Ghosts of Super Bowls Past

I never have been good with Roman nunerals, so I had to look up Super Bowl XLVI  to know the designation for this year’s big game. Suffiice it to say that I have been alive for all 45 of the previous ones.

It is fitting that this year’s SB (I have gotten lazy like everyone else, “SB, FB,TGIF”) is in Indianapolis,  the thieving city where that scoundrel Bob Irsay took the Baltimore Colts after he stole them out of town in the middle of the night about 30 years ago.  My first memory of the Super Bowl has to do with the Colts, as do many of my recollections since.

As a boy in Baltimore I was a fan and the team was magical to me. The quarterback was the legendary Johnny Unitas, they were coached by the pre-Miami Dolphins Don Shula, and there were heroes everywhere: John Mackey, Bubba Smith, Mike Curtis, Raymond Berry, Jimmy Orr.

My young life came crashing down on January 12, 1969 during Super Bowl III. (That one I didn’t have too look up.) Loudmouthed braggart Joe Namath came through on his guarantee to beat the heavily favored Colts and I was shattered.

I take pleasure in the fact that Namath has not lived a particularly fine life since. He is mostly known for being estranged from his old New York Jets team and  making a behind of himself with a female sportscaster. (We’re not bitter, are we?)

The Colts didn’t make the Super Bowl the next year, but there was some solace in that they took the trophy in  1971 against the Dallas Cowboys. It didn’t matter to me that observers called that game the “Blunder Bowl” and that is always ranked up there as one of the worst championship matches of all time. Winning ugly is always better than losing.

The games for the next 15 to 20 years are something of a blur, although after I became a fan of the Washington Redskins Joe Gibbs came to town and had them playing in January often. Joe Theismann, Timmy Smith, the Smurfs and of course John Riggins were my new heroes.

I do recall listening to sports radio a lot in the 198os and having the proverbial thrill run up my leg listening to the news that the ‘Skins were going to the Super Bowl.  I reveled in listening to Ken “You’re Next” Beatrice and occasionally called the man (many times to get some kind of freebie like the bright Orange Crush sweatsuit I wore running around Lake Accotink in northern Virginia, shining like a neon lamp).

The biggest Redskins Super Bowl for me, however, was the one involving quarterback Doug Williams.  He lit up the Denver Broncos for four touchdowns and won the MVP award in Super Bowl XXII on January 31, 1988 .

It wasn’t so much his performance that makes all that memorable for me. It was meeting up with him in a sports store near my home while he was sitting on the bench behind the now forgotten Jay Schroeder as a backup QB.

It wasn’t too far from Christmas and I bought a small football and had him sign it. I gave it to my nephew as a gift that year.

In the years after that I would occasionally, tongue-in-cheek (sort of), tell his father, my brother,”I want my ball back.” I wonder where that thing is?

I suppose I should have also been thrilled that Williams trounced John Elway’s team. I never have been able to stomach that guy after he jilted the Colts, refusing to play for them after Baltimore drafted him as the number one choice the year he came out of Stanford.

I never have forgiven him. On the other hand, these days I am hoping another Cardinal QB  named Andrew Luck, presumed to be the Colts choice as number one this year, will follow in his ancestor’s footsteps and do the same.

I have lived overseas most of the years of this century and haven’t been able to see a lot of the Super Bowls.  I missed the big kick from Adam Vinateri propelling the Patriots to their first win, for instance.

However, one game does stand out, again involving the Colts, this time representing this year’s host city in Super Bowl XLI played on February 4, 2007. Quarterback Peyton Manning and his coach Tony Dungy, people I respect despite their team ties, led the Colts to victory over the Chicago Bears. 

Again, it wasn’t the game so much that anchors that Super Bowl in my mind. It was the setting where I watched it.

I was in Finland at the time watching the game at 3am at  a sports pub in my town. I got an invite to watch the game in the club room downstairs with the local semi-professional American football team.  There was even a woman from Indianapolis there. (I was cordial.)

(Read John Grisham’s “Playing for Pizza” for the atmosphere surrounding European teams. They all have a few American “ringers” and of course take on the culture of their own country. I suppose the beer flowing so profusely that night wasn’t so different an event as that in the USA. It’s just that the Finns are so proud of it!)

I wandered out of that pub into an icy winter morning at 6 am to hop the bus to work. It was fun to be there to be sure, but I can’t believe I stayed up all night to watch the Dolts win a Super Bowl.

This years rematch brings to mind the Super Bowl of the following year. I didn’t bother to stay up all night. I had a friend tape it for me. Besides, I think the fellow running the sports pub had lost his lease by that time.

That game between the Giants and the Pats is the poster child for the perils of watching a game after it has concluded. Jerry Seifeld depicted this problem when in his second episode ever he fends off a telephone caller at 1 am while he is watching the Mets game he has taped.

“Don’t tell me the score. I taped the game,” he says into the receiver. After hanging up, Kramer walks in and says,”The Mets really stunk tonight didn’t they.” Seinfeld reacts in dismay.

The morning after XLII, I walked into the office at 7 am. I did have an American colleague I thought who might know the score, but I planned to avoid her.

However, I walked into the copy room, and my Finnish friend and colleague who probably know an American football from an orange looks at me and says,”How ’bout them Giants.” I had the same reaction Jerry Seinfeld did, except I didn’t show it since I didn’t want to hurt my pal’s feelings.

This year, frankly, I could care less. My Super Bowl interest went out the window when the current Baltimore franchise booted and dropped their chance at Super Bowl  VLVI a couple of weeks ago.

I will get a good night’s sleep, revel in the fact that Indy has to watch the game without their stolen merchandize being on display, and catch the highlights on Monday with a clear head and conscience.




1 Comment

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One response to “Ghosts of Super Bowls Past

  1. Eddie Boylan

    Ah, yes Johnny U. and his foot work leading up to a pass…

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