AFL-NFL merger. That was already done. And Broadway Joe's Steak House, on West 46th, opened 19 years before Namath's "guarantee."

Contrary to worry, the Super Bowl and the NFL will survive this visit to the big city. The inverse of that was never even a question.