Sunday, February 5, 2012

Super Bowl Reveries

Super Bowl XLVI, N.Y. Giants vs. New England Patriots

Dear George,

I’ve woken up at 4 a.m. every morning for the past week dreaming about the Super Bowl. Like zillions of Americans, I seem to be possessed with Super Bowl fever. I blame it on the media. TV, the newspapers, and the Internet have been saturated with the big event for the past two weeks. Well over a hundred million people will be watching the kickoff today, probably shattering last year’s all-time record of the most watched show in U.S. TV history. Katja and I don’t know that much about football, but we like to get swept away by huge mass events. We like the commercials, we’re eager to see Madonna. Katja buys lots of paraphanelia. Yesterday I was wearing my Green Bay Packers T-shirt, my Green Bay sweatshirt, and Katja’s New Orleans Saints cap. We’ve watched every Super Bowl since the beginning, way back in 1966. It wasn’t even called the Super Bowl yet.

In the 1960’s there were two separate professional football leagues in the U.S., i.e., the National Football League and the American Football League. The NFL had been around since 1920 and was much more well-established. The upstart AFL had been formed in 1960, and, though it competed with the NFL for players and fans, it was commonly seen as a second-rate newcomer. Because the competition was hurting both leagues, they agreed that they would merge in 1970 and also that the top-ranked teams in the two leagues would begin playing an AFL-NFL World Championship Game.

Packers Coach Vince Lombardi is carried off the field after his team defeated the Oakland Raiders, 33-14, in the Super Bowl

The first “Super Bowl” was played in L.A. in January 1967 and featured the NFL’s Green Bay Packers (14-2) versus the AFL champion Kansas City Chiefs (12-3-1). Because it was the first, it had its own special excitement. With the legendary Vince Lombardi as their coach, the Packers had already become a dynasty. Thanks to my folks, we’d being going to Packer games at Lambeau Field during visits home for several years. Menominee was only fifty miles away from Green Bay, and local residents were completely obsessed with the team and its fortunes. Star players in 1966 included quarterback Bart Starr, Jim Taylor, Paul Hornung (injured early in the season), Willie Davis, Jerry Kramer, Forest Gregg, Ray Nitschke, Willie Woods, Boyd Dowler, and many others. The Packers beat the AFL’s Chiefs decisively, 36-10, and Bart Starr was the game’s MVP. The next year the Packers returned again to the world championship game and beat the Oakland Raiders, 33-14. Bart Starr was MVP that time too. There was talk about discontinuing the game because it seemed obvious that the NFL was so vastly superior that the AFL could never catch up.

Joe Namath, Quarterback, New York Jets

Lombardi retired after the 1967 season, and, much to the dismay of their loyal fans, the Packers suffered their first losing season in years. The Baltimore Colts with Johnny Unitas won the NFL championship. Following the two Packer blowouts, they were favored by 18 points over the AFL’s underdog New York Jets in Super Bowl III. Nonetheless, Jets quarterback Joe Namath (“Broadway Joe”) brashly guaranteed a victory before the game. To everyone’s astonishment, the Jets did win the game, 16-7. As NFL-ites, we were crestfallen. The competition between the NFC and AFC conferences has been balanced ever since, with the NFC earning 24 victories and the AFC 21.

Joe Montana, 49ers; Ken Anderson, Bengals; Super Bowl XVI

Our Cincinnati Bengals were founded in 1966 by Paul Brown as the tenth and final team in the AFL. We hometown fans were thrilled when the Bengals represented the AFC in Super Bowl XVI in Pontiac, Michigan, in 1982. Ken Anderson was the Bengals quarterback, Pete Johnson the fullback, and Chris Collingsworth and Isaac Curtis the wide receivers. We played Joe Montana’s San Francisco 49ers. Though the Bengals gained more yards in total offense and scored more touchdowns, they also had five turnovers and wound up losing, 26-21. Seven years later we played Joe Montana and the 49ers again in Super Bowl XXIII in Miami. This time Boomer Esiason was our quarterback. Frankly, at least for Cincinnatians, this was the most heartbreaking Super Bowl – no, the most heartbreaking pro football game – of all times. The Bengals were winning 16-13, with a mere 3 minutes and 10 seconds left on the clock. The 49ers got the ball way back on their own 8-yard line. They promptly marched all the way down the field, and Joe Montana threw the winning touchdown pass to John Taylor with 34 seconds left in the game. We were watching at a Super Bowl party at Bob and Wanda C’s house. At the end of the game all the guests simply got up and walked out the door like zombies. We were still talking about that tragic day twenty years later.

Eli Manning (left) and Tom Brady, dueling quarterbacks in Super Bowl XLVI

There have been many other exciting Super Bowls. The most memorable for us included the Brett Favre-led Packers victory over the New England Patriots in 1997, the Saints win over the Colts in 2010 (Drew Brees vs. Peyton Manning), and Aaron Rodgers and the Packers defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers just last year. The recently completed 2011 season was the best year yet for the three teams we follow most closely, i.e., the Bengals, the Packers, and the Saints. The Bengals finally made it back to the playoffs this year, and we entertained an optimistic wish that they might make it all the way to the Super Bowl. The Packers and the Saints both had jad dominant seasons, and we were positive that we would be cheering for one or the other of them in the Super Bowl. Much to our dismay all of our three favorites lost early on in the playoffs. So now it’s the New York Giants vs. the New England Patriots. The Patriots’ Tom Brady will doubtlessly go down in history as one of the great quarterbacks of all times, and commentators are starting to refer to N.Y. Giant Eli Manning as one of the elite quarterbacks in the game. We’re not sure who to cheer for. Eli Manning’s a New Orleans native, and we do have that family New York connection. I guess we’ll go with the Giants. But whichever way it goes, we’re primed for the occasion. I just hope that tonight I’ll start sleeping better again.



G-mail Comments

-Gayle C-L (2-5): Yes. Go Giants. ;)

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