Super Bowl Memories
The first Super Bowl I saw was one I couldn’t write about, the second one and first in Miami in which the Green Bay Packers beat the Raiders for their second straight Super Bowl win.
I had covered the Raiders in 1967, my first big assignment with The Chronicle, but just before I was scheduled to leave on the Raiders plane, a minor union decided to have an “informational” shutdown for one day to highlight their claims against management. The Newspaper Guild told us to honor that and stay home.
The Guild did many good things for us during my years at the paper, including getting us a health plan in 1965, but this was stupid. It gave management the perfect excuse to shut down at the time of year when business was the worst. We didn’t get back to work for two months.
Sports editor Art Rosenbaum told me to go with the Raiders, just in case the strike got settled before the game. At that time, teams paid for writers’ travel and accommodations, so my only expense was a couple of dinners away from the hotel, for which The Chronicle reimbursed me two months later.
This was when the game wasn’t hidden among the hoopla. The commissioner’s party was actually enjoyable. The players were approachable. After practice, the Raider players would mostly sit around the pool at our hotel and talk to whatever writers showed up.
As a writer, it was frustrating just to watch the game and be unable to write anything. Later, I sympathized with the players as they got together socially. It would be the only time I would ever do that but I was very close to the players on that team, as I’ve often explained.
The next Super Bowl I covered was the fourth one and another the Raiders should have been in. After beating Kansas City twice in the regular season, they lost to the Chiefs in a playoff game, largely because Daryle Lamonica injured his hand when he slammed it on the helmet of a Chiefs’ lineman. The Chronicle decided to have me cover the Super Bowl, even though the Raiders weren’t in it. When I got back, the news editor, Bill German, cornered me and lectured me on what a bad story I had written.
At that time, E. P. Dutton published a book each year on the top sports stories of the year, which were the best accounts of the major events. My story was judged the best on the Super Bowl. So, somebody liked it.
The 1975 game in which the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Minnesota Vikings, 16-6, was memorable because of the weather. This was before the Superdome was built so the game was played at Tulane Stadium and it was bitterly cold. I thought I’d start writing my story at the stadium but my fingers could hardly move on the key; in 45 minutes, I wrote 40 words, so I gave up and took the press bus back to the hotel, where I finished my story.
Next year was much more pleasant. The game was at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena and the Raiders won it for the first time, also beating the Vikings in a game that wasn’t really close. My wife, Nancy, and son, Scott, both came with me. Scott fell asleep at halftime but he could be excused: He was only 5 ½. When I came back from the game – this time I was able to write at the stadium – he showed me where all the best snacks were in the press room.
That night, Al LoCasale stood guard at the door of the room in Long Beach where the Raiders were partying to make sure I didn’t come in. He needn’t have bothered. I never even thought of it.
In the ‘80s, the 49ers started winning Super Bowls. I didn’t see the first one. By this time, my friend German had been promoted to managing editor and he decided that Lowell Cohn should be the columnist who accompanied Ira Miller. That actually worked well because Lowell wrote some columns that had more to do with sociology than football but made for fascinating reading. I stayed home and wrote a book on the 49ers season that week. An editor for the publishing company lived in Walnut Creek and she would pick up my latest installment each morning. On Sunday, Nancy and I watched the game with friends, after which I wrote a column on the game and another for Tuesday. On Monday, I completed the book.
The next 49ers Super Bowl was after the 1984 season and it was played at Stanford. I enjoyed that because I didn’t have to travel. Nancy and Scott both came to the game. The game itself was lopsided, largely because of the great defense created by George Seifert. Bill Walsh’s offense had great moments, too. Walsh had noticed on game films that Dolphin linebackers would turn their backs on pass coverage so he told Joe Montana to watch for that and run. So, on one memorable play, Roger Craig was going downfield as if he were a receiver, a Miami linebacker was trailing him and Montana was running behind the linebacker for a big gain.
In the ‘80s, I could have gone to any Super Bowl but I picked my spots because, frankly, I was bored with the spectacle and mass media gatherings. In the ‘70s, the NFL started giving media credentials to anybody who could breathe, which led to thousands of stories/columns which were indistinguishable from one another. That was not the way I chose to operate.
By 1989, I was only going to those involving the 49ers. One reason: I could beat the NFL’s group think because I had 49er contacts who could give me different stories. The game that year, Walsh’s final year of pro coaching, was a harrowing one. The Niners were much superior to the Cincinnati Bengals but they kept misfiring until near the end when Joe Montana threw the winning touchdown pass.
Nancy came with me to the last two games, both of them lopsided wins for the 49ers. The most enjoyable was the first one, in New Orleans, because we got a chance to sample some of the great restaurants at half-price, because The Chronicle was paying for my dinner. One memorable night we were having dinner in the French Quarter when a parade of Bronco boosters came through, with one drunken fan apparently wearing nothing more than a barrel. That was their last chance to have fun because the 49ers obliterated the Broncos, 55-10, in Montana’s final Super Bowl
The next one, in Miami, was another easy win, 49-26, over the San Diego Chargers, as Steve Young threw for a game record six touchdowns. Before that happened, Nancy and I finally got a chance to eat stone crabs. Because we had two days after the game before our flight back, we got a chance to explore the area, particularly Palm Beach.
That was the last time I’ve been at a Super Bowl. I don’t miss being there. Now, I have a 70-inch television on which to watch it, just like any other TV show, after which I have dinner with my family – Nancy, Scott and our daughter-in-law, Sarah – and that’s more enjoyable than being at the game.
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