It Has Been Super!

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Pro Football Popularity And Status In Sports World Defined By Super Bowls

By John Ventola

Super Bowl 50. Finally, a Super Bowl without Roman numerals. The annual game that pushed professional football to the top of the sports world popularity-wise, and cemented the sport as the most universally viewed athletic event, has reached into our culture and has an Arabic numeral for the first time.

Football fans who never miss an NFL down, and folks who do not know the difference between an onside-kick and offside, have tuned in for the first forty-nine years, watching epic championship games, jaw-dropping halftime entertainment, and creative game-long television commercials.

With the first Super Bowl being played in January, 1967, only two months before my

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Love Of Professional Football Started Early

nineteenth birthday, I have enjoyed the Super Bowl-ride. Hooked on professional football as a ten-year-old when I watched Baltimore Colts’ fullback Alan Ameche bulldoze into the end zone to win the NFL championship game in sudden overtime in 1958, the dominance of Green Bay before the Super Bowl era was wonderful to watch unfold. Baton Rouge native and former LSU player Jimmy Taylor was a key cog in that Packers dynasty.

The fact he was a good friend of my godfather (no, not going into Italian secrets), and an acquaintance of my father, led me to visit Taylor’s home once. Imagine a teenager being in the home of an NFL MVP, and looking at the hardware to prove it. Awe-inspiring, to say the least.

Famed Green Bay coach Vince Lombardi led his team to the first two Super Bowl titles over Kansas City and Oakland, respectively. Those early games pitted the winners of the National Football League (NFL) against the victors of the American Football League (AFL), a league started in 1960 to give the established league some competition. Taylor played on the first Super Bowl winner, but was not part of Lombardi’s last Green Bay

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NFL-AFL Merger After First Super Bowls Popularized The Sport

team in 1967. He was picked up by the inaugural New Orleans Saints, and after posting disappointing yardage numbers that season, he retired. The NFL Hall of Famer still lives in Baton Rouge.

Life has so many layers. One aspect is how people seem to remember where they were when a notable event occurred in the world, or in their own lives. Of course age plays a key part in this, but with reason, most can remember where they were when Kennedy was shot, when the World Trade Twin Towers came tumbling down, etc. Sports is pretty much the same, of course, dependent on an individual’s allegiance to a certain fan base. I can remember when LSU clinched its first NCAA football title (1959 Sugar Bowl), its’ second (2004 Sugar Bowl), and its’ third (2008 Sugar Bowl). Simple, I attended all three.

The Super Bowl has had some outstanding games—and it has had its share of clunkers. I have watched all forty-nine (three in person, the others on television). As a young man I discussed early games in general terms, but as I have grown older, I have found myself going into imbedded memories with more specificity, Super Bowl III and

JV Sport Shots

Individual Players And Plays Etched In Super Bowl Lore

Joe Namath, Super Bowl IV and program rolling Coach Hank Stram going berserk on the sidelines with excitement (my first Super Bowl). More recent, David Tyree’s “Helmet Catch” in Super Bowl XLII (I have his autographed pic of the catch hanging in my sports memorabilia room); and Malcolm Butler’s last second interception to seal Super Bowl XLIX last year stand out to me.

Lynn Swann’s diving catch in Super Bowl X, William “Refrigerator” Perry scoring a rushing touchdown in Super Bowl XX (my second Super Bowl); the end of the second part of the Cowboys’ dynasty, their victory over the Steeler in Super Bowl XXX; and Big Ben Roethlisberger and receiver Hines Ward leading the Steelers to victory in Super Bowl XL, have highlighted the game by decades in time.

With victories in the first two Super Bowls, Green Bay put the finishing touches on being the team of the ‘60s, a true dynasty. Its three NFL championships prior to the establishment of the Super Bowl featured Bart Starr, Taylor, Paul Hornung, Ray Nitschke, and Forrest Gregg, and Elijah Pitts stepped in to make up for Hornung and

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Franchise Dynasties Have Decade Ties

Taylor’s departures in 1967. Five championships in seven years. No wonder the Super Bowl Trophy carries the Vince Lombardi name.

Pittsburgh was the first franchise to capture three Super Bowl rings (I was there for their first at Super Bowl IX in old Tulane Stadium—coldest I have every been at a football game). Pittsburgh was the team of the ‘70s. The Steelers won four Super Bowls in six years, paced by Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, Mel Blount, and Lynn Swann.

Offensive guru Coach Bill Walsh led San Francisco to a perfect 3-0 Super Bowl record in the ‘80s (actually won after 1981, 1984, 1988 seasons), and George Siefert , who took over for Walsh in 1989, won the title his first year. The 49ers used the play of quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young, receiver Jerry Rice, safety Ronnie Lott, and running back Roger Craig to change the game to finesse type execution during their four titles.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones may be unhappy and frustrated with his recent twenty-year Super Bowl absence, but his team did enjoy three Super Bowl championships in the ‘90s. Quarterback Troy Aikman and running back Emmitt Smith led them to wins in Super Bowls XXVII, XXVIII, and XXX.

The New England Patriots parlayed the coaching of Bill Belichick and the quarterback play of quarterback Tom Brady to three championships in the 2000s, Super Bowls XXXVI, XXXVIII, and XXXIX, before topping Seattle last year in Super Bowl XLIX. Deflate gate, out the gate, it does not matter, Belichick is a master strategist. Except for two upsets at the hands of the New York Giants and quarterback Eli Manning in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI, the Patriots would be the most dominant Super Bowl team ever during such a compact period of time.

Any Louisianan fondly remembers magical Super Bowl XLIV when the New Orleans Saints won their only appearance in the big game. Drew Brees, Sean Payton’s call for

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Drew Brees Led Saints To Super Bowl Title

the second half onside kick, and Tracy Porter running for an interception return touchdown to clinch the game, will be forever etched into our memories. Six years later, it dangles there, giving the Saints’ faithful a belief that it can happen again.

The Golden (in Golden State and the 50th anniversary game) Super Bowl is set for tomorrow. The event has done the sport proud. One can only wish that the game is a competitive battle between Denver and Carolina as veteran Peyton Manning and brash Cam Newton match wits in Santa Clara’s Levi’s Stadium.

I will be OK if the game is “one for the ages”, as long as it also qualifies as “one for the aged (Manning)”. Also hoping that “Cold Play” is the name of the halftime entertainment only, and not the description of play calling in the game.

Recliner kicked back, TV remote locked and loaded, one thing for sure, the entertainment will be better than any of the three Super Bowl games I personally witnessed. Carol Channing—yes, Carol Channing was at Super Bowl IV, the Mercer Ellington and Grambling University bands were at Super Bowl IX, and Up With People (one of their four appearances) participated in Super Bowl XX.

The Super Bowl is that, but it is also Big Business. Player earnings after Super I were $15,000 for the winners and $7,500 for the losers. Last year winners received $92,000 each while the losers got $46,000.

The Super Bowl—-it has been a nice, lucrative ride for all involved!

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