PUNXSUTAWNEY, Pa. – The country's most famous groundhog predicted an early spring Wednesday but wasn't willing to go out on a limb to forecast whether his state's Pittsburgh Steelers will win the Super Bowl.
Punxsutawney Phil emerged just after dawn on Groundhog Day to make his 125th annual weather forecast in front of a smaller-than-usual crowd in rural Pennsylvania who braved muddy, icy conditions to hear his handlers reveal that he had not seen his shadow.
Including Wednesday's forecast, Phil has seen his shadow 98 times and hasn't seen it just 16 times since 1887, according to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club's Inner Circle, which runs the event. There are no records for the remaining years, though the group has never failed to issue a forecast.
Two years ago, Phil's forecast also acknowledged the Steelers' Super Bowl XLIII win the night before. This year, Sunday's game was mentioned in the forecast but no winner was predicted between the Steelers and the Green Bay Packers, who meet in Dallas for Super Bowl XLV.
"The Steelers are going to the Super Bowl," Mike Johnson, vice president of the Inner Circle, said just before the forecast was read, drawing cheers from the clearly partisan crowd gathered on Gobbler's Knob, a tiny hill in this borough of about 6,100 residents some 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.
The Groundhog Day celebration 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 another six weeks. If no shadow was seen, legend said spring would come early.
In reality, Pennsylvania's prophetic rodent doesn't see much of anything. The result is actually decided in advance by 14 members of the Inner Circle, who don tuxedos and top hats for the event.
The celebration usually draws 10,000 to 15,000 spectators when it falls on a weekday, Groundhog club spokesman Luke Webber said. The area was under a winter weather warning and while heavier snows and sleet never materialized, rain falling in about 35-degree temperatures made for a below-average crowd, said Webber, who offered no specific estimate.
Punxsutawney Phil predicts an early spring...
The illustrious and shadowy Punxsatawney Phil, a garrulous groundhog, heralds from a high-class burrow in Punxsatawney, Philadelphia. He has forged a career as a populist by forecasting springtime to commoners everywhere.
Every Febrauary 2 (Groundhog Day), Punxsatawny emerges from his winter home on Gobbler’s Knob, just two miles east of town. If he sees his shadow, spring arrives on schedule, but if he doesn’t, spring comes early. The event is met with much pomp and circumstance, usually led by a curmudgeonly cadre of old white men in tophats and tuxedos—a group known as the Inner Circle—who care for the rodent year-round.
During the rest of the year, Punxsatawney resides with his wife, Phyllis, in their elaborate undergound mansion.
Since cornering the spring-prediction market in 1886, Punxsatawney has remained the undefeated champion. But that hasn’t stopped a number of wannabes from trying to dethrone him. His most prominent adversary, General Beauregard Lee, is an embittered marmot whose sore feelings about the U.S. Civil War continue to fuel his sinister plots against Punxsatawney. In 2007, Beau tried to ambush Punxsy by flanking his burrow with a hastily trained and poorly armed gang of gophers. But Punxsy was forewarned of the attack by his elite and highly secretive network of moles, also known as the Buck-Toothed Intelligence and Tactical Service, or B-TITS. Punxsy fled down his escape hole unscathed and General Beauregard Lee went into hiding.
Being over 120 years old, Punxsatawney has managed to maintain his health and mental faculties impressively. This is in large part due to the care of the Inner Circle. Every year, the Circle performs a sacred rite known as a Nosferhogtu, whereby Punxsatawney is invigorated by a secret bath and rejuvinated for another year.
Punxsy was born in a common burrow under a field of weeds next to a Philadelphia oil refinery. The scarcity of fresh grass and flowers taught him the value of nature’s offerings, and he soon began formally studying a branch of Pageanism known as Adepto Floragusto, a practice that refined his interest in flowers. After many years of dedicated study, Punxsy left the burrow to embark upon a great journey to the famed Magnolia Slope, a foothill of sumptuous grass located within the arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania. Every year, Punxsy’s pilgrimage to Magnolia Slope would culminate in the ritual feasting upon fresh spring daisy blossoms.