Quarterback Matthew Stafford has helped take the Lions' Super Bowl chances from preposterous to possible. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)
The rookie slipped into Los Angeles a little bit late, and hitched a lift to the marina-side hotel where a pro football player nicknamed “The Hammer” was entertaining a bunch of sports journalists.
“They won’t know what’s gonna hit them,” said “The Hammer,” whose square name was Fred Williamson.
“A karate blow having great velocity and delivered perpendicular to the earth’s latitude.
“Man, I’m going to lay a few hammers on them.”
We scribbled notes like crazy. Williamson played for the Chiefs, who in four days would play the Packers.
We were being smothered by the hype — a football game matching the champions of two leagues that had a few months earlier hated each other.
The hype has never stopped flowing through the years. Never again quite as outrageous. But who back then could predict what the future would amount to?
There were some 150 or so sports journalists assigned to cover this football matchup. We were all kids back then, more or less — mostly in our 30s with know-it-all attitudes.
A few nights later after The Hammer’s soliloquy, Pete Rozelle threw a press party. We divided into two groups and glowered across the ballroom at the strangers from the other league. The writers from the NFL cities on one side, the guys from the American Football League on the other.
It was as though we were enemies.
This was the prelude of what would be etched into history as Super Bowl I, in January 1967.
There are four survivors now from the years of elbow-jamming news conferences, trying to make sense of illegible notes — racing to deadlines. Of the hearty 150, maybe 200, sportswriters who covered that first Super Bowl, we are down to a weathered quartet.
Four gray, doddering, stooped, slow-stepping — and extremely fortunate guys who have covered every Super Bowl. SBI — then billed as The First Annual AFL-NFL World Championship Game — through XLVII. And I hope counting.
We are Edwin Pope of the Miami Herald, Jerry Izenberg of the Newark Star-Ledger, Dave Klein, originally of the Star-Ledger and now entrepreneur of a Giants’ website — and the rookie whose arrival was delayed because the Lions were hiring a new coach that week, Joe Schmidt.
That’s all, four writers and three, I think, photographers.
One big difference
Three of us sportswriters — and I’m not ashamed to admit this — are in our mid-80s. Pope, Izenberg and Green. Klein was a kid in his 20s back then and has remained the kid among us all these decades.
Alas, we have not been cloned. There is one rather massive difference among us, the other three and me.
Pope, Izenberg and Klein had the chore of covering their hometown teams in Super Bowls. In multiple Super Bowls.
When Don Shula’s Dolphins went undefeated for an entire season through Super Bowl VII, then repeated in Super Bowl VIII, Eddie Pope was there to chronicle his hometown Miami team’s conquests.
When Joe Namath guaranteed the New York Jets would beat the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, Izenberg’s prose told the story.
And when Bill Parcell’s Giants won Super Bowl XXV and later when Eli Manning defeated the Patriots in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI, Klein covered the story for his hometown New York readers.
I covered all those Super Bowls, too, and . . .
Something is missing.
The Detroit Lions!
Forty-seven Super Bowls. Repeated musings about my favorite subject — The Quarterback Mystique. Bart Starr, Vince Lombardi’s robot quarterback; Joe Namath, charming a few of us at poolside in Fort Lauderdale; Joe Montana, always efficient; Roger Staubach, the quiet champion; Terry Bradshaw, untamed; Troy Aikman, mechanical, the dramatically classic Tom Brady.
Forty-seven Super Bowls. And the annual attempt to analyze the coaches while they analyzed us. Lombardi; Shula; the dapper Hank Stram; Weeb Ewbank; the impassive Chuck Noll and Tom Landry; the preening Jimmy Johnson; the suspicious George Allen; the self-acclaimed genius Bill Walsh; the ultra-intelligent Marv Levy; the iceman Bud Grant; the snarky Bill Parcells; the animated John Madden; the insincere Bill Belichick, the brothers Harbaugh, John and Jimmy.
All always viewed from my vantage point of the outlander, the foreigner.
And all these years, the mystery remained — elusive, impossible to solve — what it would be like covering the Lions in a Super Bowl?
This is a crazy notion in the autumn of 2013 — more than two months before the hype leading to Super Bowl XLVIII:
What was once regarded as totally impossible has now been reduced to highly improbable; what was once considered absolutely unimaginable is now is now the eerie subject of fantasy-pipe dreams at four o’clock in the morning.
The Lions, for one week anyway, have been in sole possession of first place in the North Division of the National Football Conference of the National Football League.
To clarify that improbable, unimaginable achievement, there is a voice of sanity.
“I mean first place, you don’t get any prizes for first place nine games into the season,” Jim Schwartz, the Lions’ coach, cautioned the media after last Sunday’s victory at Chicago.
True, for sure, Jim Schwartz preaches reality. Reality is cemented into the Lions’ history. They have taken pratfalls whenever there has been any encouragement. They slip, they slide, they tumble.
But then, reality is Matthew Stafford passing deep to Calvin Johnson.
Making fans notice
The NFL’s nation of fans has started to notice.
Fox TV’s concept of taking notice is telecasting the Cowboys and Tony Romo come hell or high water. A few weeks ago Fox conveniently chose the Lions as the foil to the Cowboys.
What America saw from here in California to Maine and South Carolina was Matthew Stafford taking a football team the length of the field against as time vanished.
In the perfect finish, he feigned a spike that would have stopped the clock — and flipped porpoise-style over the Cowboys’ defenders and into the end zone.
Lions 31, Cowboys 30.
In the fourth quarter of Super Bowl I in Los Angeles, the Packers were dominating the Chiefs. Lombardi had his scrubs in the game. On a sweep to the right, Donny Anderson was following guard Gale Gillingham.
There was a pileup and at the bottom there was a flattened figure in a white Chiefs’ jersey and white shoes. The figure had become silent.
At the Packers’ bench, one player approached a teammate.
“What happened?” asked the player.
“Oh,” said the teammate in a tone semi-sarcastic, “somebody got The Hammer.”
Pro football is chock full of realities.
You never know. The totally impossible could become the merely improbable and ...
Jerry Green is a retired Detroit News sportswriter. Read his web-exclusive column Sundays at detroitnews.com.