Cornerback Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks speaks during Super Bowl Media Day on Tuesday. (Elsa / Getty Images)
Newark, N.J. — He called himself The Hammer and he warned Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers about the doom to come.
“A karate blow having great velocity and delivered perpendicular to the Earth’s latitude ... lethal muthah,” said Fred Williamson to a bunch of pro football newspaper writers.
“(Jim) Taylor, Lombardi, we’re gonna whip their (butts). Man, I’m going to lay a few hammers on them.”
There were a half-dozen, maybe eight of us, crowded into The Hammer’s room at the Kansas City Chiefs hotel in Long Beach, Calif. It was midweek before what was billed as The First Annual AFL-NFL World Championship Game — known now in history as Super Bowl I.
And before video cams and boom microphones and Media Days and the horde of 5,000 electronic media marvels and radio guys, there were perhaps 500 of us typewriter carriers employed by newspapers.
The coverage has changed. But what has never changed is the Super Bowl villain. One villain through the years after another — all clamoring for attention, for their quest for celebrity. All of them turning the Super Bowl prelude into their personal show.
It came back to me again Tuesday as I listened to the pontifications of Richard Sherman from way back behind maybe 700 panting journalists —many with microphones tethered to helpers lugging video cams.
He jumped into the throng from his podium to hug somebody, then climbed back aboard, his dreadlocks swinging.
“I got respect for Muhammad Ali,” said Sherman. “He never backed away from to his opponents.
“To be a competitor you have to have that dog in you.”
This was at the annual Media Day on Tuesday before Super Bowl XLVIII, conducted in a makeshift area on the New Jersey Devils hockey rink. It was
the Seattle Seahawks time to preen before an audience of perhaps 3,000 international journalists.
Sherman, you could tell, was reveling in the scene — as he did on display for a variety of TV interviews after he batted away the pass that rescued the Seahawks in their NFC championship game. The much viewed acrobatic play vaulted the Seahawks into the Super Bowl. Followed by the indelible images of his choke-up sign toward the 49ers. And the aspersions of mediocrity fired against the 49ers’ Michael Crabtree.
“I’m just a guy trying to be the best,” Sherman told the 2014 media. “A guy that wants to win and is a fiery competitor ... a guy that’s come from humble beginnings and come from a place a lot of people make it out of.”
It was hardly a villainous statement.
It was more tame than, well, the spoutings of The Hammer and Joe Namath, Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson, Jack Lambert, Matt Millen and Jim McMahon. And other guys who intrigued us appearing in the villain’s role at Super Bowls.
Henderson was the focus guy when he dissed Terry Bradshaw before Super Bowl XIII between the Steelers and Cowboys.
“Bradshaw couldn’t spell ‘Cat’ if you spotted him the ‘C’ and the ‘A’ ,” Henderson told us.
We guffawed and played up the comment all week as Henderson played his self-applied Hollywood villain role all week.
The following Sunday, Bradshaw turned in a bravura performance as the Steelers edged the Cowboys, 35-31.
“I know I said I learned to relax,” Bradshaw said in the aftermath of the victory, “but I was as nervous as a cat.”
“How do you spell that?” asked a guy.
“C-O-T,” said Bradshaw, guffawing and squirting his chew into a paper spittoon.
All of us guffawed with him.
Lambert, a Hall of Fame linebacker, went into that same Super Bowl as a villain.
“If they don’t want quarterbacks to get hit they should put them all in dresses,” Lambert had said in a vintage 1979 interview with “Monday Night Football.”
Now in the Super Bowl prelude, Lambert joked about it with us.
“I got a lot of trouble,” Lambert said. “A lot of hate mail from women libbers. They said my mother should be ashamed of me.”
A paused and looked at all of us with a devilish gleam.
“People think a quarterback shouldn’t be touched,” he said. Maybe they should put a flag on them.”
The Raiders took an entire team of villains to their Super Bowls. They were Al Davis’ franchise and lots of NFL people regarded him as pro football’s villain supreme. Among his athletes was Matt Millen, a good guy who years later would become an everlasting villain in Detroit.
“A lot of things are not very professional in the NFL,” Millen said before Super Bowl XVIII. “You see a guy doing an earthquake dance if they get the quarterback, jumping in the end zone when they score a touchdown. You see a quarterback dancing when throws a touchdown pass.
“If you want to pick your nose it’s OK.”
Somebody asked Millen how he would celebrate he intercepted a pass on Sunday and scored a Super Bowl touchdown.
“Me?” Millen said. “I’m a nose-picker.”
Jim McMahon liked to wear headbands when he played quarterback for the Chicago Bears in 1985. His headband sported the brand name “adidas.” This was contrary to the uniform rules established by Pete Rozelle, the commissioner of the NFL. This was not auto racing, Rozelle decreed; no free advertising for brands that did not meet the NFL’s specifications.
So the next week, McMahon defiantly played in a headband marked R-O-Z-E-L-L-E.
“I got a big fine from Rozelle,” McMahon said when he arrived at Super Bowl XX in New Orleans.
Then he announced that he was flying his acupuncturist to New Orleans to treat his sore unmentionable. McMahon’s backside became the top subject during Super Bowl week.
“My unmentionable still hurts,” McMahon said at Media Day.
“So many people think I’m a nut.”
It has been the rule that all practices are closed before the Super Bowls. So it was that week a New Orleans TV station hired a helicopter to spy on the Bears’ workout.
McMahon noticed the chopper above. So he responded in typical McMahon fashion.
He dropped his football pants — and delivered an unmentionable
The rest is history
“They’re going back to their huddle with their heads full of stars and dots,” Williamson had warned the Packers before the first Super Bowl.
The small group in siege in his hotel room wrote the words down, not then realizing they involved what would become overwhelming in American sports history.
Late in that game first game, with the Packers soon to finish their 35-10 victory, one of the Chiefs’ defensive backs was flattened on the field.
“Somebody got The Hammer,” said Donny Anderson on the Packers’ bench.
Jerry Green is one of two newspaper writers who have covered every Super Bowl. Jerry Izenberg of the Newark Star-Ledger is the other.