The first Super Bowl I was alive for took place on Jan. 13. 1974. Miami’s Bob Griese, Larry Csonka and Co. dismantled Fran Tarkenton and the Minnesota Vikings 24-7 in a game venerated Miami Herald sports editor Edwin Pope described thusly: “It was murder. It made the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre look like a draw."
I don’t remember the game myself, as I was four months and a day old. Indeed, I don’t recall that any of the Super Bowls of the ’70s made lasting impressions. I know now about the Steel Curtain and Mean Joe Greene (I do remember the classic Coca-Cola ad) and the shrapnel embedded in Rocky Bleier’s knee.
I remember scraps of Roger Staubach’s swan song, Too Tall Jones and Tony Dorsett. I remember Jim Plunkett’s bushy black hair.
Snippets knit together into more substantial stuff around 1981, taking snaps and making plays with Joe Montana. Dwight Clark went to Clemson – I was always clear on that – and The Catch, on Jan. 10, 1982, which lifted the 49ers into the Super Bowl, is one of my first actual sports memories. Hacksaw Reynolds and Ronnie Lott gave me my first clear picture of what defense looks like – an image that has blurred a bit over time.
Washington’s 1983 Super Bowl win against Miami represented the first coronation for the Hogs (Joe Jacoby – robbed again), Art Monk, the Diesel, Dexter and Joe Gibbs. The Redskins’ 1984 beatdown as snow fell in South Carolina at the hands – and feet – of Marcus Allen is the first time I can recall a sporting event putting me in a lasting bad mood.
But what truly solidified my love of football, what drove the anchoring nails deep into my pigskin heart, was the wonderful, wacky carpet ride of the 1985 Chicago Bears.
Sweetness and McMahon. Mike Singletary’s eyes. The Fridge (Clemson) and Richard Dent. I had no conception of Buddy Ryan’s genius and only a vague notion of Walter Payton’s place in history, but what I did have was a vinyl recording of “The Super Bowl Shuffle.” Speedy Willie and Mama’s Boy Otis. Backup QB Steve Fuller (Clemson), claiming with a semi-straight face to “run like lightning, pass like thunder.” And my favorite: “My name is Sweetness and I like to dance/Running the ball is like making romance.”
The charmed madness culminated in the Bears’ 46-10 victory against New England in Super Bowl XX on Jan. 26, 1986, and I was hooked. This football stuff was fun.
Gibbs and the Redskins would go on to win two more championships before the long national nightmare that was the mid-’90s and the Dallas dynasty. More iconic names etched themselves in sterling silver. Young. Favre. Elway. Warner. Lewis. Manning. Brady.
The game has not always been as fun as it seemed 30 years ago. We didn’t know about CTE then – well, some of us didn’t. Off-field troubles tended to stay there – for better or worse. Rules changes have gassed up and gunned the product for a fan base whose intelligence is insulted on a regular basis – but never fear; have a team-colored can of crappy beer.
This Super Bowl Sunday, I don’t even have plans. I’m sure I’ll wind up somewhere. I won’t make Super Bowl chili and tape pictures of favorite players to my wall and pack an auxiliary cooler with ice on the porch. But I’ll do something.
I don’t have much of a rooting interest. I remember Steve Bartkowski and Billy White Shoes Johnson, but the Falcons hold no special place in my heart. My disdain for Tom Brady and the Patriots is the same as most of America’s. I’m hoping for a good game, a memorable halftime show from Lady Gaga and that friends who do care will wind up happy.
That seems fitting as of late. I don’t have a huge rooting interest in much these days. Everything seems a little subdued - sounds muted, colors faded. But that’s OK, too. I’ve been around this particular game long enough to know these things, like transcendent quarterbacks and next-level defenses, go in cycles. I’m playing out the final few minutes of the second quarter – or third, depending on your point of view and level of bitchiness. I’ll make some locker-room adjustments, get some fluids, rest a bit and come back out – eventually – rejuvenated and ready to run through a wall. (That part I’ve practiced).
In the meantime, maybe there’s a good Super Bowl retrospective on somewhere, perhaps something with grainy footage and John Facenda’s voice.
And there’s this: Pitchers and catchers report in eight days.