By Randy Horick
Ah, now that Super Bowl week is here, now that our vaunted gridiron lollapaloozer has attained a third X, we can look back on all those epic moments from years past. All those late heroics, undiminished by time. All those still amazing highlights.
You remember them. You remember the “Immaculate Reception,” when Franco Harris miraculously saved the Pittsburgh Steelers, even after their last, desperate bid appeared to have been snuffed by those sneering lords of darkness, the Oakland Raiders.
You remember the Ice Bowl, when the Packers’ Bart Starr and the championship rode on the fourth-down block of Jerry Kramer.
You remember Dwight Clark’s leaping TD catch against the Cowboys. And the time John Elway brought the Broncos the length of the field in the final minute to beat the Browns.
If you recall those events correctly, you also recall that none of them occurred in a Super Bowl. If you’re a real, red-blooded, Bud-guzzling, couch-wallowing fubball fan, you know that there have never been any truly brilliant, scintillating Super Bowl plays. Not really. Not yet.
Just try naming one. (No, Joe Montana’s game-winning drive against the Bengals doesn’t count. It was too methodical, and no single play stood out. Stop reading, go back and try a little harder.)
This column isn’t for you anyway. Instead, it’s for those of you who observe Super Sunday out of social obligation or who have vague awareness of the football season, the nagging sense that a mosquito is buzzing around the room somewhere.
For all of you who haven’t a clue what AFC stands for (besides inferiority), here are a few strategies for impressing, suppressing or depressing your football-swigged friends at this weekend’s Super Bowl parties.
♦ First, return to the previously posed challenge about highlights. Defy your friends to name one. Better still, put $5 on the question, take everybody’s action, and immerse yourself in the true spirit of Super Sunday.
Then, point out that virtually all of the most memorable highlights from Super Bowls past revolved not around laudable achievements but laughable flubs and flops. Like Redskin kicker Garo Yepremian’s wobbling scud of a pass attempt that the Dolphins turned into a score. Or the secret play that Richard Nixon designed for Washington—a macabre and sinister conspiracy that Oliver Stone’s new bio-pic completely overlooked.
The most memorable play of Super Bowl XIII came when the Cowboys’ venerable Jackie Smith dropped a touchdown pass that his grandmother could have caught. The most dramatic moment of XXV climaxed with a missed field goal by the Bills. XX offered no drama at all—only the bovine comedy of William “Refrigerator” Perry at fullback for Da Bears.
In the Bills’ second Super opportunity, Thurman Thomas forgot his helmet, then kept forgetting to hold onto the ball. Meanwhile, the Cowboys’ Leon Lett, on his rumblin’-fumblin’-stumblin’ journey toward a touchdown with one of the Buffalo droppings, forgot to cross the goal line before he began waving the ball tauntingly.
Finally, who can forget Michael Jackson’s crotch-grabbing halftime high jinks several years ago? See, not a positive highlight in the bunch.
♦ Taking an entirely different tack, ensnare your friends in a philosophical discussion by suggesting that Super Sunday has become the king of our pagan holidays. You might make the case that, as a celebration of hedonism, excess and unfettered commercialism, the Super Bowl has become a sad reflection of the nation’s moral backsliding. You could even engage in a little rhetorical ranting: “Where the hell are Ralph Reed and Brother Pat Robertson on this? They’ve bought into the game! Where’s the Christian Life Commission? Huh? Huh?”
OK, you probably won’t get very far, and you might even wind up with beer and onion dip smeared on your person. But if you sense the crowd turning nasty, you can point out that you were just fooling. After all, heh-heh, no serious person demeans the Super Bowl.
♦ Generate a little pregame buzz with your own impressive-sounding explanations of why the Steelers, who’ve been marked by the gurus of Vegas as unworthy 13-point underdogs, won’t have the absolute pookie thrashed out of them (or “why the ’Boys won’t cover,” if you want demonstrate a true command of the jargon).
First, point out that Pittsburgh should be able to establish a running game. The Steelers’ offensive line, though not as Brobdingnagian as the Cowboys’, is much beefier than the Dallas defensive front, and they have a lordly (if lardly) runner in the aptly nicknamed Bam Morris.
Secondly, the Steelers, unlike many AFC entries who are simply shazammed even to be playing on Super Sunday, feel hungry. They should have been here last year—would have been here, except for an inexplicable late collapse. They’ll be motivated.
Thirdly, Pittsburgh has organizational pride. Even though their current players weren’t around for them, the Steelers’ halcyon days are still freshly recalled—and will have some residual benefit to this team.
The Steelers will still lose, mind you. But they just might be competitive, and you’ll appear astute for having said so, even if your assessment turns out to be hooey.
♦At some point during the game (NOT during a commercial break, when people will actually be watching the TV), recount your favorite Deion story. The one is from his Florida State days, when he was just Neon and not yet Prime Time.
The Seminoles were pummeling Auburn, you’ll tell them, when Deion intercepted a pass and raced untouched down the sideline. As he passed the Auburn bench, he had the presence of mind to catch the eye of the Tigers’ hyper-redneck coach, Pat Dye. Switching the ball to his left hand, Deion used his right to point suggestively toward his crotch. Dye, taking umbrage at the suggestion, had to be restrained by his assistants, while Deion cackled all the way to the end zone. That, you’ll say, is when you knew Deion was destined for greatness.
♦ Finally, if you absolutely, positively can’t muster a scintilla of enthusiasm for the Super Bowl, be thankful you’re not watching one of the alternatives. Like the All-Madden Team announcement show. Or the Pro Bowl. Is there any creature so addicted, so pathetic, so desperately in need of a life, that he/she would subject him/herself and his/her dependents to three relentlessly tiresome Pro Bowl hours?
Don’t answer that yet. Imagine if the group at your party were watching one of those drama-laden, World at War-sounding NFL Films documentaries, like “Air War Over Cleveland,” or “The Guns of Kansas City”—the ones with the music that, in the hands of the wrong government, could become a weapon of mass terror. Frightening, huh. So have another ginger ale, enjoy the party and count your blessings.
And by the way, if someone presses you on it, Lynn Swann’s great touchdown catch against the Cowboys in Super Bowl X might qualify as a highlight. But don’t concede easily.
How it looks from the La-Z-Boy
Dallas 31, Pittsburgh 20
First fumble: Neil O’Donnell, Steelers
Sideline where the ball will first go out of bounds: Right
First touchdown: Johnston, Cowboys
First woof: Michael Irvin, Cowboys
Over/Under on holding calls: 6
First profane utterance: Greg Lloyd, Steelers
Most Flannery O’Connorish name: Yancey Thigpen, Steelers
Most Flannery O’Connorish name: Yancey Thigpen, Steelers