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Insights: Sports

America's Party After 35 years, the Super Bowl isn't just a football game but a national holiday
Dave Anderson
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Spacey, Jan/Feb 02

(continued from page 1)

"My mother, Janet, went to the Pontiac Silverdome in 1982 when the 49ers won their first Super Bowl," says Jim Steeg, the NFL vice president who supervises the Super Bowl logistics. "But all she's ever talked about is that she sat two rows behind Ethel Kennedy."

To die-hard pro football fans, the game is the thing. And to the players, the ring is the thing.

Before Super Bowl XVIII in Tampa, Florida, Russ Grimm, one of the Hogs on the Washington Redskins offensive line, told reporters, "I'd run over my mother to win it." Told of Grimm's remark, Matt Millen, then an Oakland Raiders linebacker and now the Detroit Lions general manager, said, "I'd run over Grimm's mother, too."

But to many people, the Super Bowl is much more than a game. My teenage granddaughter Chrissie once asked her father, "Daddy, can I go to the Super Bowl? I want to see the halftime show." To any serious pro football fan, that's no reason to go to the Super Bowl, but the halftime show is part of the attraction.

In Tempe, Arizona, in 1996, Diana Ross, after finishing her halftime songs, was airlifted by helicopter out of Sun Devil Stadium. "As they took her up in a harness," Steeg says, "I kept thinking, 'Get her up above the top wall of the stadium. ' "

They did. Another scary moment occurred at Super Bowl IV's halftime show. To re-create the Battle of New Orleans, when Gen. Andrew Jackson's army defeated the British in the War of 18l2, the show had cavalry prancing. But on hearing soldiers firing blanks from their muskets and cannons booming, the horses reared. Some riders got flipped onto the grass of Tulane Stadium, where the Kansas City Chiefs soon stunned the favored Minnesota Vikings, 23-7.

"The next day," remembers Don Weiss, the retired NFL executive director who organized the early Super Bowls, "Pete Rozelle told us, 'More people watched our game than watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon last summer.'"

As the NFL commissioner, Rozelle shaped the Super Bowl's stature. He decided not only that the "world professional football championship" game should be played at a neutral site, he also decreed that there be a two-week interval to hype the game.

When the Green Bay Packers, under Coach Vince Lombardi, decisively defeated the Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders, the NFL appeared so superior to the young American Football League in the first two Super Bowls that some feared for the future of the game. But when the New York Jets fulfilled quarterback Joe Namath's "guarantee" with a 16-7 upset of the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, it justified the hype.

"The next day," remembers Weiss. "Pete told us, 'This gives us a great kick-start for the merger.'"


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