Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Worst Super Bowl Ever

This is how the world looks outside my front door today.
The temperature is 9 degrees Fahrenheit. The wind is blowing, creating an effective "wind chill" temperature of -10 F.

Closures for all schools and universities have been announced for the second day in a row. This is unprecedented in these Sun Belt parts.

None of this has anything to do with the Super Bowl V, the 1971 contest between the Baltimore Colts and the Dallas Cowboys, my nominee for "worst Super Bowl game ever played."

Please, Don't Call It "Super"
The funny thing that occurs to me about Super Bowl V is how little I remember of the details surrounding the game and yet how sure I am of my distaste for it.  I felt halfway in that this was the most boring "big game" I'd ever tried to sit through.

Mercifully, the winning kick by the Colts in the final seconds
ends this numb-fest.
Super Bowl V  was a threshhold experience for me. Football would start to change on that day. For example, the Dallas coach Tom Landry preferred to play at quarterback a fellow named Craig Morton over young former Navy, Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach. Though Staubach was destined to be a future Hall of Famer, at that point Morton would obediently call the plays that the coach sent in and Staubach sometimes didn't.

Coach Landry, like all future NFL coaches, wanted to call all the plays.

Can't play football without the ear goggles...
Yes, we were moving toward the era of the Motorola headset, the technicalization of the game of professional football. As coachng staff and trainers proliferated, it felt like the players had walked onto a cruise ship with an enormous uniformed staff who watched over them and scheduled their every movement.

It would become unimaginable that on the NFL game-day cruise that a player might try to think for himself. Instead, he had become like a piece on a chess board. It was all so complicated that you now had separate coaches for the offense and the defense who called the plays when each unit was on the field. You still had the head coach, but I'm not sure what he did...

The wonders of technology. You could now buy a football field
and have it delivered...just like a rug.
Super Bowl V was also the first Super Bowl played on plastic grass, euphemistically called "artifical turf." Another switch in atmosphere and ethos: "This game is made possible by the 3M Corporation."

The game was becoming less a contest than an entertainment in which the goal was to eliminate risk and tweak every imaginable movement in a massive choreography that might even include injecting drugs into players to enhance what they did on the field. It didn't matter that this meant adopting what could seem at times an arrid, technical style of play. You did what you had to do because the money invested in this production had become enormous and you had better win so you could keep on selling tickets to the show.

Sure I would find future football highlights, some of them occurring in Super Bowls even, but overall nothing would match the days of fiery, principaled coaches like Vince Lombardi and the players making about the same annual salary as a lawyer instead of the gross national product of some small republic.

Stinking Up the Orange Bowl
Super Bowl V, variously called "The Blunder Bowl," "The Stupor Bowl" or the "The Blooper Bowl," stands out as an example of how even with the best laid plans and high expectations by players and coaches you can still flop.

I only vaguely (and uncertainly) remember that I watched the game at a high school friend's house in Anchorage Alaska. It was in the basement where they had a color TV.

Color didn't improve what was taking place on the field in Miami. The Colts and Cowboys would combine to lose the ball to the other side 11 times, 7 of these turnovers by the Colts, an appalling record. The Cowboys' own ugliness came in the form of 10 penalities, another record.

Chuck Howley, the MVP who didn't wanna be...
What this meant practically speaking was that it was like watching two people take turns trying to drive a car with a manual and neither of them could manage the shifting. They'd lurch forward, then go backwards. Then they'd stall the engine all together. Then the other one would try.

It was the only time the Most Valuable Player award was a matter of massive head scratching. Everyone who took part in the game, as we'd bluntly put it today, sucked. So the award was given to a player on the losing team, the Cowboys' Chuck Howley who intercepted two of the opposition's passes.

Howley, God bless him, refused the award.

I Bench Myself
That Super Bowl was a game changer (pun intended) for me vis a vis my football watching habits. Thereafter, I would enjoy the NFL regular season and perhaps some of the playoffs, but the Super Bowl seemed to me less than worthy of my attention.

This placed me outside the mainstream culture which responded to the increasing hype surrounding each Super Bowl as if it had to be the best and most compelling football played. The viewership in America and around the world, with a few annual blips, kept going up.


In the meantime, I'd circle that Sunday on the calendar, then to go to the grocery store while everyone was inside their houses having their cocktail meatballs, beer, popcorn and watching the game. The grocery store was empty. The checkout clerks looked like the last people left on board the Titanic. Working on Super Bowl Sunday was the last thing they wanted to do.

A Crack in My Super Bowl Boycott
In the early eighties I married my wife who was an executive in advertising. Of course, she was into ads. We began taping the Super Bowl and fast forwarding it later to get to the TV spots. Here was a whole new way to appreciate the event!

Also, our son came along and I thought I ought to give him a chance at seeing what the Super Bowl was about. He could then make up his own mind.

The year I decided to initiate him (2003) happened to feature the Oakland Raiders playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Pirate Bowl. How cool is that, son?

You like the logo, you'll love the team!
So the theory goes...
I decided to root for the Raiders. I've always liked their black and silver uniforms and that football pirate on their helmet.

So we went shopping for Raiders' wear the day before the game. Problem. Nobody in this part of the country cares about either coast. There was nothing for sale except for Dallas Cowboy regalia. Talk about irrelevant.

No problem. We'll make some snacks and wear non-logoed black T-shirts and sit down and watch the game, father and son.

Within minutes of  the kickoff there was a problem. The Raiders put on their own Blooper Bowl. The awesome passing game we expected from Raider QB Rick Gannon never materialized. Every time the ball was snapped to him, it seemed like Tampa Bay poured through and sacked him or harassed him into throwing interceptions (5 in all).

The Raiders had no chance. Final score: Tampa Bay 48, Oakland 21. Son now hates football.

Conclusion: A Bowl of My Own
The fact that I'm Van Winkled and this means I can't watch Super Bowl XLV this year isn't exactly breaking my heart.

But I'll wish for the commercials, which are often clever and lavish.

And I will regret not seeing moments like some offered us in recent years: the Titans' last play lurch that fell one yard short of winning the game in 2000, David Tyree's "helmet catch" that put the Giants in a position to upset the Patriots at the very end of Super Bowl XLIV, the "Aint's" showing last year that they had what it took to keep coming back until they had the Vince Lombardi Trophy in hand.

Still, looking a few days down the road, I'm totally all right with not seeing the game. I'm planning to sit down and spend a couple of hours with the Tax Bowl. Yes, I'm going to use the Super Bowl time slot to perform the annual ritual of striding onto the gridded lines and boxes of Form 1040A. It's a challenge. As everyone knows, Uncle Sam has a tough defense and he doesn't like for you to score. - V.W.

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