|Super Bowl from A to Z|
By Eric Neel
Page 2 columnist
Yeah, it's overhyped, and yeah, you'll be sick of it by the time kickoff rolls around, but it's early in the week, and you're still hungry for Super Bowl trivia, still planning to cook a big pot of chili, still staying up late to watch half-hour NFL Films recaps of past games, still telling yourself that the U2 show at halftime won't be the most painful triumph of commercialism you'll ever see, still thinking maybe the Patriots will cover.
AFL-NFL World Championship Game. That's what they called it the first time around. The upstart AFL had been poaching NFL players; the old guard got nervous, struck a deal to merge the leagues, and initiated a championship game. On Jan. 15, 1967, the NFL champion Packers hammered the AFL's Chiefs 35-10 thanks to wideout Max McGee's seven catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns. McGee had caught only four passes all season, and he was convinced he wouldn't even play in the game, so he snuck out and partied all night the night before. When Lombardi called his name, to replace Boyd Dowler, who got hurt early in the game, the seriously hungover McGee was stunned. "I figured he'd just heard I had overstayed curfew," he said.
Biometrics. Super Bowl surveillance science. Everyone who walked through the gates at Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa had their picture taken by a hidden camera. The images were translated into numerical values -- don't ask me how, it's all very complicated -- and checked against a database of known domestic criminals and international terrorists in just seconds. The system identified 19 petty criminals with outstanding warrants, but no arrests were made. The biometric systems will not be used this year because all the cameras are in Salt Lake City for the Olympics. But in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, security at Super Bowl XXXVI will be at an all-time high. The U.S. Secret Service has designated the game a "National Special Security Event" and has said security forces will be in the air and on the ground during the game.
Cheryl Ladd. There are certain odd little mysteries in history, events whose origins and rationales are forever lost to us. Cheryl Ladd singing the "Star Spangled Banner" before Super Bowl XIV is such a mystery. The "Charlie's Angels" star, dressed in a navy pant suit and a high-necked blouse (another puzzle: What, no short-shorts? No bikini top?), delivered the anthem in all seriousness. It's true, you can look it up. Hers is not the only musical curiosity of Super Bowl history, though. Here's another: Up With People, the merry band of singing ambassadors -- who for years were the answer to Elvis Costello's question "What's so funny about peace, love, and understanding?" -- provided the halftime entertainment at no less than four Super Bowls between 1976 and 1985. Go figure.
EyeVision. After the Ravens' won Super Bowl XXXV, some people worried that their combination of a Ray Lewis-defense and a Trent Dilfer-offense signaled the end of entertaining football. Those people had forgotten a basic truth about the Super Bowl: It's not a game, it's a spectacle. The most exciting play in XXXV was Jermaine Lewis' 84-yard kickoff return for a Baltimore touchdown. Forget the run itself -- he bobbed, he weaved, he broke tackles, he made moves, whatever -- the cool part was the way CBS showed it to us using a crazy, "Matrix"-like set-up called EyeVision. They had 30 digital cameras synchronized to focus on Lewis, showing us 270 degrees worth of angles on the play. What did it tell us that we didn't already know? Not much, but it was bitchin'.
You're lookin' at the Fridge, I'm the rookie.
-- William "The Refrigerator" Perry, 335-pound defensive lineman and part-time fullback, Chicago Bears, 1985.
Garrett, Jason. If they could, do you think Fran Tarkenton or Jim Kelly would trade places with Jason Garrett? Tarkenton and Kelly were a combined 0-for-7 in the Super Bowl. Garrett, meanwhile, has been to four Super Bowls and taken home three championship rings. Here's the catch: He's never played a down. He was Troy Aikman's backup in Dallas and played behind the Giants' Kerry Collins in 2000. A Princeton grad, Garrett impressed both teams with rigorous pregame preparation and a 6-3 record in the nine regular-season games he started over eight seasons. His best shot at playing in the big game might have come in his rookie year, when the Cowboys beat the Bills 52-17 in Super Bowl XXVII.
Hy-Vee. According to the Hy-Vee grocery store jingle, "There's a helpful smile in every aisle." In 1995, in Cedar Falls, Iowa, that smile was Kurt Warner's. After being cut by the Green Bay Packers in training camp, the former Northern Iowa quarterback took a night shift job stocking the shelves in the store for $5.50 an hour. Five years later, after stints in Europe and the Arena Football League, he was the NFL MVP and quarterback for the victorious St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV. Warner stayed sharp during his Hy-Vee shifts by throwing rolls of toilet paper at various targets around the store. "You'd be up front and hear this big roar in the back and figure Kurt must be throwing the Charmin through something or other," a fellow employee remembered later. "The joke going around now is how to garnishee his wages for all the displays he broke."
Ice Bowl. John Facenda, the legendary voice of NFL Films, called it a "cruel rite of manhood." Game-time temperature for the NFL title game between the Cowboys and Packers on Dec. 31, 1967, was 13 degrees below zero, with a wind-chill factor of minus 46. Somehow, barely able to feel their hands and feet, the teams scraped, slid and shivered their way through an epic battle. "It was so cold it almost seemed surreal," Bart Starr remembered later. "We knew there was a game to play, but we didn't know how it could be done." Dallas took a 17-14 lead on a fourth-quarter 50-yard halfback option pass from Dan Reeves to Lance Rentzel. The Packers responded with a 68-yard drive that ended with Starr diving into the end zone behind guard Jerry Kramer's block as the last seconds of the game ticked away. Two weeks later, still smarting from the cold, and running on adrenaline from the win, Green Bay had to suit up for Super Bowl II against the Oakland Raiders. The game was an afterthought; beating the Cowboys and surviving the Ice Bowl was the real deal. "In the nine years Lombardi coached at Green Bay, I don't remember our team ever having a more difficult time getting up for a game than we did for the Super Bowl in 1968," Starr said.
