It’s opening day 2016! I thought I’d take the occasion and re-post my very first entry, published 7 months and 5 days ago on Facebook – just before Super Bowl 50. It’s been a long and intriguing offseason and I can’t wait to get the games started again, for real. Take a moment, if you can, and re-read the one that started it all!
I was too young to remember the first one. In fact, the first one was played 500 days and a month before I was born. I missed the second one, too, by about 24 weeks. By the time of the third one I was about 6 months old and Joe Namath was guaranteeing a victory for the upstart Jets. I didn’t watch it; I only remember it through pictures.
Throughout my youth it was always on in the background. I can remember people talking about it as early as 1972 or 1973, but I was a baby with a big imagination and a fascination for superheroes not footballers. I was probably 10 or 11 years old before anyone got me to really pay attention to the thing. I was around that age when I chose a favorite team for the first time, but it wasn’t because I’d ever seen them play. I chose my favorite team out of spite, but that’s a story for another time.
I don’t remember ever sitting down and actually watching a game, much less a Super Bowl, when I was young. The first one I really remember watching wasn’t until 1983, when John Riggins ran roughshod over the Miami Dolphin defense in the Orange Bowl at Pasadena. I think I went over to visit a buddy on a Sunday, I was about 14, and he was the best Dungeon Master I knew. Before he would run a game, though, he wanted to watch the Super Bowl. I was reluctant, but fuck it. I gave it a go.
It was two years later when I watched my next NFL game, and it happened to be a Super Bowl, too. My buddy at the time – not the same buddy as the other buddy – was a huge Miami Dolphins fan and just about everyone else I knew was a San Francisco 49er fan. Those two teams were meeting in the biggest game of the year so our youth pastor had a Super Bowl “party” and invited us all to come see. I wasn’t impressed; it was a really lousy game and my buddy’s team lost to the only team I hated.
Yes, I hated the 49ers even before I was a football fan. I told you the story had spite.
But the very next year I had the fever. A TV Guide showed up at my door the next summer – or was it a Reader’s Digest? – and it had a tiny cover story called “Who is the best running back in the NFL?” In the corner caption was a picture of a guy in royal blue with bright yellow horns, wearing goggles, and he looked for all the world like a superhero to me. His name was Eric Dickerson and he was the best player on the team I had spitefully chosen as my favorite several years before. I think the article ranked him second and said he was the most explosive player in the league. Ranked #1 was a fella named “Walter Payton.”
I had to see what that guy was like.
Well, that happened to be 1985 and that fella was a Chicago Bear and the Chicago Bears were about to make a historic run that fell just one game short of a perfect NFL season. Walter Payton’s team beat Eric Dickerson’s team in the game before the Super Bowl and then Walter Payton’s team won the 20th Super Bowl ever.
And I knew all about these guys. I read about them before the season ever started. I was hooked.
I don’t think I ever missed a Monday Night Football game after 1985, and I know I never missed another Super Bowl. I came to love John Elway as much as I hated Joe Montana. I got to see both of those luminaries perform incredible Super Bowl heroics over the next ten years. I got to see the Bills fall short 4 times in a row. I saw the rise of Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman. I saw that flashy maverick Brett Favre get a championship ring. I saw the Greatest Show on Turf. I saw the New England Patriots go to six Super Bowls in twelve years and beat everyone but Eli Manning.
And now the number is 50. And here comes the venerable Peyton Manning leading the Broncos in his probable last game ever. He’s facing off against a Carolina Panther team that fell one mishap away from a perfect season, much like that Bears team 30 years before.
I’m not here to pick a winner. I’m here to enjoy the experience. I’ve been a fan of the game now for three decades and I’ve seen valiant performances, miracle plays, and astounding comebacks … I’ve seen amazing adventures and astonishing tales. It never gets old. I’m prepared for the game, I read about it all the time. I know all the players now.
They’re like superheroes to me. 😉