25 years of super memories

John Steadman

January 25, 1991|By John Steadman

* Only 13 newspaper reporters, of the thousands who have been a part of the coverage team, have witnessed every Super Bowl played. Included in the lineup is The Evening Sun's John Steadman, who has plans to be present at Sunday's silver anniversary renewal.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Most of the time the Super Bowl evolves into what can be authentically categorized as just another football game. Literally a misnomer. And it's also the most extensively hyped, overproduced sports and entertainment presentation in the history of the world.

But it's an extraordinary social event, where excess is so prevalent it becomes the expected. From a $15 ticket in its initial year of 1967 -- when it missed by 30,000 customers of selling out -- a single seat now costs $150, is sought after with coveted pursuit and the demand is unrelenting.

The Super Bowl, indeed, is a 50-state Mardi Gras. Parades, parties but mostly a celebration for corporate America, which indulges itself with food, drink and frivolity.

What happens Sunday, in the 25th renewal, is going to be more somber and patriotic than ever before because of the country's involvement in a war. The tone is considerably and appropriately subdued.

But the NFL does its best flag waving, except the year it substituted "America The Beautiful" for the national anthem, when it wraps itself in red, white and blue. This time Super Bowl XXV, despite the stress and distress, can't miss being another spectacular offering. At least the pre-game part.

Now for putting a telescope on the past, and looking back over 24 eventful years. A montage of varied memories:

Eternal respect was gained for the late Vince Lombardi, coach of the first winner, the Green Bay Packers. He was asked if this meeting of the Packers, then the ruler of the NFL, and the Kansas City Chiefs, winners of the upstart American Football League, qualified as a momentous occasion?

"No," he retorted in that strong-willed way of his. "For something to be great it has to have tradition and this game doesn't have it. I think the Green Bay Packers playing the Chicago Bears means a lot more. That's been going on since 1920."

For the first two years, 1967-1968, when Green Bay beat Kansa City and then the Oakland Raiders, it was only occasionally referred to as the Super Bowl. That label wasn't officially affixed until the Baltimore Colts met and lost to the New York Jets, a

16 1/2 -point underdog.

Because of the surprising outcome, the element of shock sent interest rocketing to new heights. After the Packers' first two victories, there was consideration that the playoff design would be changed. Instead of the AFL meeting the NFL, there was talk of taking the teams with the two best percentages, regardless of where they were aligned, AFL or NFL, and let them face off in the grand finale.

But the Jets ended that possibility with their stunning upset of the Colts. The country, from that point on, began to pay strict attention.

The Super Bowl was then on its way to untold degrees of acceptability. A team, the Miami Dolphins completed Super Bowl VII with a 14-7 win over the Washington Redskins and an impeccable record of 17-0, which may never be challenged.

Now for some other casual, yet specific, recollections of an extravaganza that knows no limitations. It has become ingrained in the American fabric, a contrived holiday that is an ornate testimonial to man's near-insatiable desire to be entertained.

* The Man Responsible: Alvin "Pete" Rozelle, the retired commissioner, who insisted the game must be staged in a warm-weather city for fan comfort. He also thought the game would be better if playing conditions were favorable. Rozelle's .. vision took the Super Bowl to where it is.

* One-Shot Finish: Jim O'Brien's 32-yard field goal with five seconds left that gave the Baltimore Colts a 16-13 triumph over the Dallas Cowboys.

* Worst Game: Same as above. Colts fumbled five times and threw three interceptions in a 60-minute "Blunder Bowl." A total of 12 turnovers.

* Best Game: It hasn't happened yet but XIII merits review. Pittsburgh Steelers held off Dallas Cowboys to prevail, 35-31.

* Poetic Justice: Pittsburgh Steelers beating Minnesota Vikings, 16-6, in Super Bowl IX, which meant owner Art Rooney, after 40 years, finally had a championship. "I used to hear how dumb I was when we were doing all that losing," he remarked. "Now they say I'm smart because we won. I don't notice any difference."

* Unfortunate Incident: Super Bowl IV in the Sugar Bowl offered a depiction of the "Battle of New Orleans." A man involved in the cast lost part of his hand in a cannon-firing accident.

* Leading Alibi Artist: Minnesota Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton, 0-for-4 in the series, was never lost for an excuse.

* Smallest Press Party: This year. They aren't having one.

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