Kenny King. Jim Plunkett was forced from the pocket on third-and-4 from the Raiders' 20. He didn't want to run, which was just as well, because this was the old, worn-down-by-life Plunkett, so nobody else wanted to see him run either. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted fullback Kenny King releasing down the left sideline and threw it to him. It was a sad little floater, and it looked for all the world as if Eagles' DB Herman Edwards would pick it off, but somehow it found its way into King's hands. He turned upfield to find nothing but green in front of him and ran 80 yards for a touchdown, escorted every step of the way by wide receiver Bob Chandler. It was the longest pass play in Super Bowl history (until Green Bay's Antionio Freeman caught one for 81 yards in 1997). More importantly, the play helped key a 27-10 win for the Raiders, making them the first team to win the Super Bowl as a wild-card entry in the playoffs.
Miami Touchdown Club. Three days before Super Bowl III, New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath went to the Miami Touchdown Club to receive an award. As he stood at the podium, a cocky Colts fan yelled from the back of the room, "Hey, Namath, we're gonna kick your ass." Joe Willie shot back, "Wait a minute now, we been hearing that kind of thing for two weeks now. I've got some news for you: We're gonna win the game. I guarantee it." It was only later, after Namath's 18-point-underdog AFL Jets upset Johnny Unitas' seemingly invincible NFL Colts 16-7, that his cheeky response became the most important prediction in football history.
O'Brien, Jim. The Baltimore Colts' rookie kicker won Super Bowl V on a 32-yard field goal with five seconds to play. It was a dramatic end to a ragtag game, full of turnovers and miscues. "I do not wear a ring from that game," legendary Colts defensive end Bubba Smith said years later. "I never even think about it. It didn't feel like a championship."
Punt return for a touchdown. Under the heading of useless trivia, or crucial information for making proposition bets (which is pretty much the same thing), mark this down: There has never been a punt return for a touchdown in the Super Bowl.
Rings. Here's the skinny on the jewelry: The NFL buys 125 rings at $5,000 each for the winners. Losers' rings, most of which are never worn, cost half as much. Coaches, staff and cheerleaders get championship rings, and players' wives often get commemorative pendants. The most famous ring in Super Bowl history might be the "one for the thumb" that the Pittsburgh Steelers didn't earn. After they won their fourth Super Bowl in January 1980, the Steelers and their fans figured a fifth ring -- one for the thumb -- was just around the corner. They're still waiting.
Seventeen and O. People forget, but for most of the perfect 1972 season the Dolphins weren't led by Bob Griese and his Clark Kent glasses; they were quarterbacked by 38-year-old veteran Earl Morrall. Miami had acquired Morrall for $100 from the Giants two years earlier. When Griese went down with a fractured ankle in the fifth game of the season, the old man became one of the greatest bargains in football history, leading the Dolphins to nine straight wins and into the playoffs. Don Shula pulled Morrall for Griese at halftime of the AFC championship game, and Griese started and won Super Bowl VII, but Morrall's fingerprints are all over the Dolphins' unblemished record.
Ugly. As in, "It got ugly in a hurry." In Super Bowl XXIV, the San Francisco 49ers scored eight touchdowns in a 55-10 win over the Denver Broncos. "It was so much fun, we couldn't wait to get back onto the field," Joe Montana explained afterward. Why 55? The Niners weren't perfect: Mike Cofer missed an extra point after their second touchdown.
Vince Lombardi. For eight years, between 1939 and 1947, he taught Latin, algebra, physics and chemistry, and coached the football, basketball and baseball teams at St. Cecilia High School in Englewood, N.J. Running the Packers must have felt easy by comparison.
X. Super Bowl X. Terry Bradshaw threw from his own goal line and Lynn Swann made the most ridiculous, balletic, unbelievable catch you ever saw, landing on Dallas corner Mark Washington near midfield. It was the sort of thing that made you head out to the park to play football, a play you tried to copy but knew you never could, a catch two guys who'd never met before could talk about and it would make them fast friends. I had a picture of the last improbable moment of the catch -- Swann's eyes trained on the ball as it falls into his hands -- stapled to the wall in my bedroom for years and I looked at it every night before bed, wondering how he did it. There was some grumbling when Swann made the Hall of Fame last summer because he doesn't even rank in the NFL's top 20 all-time receptions leaders. Call it a vote for magic, call it a vote for style; he deserves to be in.
Zebras. Nine officials work the Super Bowl each year; seven on the field and two alternates. It's a coveted gig. To be eligible, you must have a minimum of five years' experience, and to be the referee, you need to have five years' experience at that position. The men in stripes are monitored by the league office all season long, and chosen based on the rating system that takes into account the correct calls, marginal calls, and incorrect calls they make in each game. The officials chosen for the Super Bowl get a trip to New Orleans and an $11,900 bonus.
Eric Neel reviews sports culture in his regular "Critical Mass" column for Page 2. The former managing editor of Sportsjones, Neel holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Iowa.