Super Bowl memories

This will be the 52nd Super Bowl. It has been my good fortune to attend 30 of the previous 51, 28 as a reporter.

My first was the fourth Super Bowl in New Orleans, which matched the Kansas City Chiefs and Minnesota Vikings. My dad had used his connections to get us four prime tickets at grand, old Tulane Stadium – 50-yard line seats about 10 rows beneath the press box. The game was forgettable – as many Super Bowls have been – but what happened before the game was not.

We took our seats at least an hour before kickoff and tried to identify celebrities as they took theirs. One was not difficult to spot. He was tall, trim, handsome and distinguished-looking with his neatly coiffed gray hair and his dark suit. My mother, a long-time Yankees fan, spotted him first. “It’s … it’s … it’s … it’s … HIM!”

It was. It was Joe DiMaggio, the Yankee clipper, star at the time of Mr. Coffee commercials. And he kept coming up the aisle until he chose the row right in front of us and then took his seat right smack dab in front of my mama. I seriously thought she was going to faint. My father, my brother and I watched the game. My mom watched Joe.

It wasn’t much of a game. Buck Buchanan and Willie Lanier chased Frank Tarkenton all over the field and Hank Stram’s Chiefs manhandled the Vikings 23-7. I am not sure my mama ever knew the score. Indeed, when Joe D left with about five minutes to go, she saw little reason to stay.

Face value of tickets for that first Super Bowl was $15 a seat. The average face value cost of a ticket this Sunday will be $800. On the black market, they will go for as much as $5,000. And I wouldn’t pay it if Joe D – and Babe Ruth – were going to sit in front of me.

Sunday’s game will be played at Minneapolis at U.S. Bank Stadium, which will be the second Super Bowl played in Minnesota. You ask me, two is two too many. The first was at the old Metrodome in 1992. If you wonder why it has taken 28 years for the NFL to go back, then you weren’t there the first time. It was so cold in Minneapolis that week we pretty much stayed inside for seven days. On Saturday night, we decided to walk a block to a Thai restaurant down the street from our hotel. Two of our six turned back before we got halfway. If I were the NFL commissioner, I would make a rule: No Super Bowls where they can’t grow palm trees.

•••

This seems as good a time as any to give you some of the highlights of my 30 Super Bowls:

Best game: Sadly, I didn’t make it to either of the Giants’ victories over the Patriots. Probably the best, most competitive Super Bowl I saw was Denver’s 31-24 victory over Green Bay at San Diego. You had Elway vs. Favre – two of the best ever at their best – and just a terrific game.

Best catch: I saw Jerry Rice catch about 20 Super Bowl passes, but the best catch I ever saw was by a punter. You guessed it. In the 1984 Super Bowl at Tampa, the Los Angeles Raiders were leading Washington early when a punt snap was rifled high over the head of Ray Guy. Guy leaped as high as he could – which was really high – snagged the ball with one hand, came down and quickly got off a punt that sailed high over the stadium. If I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t have believed it.

Best Super Bowl city: New Orleans, hands down.

Best Super Bowl stadium: Rose Bowl, not even close. It is magical.

Best Super Bowl experience: Feb. 7, 2009, Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla. Saints 31, Colts 17. Still don’t believe it. And I couldn’t figure out a way to work “Pigs fly!” into my lede.

Worst Super Bowl experience: 1993, at the Rose Bowl: Dallas whacked Buffalo 52-17. Lousy game. In the post-game interview scrum, I was trying to hear what Kent Hull was saying when a cameraman turned around quickly and whacked me with his camera right across the bridge of my nose, breaking my glasses and bloodying my snout. As usual, it was a tight deadline, and I couldn’t see what I was writing as blood dripped onto my laptop. I fared no better than the Bills, but I made deadline and I rationalized a drab column this way: Nobody reads about 52-17 games – even if it’s the Super Bowl.

Rick Cleveland is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist. His email address is rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.

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