A Selective Super Bowl Timeline
For me, New England’s victory over Philadelphia in this year’s Super Bowl marks one end of a twenty-five year arc that’s transformed me from young sports junkie to jaded adult. Gone are the days when the two weeks between the Conference Championships and the Super Bowl seemed like two months, with sleepless nights spent guessing how Joe Montana or Jerry Rice would make Northern California proud. Even in the 49erless years, I’d savor the camaraderie forged over gelatinous American cheese dips and clever commercials, but I can barely remember how that felt anymore, in the same way I can’t remember what it was like to hear “cool chick” or “homo” without cringing.
Twenty-five years ago, I spent Super Bowl Sunday glued to the TV, from the pregame to the postgame show. At that time, I was blossoming into a certified fanatic—on Saturdays, I was seldom content to watch only a few hours of sports programming, so if there wasn’t a college game after the Wide World of Sports, I’d settle for the Pro Bowlers Tour, even though it made me feel guilty—almost unclean. Even a ten-year-old knows that two wasted hours watching Earl Anthony counts against you when the Reckoning comes. I don’t know whether it was St. Peter, some mystic high on a mountain with deep insight but poor posture, or a trim man with graying temples in the bowels of the Pentagon, but there was someone out there with a clipboard, tsk-tsking and shaking his head as he checked the “Yes” box next to “Has propensity for watching bowling.” The sins of a child are still sins.
Apart from a few highlights that I’ve rewatched since, all I remember of the 1980 Super Bowl (Pittsburgh 31, LA 19) was a profile piece in the pregame show on Rams’ quarterback Vince Ferragamo. Actually, I remember very little of the profile, other than the outdated phrase “Taxi Squad,” which described the status of players who didn’t make the active roster (the NFL now uses the term “Practice Squad”). I had visions of Vince Ferragamo, during his stint on the Taxi Squad earlier in the season, being forced to drive his teammates to the airport, choking back tears as he carried QB Pat Haden’s luggage to the curb, his only solace being a few sympathetic tips from a couple of offensive linemen.
This year, as the groundskeepers were putting the finishing touches on the field down in Jacksonville, Lynn and I were groggily preparing for a predawn bird watching excursion to the Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge. The inspiration for this was a personal boycott of Fox’s coverage, due to their decision prior to the 2004 Super Bowl not to air an ad that was critical of the Bush administration. A day spent searching for bald eagles seemed like a good alternative, and as an added bonus, the Super Bowl would curb the traffic in the congested I-80 corridor between Sacramento and the Bay Area.
I don’t know what I’ll be doing for the Super Bowl in twenty-five years—maybe fretting over my personal Social Security account—but I hope I’ll be able to reflect on at least a few memorable Super Bowl Sundays in the interim. Here are a few of mine from the past quarter century.
1982, Carmel, CA.
Super Bowl XVI: San Francisco 26, Cincinnati 21
The Lewis Boys went bonkers when Dwight Clark seemingly appeared out of nowhere to make The Catch and propel the 49ers to the Super Bowl. My dad’s forty years of waiting for a 49ers championship had rubbed off on his three sons. We spent the rest of the weekend breaking into celebratory jigs and tackling each other á la Mean Fred Dean. I didn’t think that euphoria could be exceeded, but an improbable goal-line stand late in the game by the underrated 49er defense gave us a jolt of happiness that reverberates in the bones of the Lewis Family to this day.
1985, Augsburg, Germany.
Super Bowl XIX: San Francisco 38, Miami 16
From an early age, I bought into the theory that my parents knew best, which they do, so when they wouldn’t let me stay up until 4 am on a school night to watch the game on the Armed Forces Network, I wasn’t too disappointed—at least I don’t remember being upset. Watching the game on a grainy VCR tape wasn’t as satisfying as watching it live, but I hadn’t been as attached to the team as I was in 1982. Plus, it’s hard to be upset at much when the dollar is strong and you get to eat schnitzel a couple of times a week.
1989, San Diego, CA.
Super Bowl XXIII: San Francisco 20, Cincinnati 16
This was my first Super Bowl away from my family. I watched the game in a messy dorm room with a few fellow Northern Californians, huddled around a TV with a dodgy antenna, eating delivery pizza and neglecting homework. When the game cut to commercial—after Cincinnati went up 16-13 with 3:10 left—we all sat silently as if in prayer, worrying about the final result, but knowing deep down that Joe Montana wouldn’t let them lose.
1993, San Diego, CA.
Super Bowl XXVII: Dallas 52, Buffalo 17
A well-run Super Bowl pool sure can add interest to a blowout. I’d drawn D2-B7 from a hat, so if the game ended with Dallas scoring 2, 12, 22, etc. and Buffalo scoring 7, 17, 27, etc., I was in line to win $50—good money for me in those days. At 52-17 late in the game, I was counting the money until the much-maligned Leon Lett picked up a fumble and returned it 64 yards for an apparent touchdown. Just as he was about to cross the line, the hustling Don Beebe stripped the ball away and secured the $50 for me. When blind luck comes your way, embrace it.
1995, Sheffield, England.
Super Bowl XXIX: San Francisco 49, San Diego 26
There are very few trivial things worse than watching your favorite team with a roomful of people avidly rooting against them. Therefore, in order to enjoy this final 49er victory—likely the last for quite some time—I shunned my fellow American students and searched for somewhere to watch the game in peace. Luckily, I found a TV room in our dormitory that was empty, save for a Malaysian student who was napping in front of a Murphy Brown rerun.
Side Note: Martell and our friend Erik sent me a shirt from the game with the cryptic slogan: “Humphries Seau Means We’ll Be Back!” It took a long time to explain the meaning to my wife—I’ll let you figure it out for yourself if you don’t know—but to this day, she’ll occasionally end lulls in conversation with a heartfelt, “Humphries Seau Means We’ll Be Back!” If I end up living as one of those mystics with deep thoughts and poor posture—I’m on my way, just need a mountain and a little more depth—that’ll be my mantra, unless, of course, I opt for “Hey now, you’re an All Star, get your game on, go play.” I haven’t fully committed to either one, yet.
1996, Whittier, CA.
Super Bowl XXX: Dallas 27, Pittsburgh 17
This was supposed to be an opportunity for my friend Kathleen to set me up with one of her girlfriends, but I didn’t go to sleep the night before and when we got to Kathleen’s place, she had this heavy-gravity couch. I spent the entire game sucked into one corner of the couch, and only have a vague recollection of my friend Rich yelling, “Whooooo!” from time to time, while waving his rally rag. As for the girlfriend, I think she had shoulder length hair and was wearing tights and a sweatshirt. Allegedly she sat next to me for much of the game, but I wouldn’t know.
Not too long after my Super Bowl XXX slumber, I met my future wife, who favors figure skating over football. Consequently, I now know far more about ice dancing than about the current state of affairs in pro football, other than the fact that the beloved 49ers might be losers long enough for the cycle to begin anew, so that I’ll be the long suffering fan sharing sweet victory with my future children.
Copyright © 2005 by Jeff Lewis