Saturday, February 18, 2017

51 Super Bowls

It was hard doing so this year, but I was able to see at least part of the Super Bowl, making it the 51st consecutive game I've watched. Sports have always been such an impacting part of my life and I remember where I've been during some of the games and how integral they were with my life at the time.

The fact that I've seen each of the big games since the Super Bowl's inception in 1967, (I realize that the game didn't take on the name “Super Bowl” until 1969) is a testament to both my tenacity in watching the spectacle and the fact that I am an old fart. I mean, 51 games? That's a lot of years. If I were a chair, I'd be considered an antique. If I were a car of that age, I'd either be a classic or already crushed into a cube on the back acre of some rural junkyard.

This year's Super Bowl is considered the best one since it went into overtime for the first time ever. I almost missed it, though. Holly and I drove back up to northern Illinois on game day because both her aunt and her mother were in hospitals at the same time. We arrived at the Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill., shortly after halftime and caught the fourth quarter in Room 4402 where her mother was, watching as New England clawed back from a 19-point deficit.

Her mother, though, was not that impressed with the game and we decided to leave when she needed to rest. We watched the brief overtime period in the hospital's hallway, peering through some patient's door and seeing James White score from 2 yards out to win the game for the Patriots. The patient quickly turned off the television set in his room before any postgame shows began; apparently he was a Falcons fan. It was a hospital, after all, and he did spare us the trauma and illness of hearing Joe Buck's after-game commentary. I had enough of Buck for a year after listening to him when the Cubs won the World Series last fall.

Despite the difficulties of getting to a television on time, and the sadness of visiting Holly's mom in a hospital bed, at least I got to see part of this year's game . The string of seeing them continues. As we drove back to Arkansas later that week — both Holly's mother and aunt are out of the hospitals now and doing well — I thought of all the games I saw and some of the circumstances and locations I was in during those contests.

My father was a huge sports fan and that's where I was introduced to the Super Bowl. It was a big thing in our house, even if we weren't rooting for either team. We had just moved to Minnesota when the first game was held; it was referred in 1967 and 1968 as the AFL-NFL World Championships back then.

Here are a few of the games and what I was doing at the time of them:

1967: Green Bay 35 Kansas City 10
I vaguely remembered this game as a 6-year-old only because my favorite player at the time, Bart Starr, was quarterbacking the Packers. My dad noted the irony that we had just moved from Wisconsin to Minnesota and now the Packers were in the game.

1970: Kansas City 23 Minnesota 7
My first venture into heartbreak. Minnesota was a heavy favorite to win and it was the first year I, at the age of 9, was really aware of football and its stats. Kansas City dominated and I learned true disappointment. Forget how life turned out as an adult, I was crushed deeply as a kid. My Vikes let me down that year. I had a hatred for Chiefs' coach Hank Stram for some time after that game.

1973: Miami 14 Washington 7
This was the Dolphins' undefeated season, but I also remember that one of my friends who lived on the block where I lived in Bemidji, Minn., was a huge Dolphins fan. My friend was small for his age but when we played football in his back yard with the neighbor kids, he tried to personify Dolphins' bruising running back Larry Csonka. He was tackled a lot and other kids often made fun for his small stature. But on that January 1973 day, when his team finished 14-0, he stood tall.

1977: Oakland 32 Minnesota 14
For some inane reason, my mother, who was our local church choir director, scheduled a performance on that Super Bowl Sunday. To make matters worse, she made me be an usher for the program. To make them even worse, I had to wear a yellow sweater she bought me for Christmas that had tufts of yarn that stuck out like feathers. I looked like a chicken. See: . I missed the second half of the game, but it didn't matter. The Vikings lost that day, their fourth Super Bowl loss.

1982: San Francisco 26 Cincinnati 21
I had just returned from a four-week college photography class trip to the southern end of Mexico. I had no idea who was in the playoffs. We lived in huts about 60 miles west of Cancun on the Caribbean Ocean and had no television. Visitors from a cruise ship to Cozumel stopped in the small town where we stayed a few days after the league championship games and I asked one person which teams were in the Super Bowl. Apparently, I looked a bit worn. “How long have you been down here?” he asked, incredulously.

1984: Los Angeles Raiders 38 Washington 9
I had applied for a newspaper reporting job in western Arkansas a few weeks prior to the game. Just as the game began, I got the call from the editor. I was hired.

1986: Chicago 46 New England 10
I was caught up in the mania surrounding the Bears. Yes, I even bought the record that the team cut, “The Super Bowl Shuffle.”

1988: Washington 42 Denver 10
I was wrapping up work on my masters degree and had to work on a thesis paper that was due the week after the Super Bowl. I was a decent student, but I was also a sports fan and couldn't miss the game. So, I hid a small television set in a carry-on flight bag and headed to the college library. I was able to watch the game and finish my school work at the same time.

1993: Dallas 52 Buffalo 17
The Jonesboro, Ark., fire department remembers this game. I was working for a weekly paper in the town when I was paged out on a large downtown fire at halftime of the Super Bowl. A short in the wiring of a meat cutter created a spectacular blaze in a restaurant. With camera in hand, I rushed downtown to take pictures; the game was already decided, so I knew I wouldn't miss anything special. I was shooting photos near the engulfed building when I saw a fireman kick open a side door. The air rushing inside created a flash-over effect and I noticed a billowing ball of smoke heading for the large plate glass window at the front of the building near where I stood. I turned to run and dropped my camera bag. As I bent to pick it up, the window exploded, sending shards of glass and a plume of flame into the street. Later, firemen told me they got their hoses ready to douse me because it looked like I was covered in fire. Instead, I was fine. I pulled one piece of glass out of my elbow and continued shooting photographs. I think I fared better than Buffalo did that day.

1998: Denver 31 Green Bay 24
This was a tough one. I received a call that morning from my mother's friend who told me she found my mother dead in her home of an apparent heart attack. I drove the 100 miles to her home and was pretty much in shock. My father passed away 11 years earlier and I realized that day I was truly an orphan. I turned my mother's television set to the game, more for some distraction or sense of normalcy that any intent to follow the game closely. I guess I was in shock. 

2009: Pittsburgh 27 Arizona 23
A devastating ice storm hit the state about a week before the game, knocking out power to thousands. My electricity was restored two days before the game, but I had to cover the storm for the newspaper where I work. I worked that Super Bowl Sunday, writing a story about a nearby town that opened its community center for shelter for those without service. But I made it home just before kickoff and was able to see the game. I usually skip the halftime shows, but on this occasion, Bruce Springsteen was the featured act and, for one of the few times, I stayed glued to the television during halftime. On a side note: I later interviewed a guy who, because he had no power at his home, ran his television set off his car's battery to watch the Super Bowl. He had to get a neighbor to recharge his car at halftime and he, unlike I, missed the Springsteen show.

2016: Denver 24 Carolina 10
I was on one of my many visits to Holly at her northern Illinois town last year before she moved down here when the game was on. We got a pizza, went back to the hotel and watched the game. I was so smitten with her that I really didn't pay attention to the game.

Fifty-one Super Bowls and, I hope, more to come. Maybe I'll be back in Illinois for the next Super Bowl. Maybe we'll be here. Maybe I'll be covering some news story on game day. I have no idea what's in store for the future, but I hope to continue the string of seeing every game so far.