Former Colts and Ravens recall Super Bowl wins

As Baltimore celebrates anniversary, players discuss how a title game evolved into a 'full-fledged bacchanalia'

February 05, 2011|By Mike Klingaman, The Baltimore Sun

Ten years ago, the Ravens won a Super Bowl. Thirty years before that, the Baltimore Colts did the same.

Now, as the city celebrates milestone anniversaries of two world championships, players from both teams marvel at the stark differences between their Super Bowl experiences and the spectacle that will take place Sunday night.

Super Bowl XLV, they say, has grown to size XXL, from the enormity of the players to the girth of their championship rings, and from skyrocketing ticket prices to the cost of TV commercials.

"When we played (in 1971), the sun didn't rise and set on the Super Bowl," said Bob Vogel, 69, the Colts' All-Pro offensive tackle. "Now it's a central part of American culture."

Even the past decade has produced significant change, players said.

"I don't recall media coverage being this exhaustive 10 years ago," said Trent Dilfer, 38, the Ravens' Super Bowl quarterback who now works for ESPN. "We have an army of analysts to talk about every single element of the game. It's very much like a presidential election, with all of the hype and spin."

Few have seen the game morph more than Bill Curry, the Colts' Pro Bowl center who played in Super Bowl I (with the Green Bay Packers) and in Super Bowls III and V, with Baltimore.

"We (players) were made to feel larger than life, but that has increased exponentially," said Curry, 68. "Now, the Super Bowl is a full-fledged bacchanalia. It's sad. The game is almost a sidelight."

In 1967, tickets for the first NFL-AFL championship game, as it was then called, cost $12. Four years later, when the Colts defeated the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl V, seats were $15.

"This year, I called the NFL and asked if former players could buy tickets," Curry said. Told the cost would be $900, he asked, "That's for two tickets, right?"

Wrong. Curry was stunned.

"I decided not to buy them," he said.

A sloppy, brutal game

Super Bowl V was the first one thus named; the first played for an NFL championship (following the merger of rival leagues); and the first played on artificial turf.

The newfangled grass worried the Colts' long-haired rookie kicker, Jim O'Brien, who'd said as much before the game.

"I hope they don't need me. I can't kick on this stuff." he'd groused.

But with five seconds left and the score tied, O'Brien nailed a 32-yard field goal to give the Colts a 16-13 victory – and the first-ever, sterling silver Vince Lombardi Trophy.

"I still get a warm, fuzzy feeling when I see the kick on TV," said O'Brien, who turned 64 on Wednesday.

That game in 1971 was full of gaffes: 10 turnovers, 14 penalties, a blocked extra-point and a twice-tipped touchdown pass.

Congratulating the winners afterward, President Richard Nixon quipped, "I hope I don't make that many mistakes in one day."

But those bonehead plays masked the Colts' obsession to win Super Bowl V, said the players, who were still smarting from their upset by the New York Jets in Super Bowl III.

"After losing that game, we thought, 'My God, what have we done?' " said guard Dan Sullivan, 71. "It's not easy, getting back to the Super Bowl."

But the Colts did.

"People say it was a terrible game, but the hitting was awesome to the end," Vogel said. "We were determined to make up for having lost to the Jets in 1969. The intensity was such that there was so much testosterone squirting around, the quality of play got lost in it.

"Sometimes, the juice gets in the way."

To celebrate, Colts' owner Carroll Rosenbloom flew the team to the Bahamas, where players caroused and licked their wounds.

"I remember going into a restaurant in Freeport, for breakfast. I couldn't hardly raise my arms to eat pancakes," said Fred Miller, 70, an All Pro defensive tackle. "I'd never been physically beat on so much in my life."

While the rings they received seemed big then, they pale alongside the bands of today.

"I couldn't wear the rings they get now," Curry said. "They've got to be three times bigger. They look like bracelets. I tried one on and it kept banging into things. I couldn't get my hand in my pocket. The ring protruded."

Super Bowl V drew a TV audience of 64 million, compared to the 110 million expected to watch Sunday night. Forty years ago, a 30-second commercial could be had for $72,000; now, it costs $3 million.

"The game has become marketing mayhem," said Matt Stover, 43, the former Ravens kicker who has been to three Super Bowls – 1991 (New York Giants), 2001 (Ravens) and 2010 (Indianapolis Colts).

"On the field, I've not seen much difference through the years. Football has been football, as long as I can remember," Stover said. "But the digital world has brought (the Super Bowl) alive all over the globe. Ten years ago, we didn't have Facebook or Twitter. Now, reporters, and even players, can put stuff on the web and it goes viral, around the world, in a matter of seconds.

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