Matt Patricia talks about how his experiences as an offensive player and coach help him as a defensive coordinator and shares what he does with all the notes he writes with the pencil behind his ear. Justin Rogers, Detroit News
Minneapolis — “A colossus or a resounding dud!”
That succinct sentence has remained fixed inside my grizzled head through a half-century plus of pro football seasons. Right now, to the current tub-thumping in the prelude to Super Bowl LII.
The words were the lead from my article in the sports section of The Detroit News of Jan. 15, 1967, the morning of Super Bowl I.
They remain valid, to me, all these Super Bowls later.
Tom Brady has not played in all the Super Bowls, though it seems that way. But I am — fingers crossed — so fortunately about to cover my 52nd.
And the reflections flow.
From Vince Lombardi to Bill Belichick. From empty seats to overfilled stadiums. From curiosity to astute analysis. From 12 bucks a pop with as many game tickets as you want to $2,500—$4,700 for VIPs and a scattering of lucky devotees. From low TV ratings on two competing TV networks to Las Vegas-style pageantry.
From two different footballs — NFL for the Packers’ offense, AFL for the Chiefs — to controversy that the universal footballs have been deliberately softened.
And no matter what, now America watches.
A football game that was conceived in a shotgun marriage between two warring leagues in 1966 has, in middle age, become our premier sporting event of any year. Now a main attraction in American culture, the Super Bowl intrigues the world — the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, Mexico, even China watch with us.
At Super Bowl I, a scraggly bunch of newspaper sports journalists glared across the dance floor of the Statler Hilton hotel in Los Angeles at a similar collection of guys we had never met. We, the journalists covering the established NFL, regarded the guys across the floor as outlanders, imposters.
Pete Rozelle, the NFL commissioner, had arranged a press party the night before the game.
And true, Detroit (me), Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, sports journalists from the established NFL towns, regarded Denver, Buffalo, Oakland, Boston, guys from the upstart American Football Leagues with a certain contempt.
Guilty. We NFL guys looked at the AFL guys with superiority complexes. They represented the enemy.
We all, soon, became friends.
And our tiny group of, perhaps, 200 reporters has grown 3,000 or more. The word press morphed into the inclusive word, media. Television reporters, armed with boom microphones and aided by sound personnel, whack us with their equipment. Internet writers and bloggers produce millions of words each day.
Not like it used to be.
“A colossus or a resounding dud?”
There have been duds and there have been colossal games.
Super Bowl I, a step into the unknown, turned into a lopsided dud. The Green Bay Packers, dynasty NFL champions, defeated the Kansas City Chiefs, champions of the aspiring AFL, 35-10.
Super Bowl LI, last year, was the all-time classic. It was filled with drama, suspense, goof-ups, a comeback out of the near-impossible, sudden death overtime, and a performance by an athlete for the ages.
‘A little bit better’
In the aftermath of Super Bowl I, a half dozen journalist stood outside the victorious Packers’ locker room down a runway in the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Lombardi, the coach, was flipping a football and then catching it.
“That an NFL ball?” I asked Lombardi.
Vince did not respond. He flipped the ball again and I asked again. Twice.
“This is an NFL ball,” Lombardi said through his gapped teeth, “and it kicks a little bit better, it throws a little bit better and it catches a little bit better . . .
“I don’t think Kansas City compares with the top teams in the NFL.
“There, dammit. You made me say it. Now I’ve said it.”
That solved the superiority issue.
For two years anyway. Until Joe Namath delivered on his victory guarantee and legitimatized the AFL in the New York Jets’ 16-7 over the NFL’s 18-point favorite Baltimore Colts.
Super Bowl LI, last year, was absolutely colossal. In the aftermath, Tom Brady was interviewed on the field by television surrounded by a mob carrying video cameras as confetti floated from the ceiling of NRG Stadium in Houston. He had led the New England Patriots (originally the AFL’s Boston franchise) from 25 points behind the Atlanta Falcons into overtime. Then, in sudden death, Brady conducted the 75-yard drive for the Patriots’ 34-28 victory.
“That was exactly how we didn’t plan it,” Brady said into a microphone for the world to hear in the celebratory moments after his fifth victory in seven Super Bowl appearances.
Super Bowl LI was imperishably the best of the colossal games.
Super Bowl II, the Packers’ 33-14 victory over the AFLs’ Oakland Raiders, long ago clinched my vote for the worst of the duds.
My shining moment: the great, great Renee Fleming singing “The Star Spangled Banner” before Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014 and coming off the podium pumping her arms in triumph and glory. She was more pumped than the players.
The other day in this countdown to Super Bowl LII pitting the Patriots again vs. the Philadelphia Eagles a Boston sportswriting friend, Steve Buckley of the Herald, asked this codger a question.
“Your 52nd Super Bowl?” Buckley said.
“Did you ever figure that you’ve spent one year of your life covering Super Bowls?” he told me.
My pleasure. Onward!
Jerry Green, a retired sports writer, has covered every Super Bowl for The Detroit News.