John Steadman

This year's game just won't be the same

Super Bowl Xxxv

Ravens vs. Giants

January 27, 2001|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

TAMPA, Fla. - There is no cheering in the press box, but it's still a noisy place. Men and women type on portable computers and chat right through the national anthem, but any who choose to interrupt the moment of silence for John Steadman that will precede Super Bowl XXXV run the risk of getting glared at by eight gray-haired men.

This will be the first Super Bowl without Steadman, the Baltimore newspaperman who died of cancer Jan. 1. With his passing, the number of print, plus one now electronic, journalists who have covered each Super Bowl is eight. They saw the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs at the L.A. Coliseum in 1967. They'll write about the Ravens and New York Giants tomorrow. The game and its sideshows changed, but Steadman didn't.

"This business has gotten sleazy," said Jerry Green, who has worked for the Detroit News for 37 years. "John Steadman was the most principled guy in an unprincipled business that I have ever known."

When Ed Pope of the Miami Herald and Jerry Izenberg of the Newark Star-Ledger were asked their thoughts about Steadman, principled was also the first description they offered.

"John hated Bob Irsay and the Indianapolis Colts, because he felt they stole his team," Will McDonough of the Boston Globe said. "It was his moral conviction that it wasn't right to take someone else's team, so he wasn't thrilled when the team [the Browns] was taken out of Cleveland."

Izenberg was at Yankee Stadium in 1958 with Steadman, who predicted the score of the Baltimore Colts' classic overtime victory, 23-17. When the New York Jets declared parity in the AFL-NFL rivalry in Super Bowl III with an upset of the Colts, Steadman's response was easy to gauge.

"He was absolutely devastated," Izenberg said.

Weeb Ewbank coached the Colts and Jets to three world championships. After Pope wrote a column that included criticisms of Ewbank, however, he got an angry response from Steadman.

"After Lenny Moore retired from the Colts, he came to Miami, I think representing Colt 45," Pope said. "I did a column on him, and he second-guessed Weeb Ewbank, talked about how he was out of date. I thought it was a pretty good column, but John chewed me out. He said, `Never present the opinions of a disgruntled player about a coach.' He was absolutely right.

"John didn't truck with the ordinary mores of journalism, or anything else. He was different than any newspaperman I have ever known. He just had higher principles."

Steadman and Moore, incidentally, had a deep affection for each other.

Before tomorrow's moment of silence in the press box, Len Shapiro of the Washington Post will give a brief dedication to Steadman. The journalists - the others are Larry Felser of the Buffalo News, Dave Klein of e-Giants, Norm Miller of the New York Post and Bob Oates of the Los Angeles Times - and publicists who have covered each Super Bowl gathered for dinner Wednesday night. Pope said commissioner Paul Tagliabue "paid tribute to Steadman, although insufficient."

The Hall of Fame committee will convene this morning, and Izenberg said it will seem hollow without Steadman. It was one of their rituals at the Super Bowl, a reunion where Steadman was a patriarch, albeit a bit eccentric. Pope remembered Steadman's weighted running shoes. McDonough spoke of the Super Bowl when Steadman was thrilled not by the game, but by the Friday night party, where country singer Charley Pride entertained.

The lifers were shaken when Steadman arrived at Super Bowl XXXIII in Miami two years ago, his body racked by chemotherapy. His condition improved in Atlanta last year, but whether in good health or bad, the stories always flowed.

Baseball was also in Steadman's blood; he had a short-lived minor-league career.

"If John Steadman had been able to hit a curveball," Izenberg said, "we'd all be a lot poorer for it. Especially Baltimore."

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