From somewhat humble (and experimental!) beginnings, the Super Bowl has grown into nothing short of America’s Party.
But the Super Bowl is more than just a good time — it’s a potent memory builder!
For me, my earliest memories of the Super Bowl are laced with time-yellowed tinges of father-son bonding that come rushing back like Jack Lambert busting through a line.
It’s a connection that’s spanned a lifetime, but some Super Bowls are more poignant reminders than others of the circles we build in our short time here on this marble.
Here, then, with support from some good old football cards buddies, are five long-gone Super Bowls that still make me cherish being a son, and a father.
Super Bowl XIV
Pittsburgh Steelers over Los Angeles Rams (31-19)
Like most people, I tend to root for the underdog when I don’t have a horse in the race.
Unlike most, maybe, I can trace this tendency back to Super Bowl XIV, the first one I ever watched with my dad.
Just a few weeks earlier, we had stretched out across Mom and Dad’s big bed to watch the college bowl games on the new(ish) TV they had in their bedroom. It was the first time we had watched football together, and we made a whole day of it.
I was hooked, not so much because of the games, but because of the time spent with Dad.
Reprising the whole shebang for the Super Bowl was an easy sell, though Mom was probably hesitant because it meant my staying up late on a school night.
I don’t remember a whole lot from the game, other than Dad telling me the Steelers had been winning forever, and that the Rams were the underdog. He rooted for the underdog.
And so did I.
I also remember broad shoulders in a white jersey with Ram swirls on the shoulders barreling into the Pittsburgh line. Looking at the stats from the game, I think that mist have been Wendell Tyler.
Could have been Cullen Bryant.
Finally, I remember the Rams led for most of the game, then lost what seemed like a heart-breaker.
Again, looking at the game log, I see Terry Bradshaw hit John Stallworth for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter to put the Steelers up. Franco Harris tacked on another score with less than two minutes remaining.
So, “our” team lost, but Dad and I won.
Super Bowl XV
Oakland Raiders over Philadelphia Eagles (27-10)
We were back at the scene of the crime in January 1980, and this time, there was no clear underdog, as both teams had won 11 games during the regular season.
I’m pretty sure my dad was rooting for the Eagles in this one, because he thought the Raiders played “dirty.”
I don’t really know if they did or not, though I’ve heard that term applied to Jack Tatum over the years … but Tatum was with the Houston Oilers by the time of Super Bowl XV.
For me, at any rate, football cards and uniforms carried the day.
By then, I had accumulated a few hundred football cards, and all of the Eagles pasteboards seemed rain-drenched and draped in drab green tarps.
It was like M*A*S*H on cardboard.
Depressing and blah!
The Raiders, on the other hand, were all Black and Silver sleekness, and that was good enough for me.
Dad wasn’t too thrilled with my reasoning and even less thrilled with the outcome.
Standouts in my memory include Jim Plunkett, the MVP quarterback who led the Raiders to victory, and Wilbert Montgomery and Harold Carmichael, one of whom seemed to get the call every time the Eagles had the ball.
Neither one of us had much skin in this game, though, so bragging rights were nil.
Super Bowl XX
Chicago Bears over New England Patriots (46-10)
There was never any doubt about our rooting interests here.
Dad grew up a Bears fan, so naturally, I did, too.
Most years, that was a tough row to hoe, with Chicago essentially wasting Walter Payton’s prime with OK defenses but almost nothing to support Sweetness on the offensive side of the ball.
Under head coach Mike Ditka and defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, though, the Bears put it all together in 1985, fielding one of the most dominant teams to ever lace up the cleats.
By mid-season, it was almost a foregone conclusion that the Bears would run the table and win the Super Bow, and they did — except for that stupid Monday night loss to the Miami Dolphins.
The playoffs were a cakewalk, and when the patsy New England Patriots won the AFC … well, it was all over.
Dad and I sang the “Super Bowl Shuffle” with the rest of the world leading up to the Big Game, and we enjoyed all the festivities that Sunday, which felt more like a coronation than a game.
The only disappointment was that Payton got only 22 touches for 61 yards and no touchdowns.
It was a bummer, but it couldn’t dampen our jubilation in that once-in-two-lifetimes moment.
Super Bowl XXIII
San Francisco 49ers over Cincinnati Bengals (20-16)
I know Dad and I watched the Niners squeak past the Bengals in Super Bowl XVI, but I barely remember anything from that game other than feeling breathless with excitement at the end.
In fact, the overarching memory from the 1982 Playoffs is “The Catch,” when Dwight Clark shot his spindly arms and fingers into the air to snag a Joe Montana pass in the back of the end zone to take down the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship game.
Talk about breathless!
Seven years later, the two teams were back at it on the Super Bowl stage, but things were a lot different for Dad and me.
By then, I was a junior in high school, and my Mom was sick — really sick. Like, six weeks in the hospital sick, with a lot of tough months ahead of her.
I spent a lot of time at the hospital with Mom, but Dad was there almost all the time he wasn’t working.
All of that conspired to leave me home alone on Super Bowl Sunday since I had school the next day, and I watched the game with chilling memories of the past hanging all around.
Lucky for me, the rematch turned out to be every bit as compelling as the first, with Montana pulling out another last-minute victory over Boomer Esiason, Ickey Woods, Anthony Munoz, and the rest of Cincy’s best.
It took my mind off things, for awhile, at least.
When Dad got home late that night, I was still wired, and I regaled him with stories from the game — after he gave me an update on Mom, of course.
In that moment, a little father-son bonding over a bowl of Jerry Rice was just what we both needed.
Super Bowl XLI
Indianapolis Colts over Chicago Bears (29-17)
Priorities are a malleable sort of beast.
What’s important to you today may be trivial tomorrow, and things you don’t even know about this year will rule your world in the next.
And so it was that college and grad school and courtship and family-building and career-building took precedence over sports and other trivialities over the 15 years or so that followed that last Bengals-Niners Super Bowl.
I watched the festivities most years, sure, but by the time Peyton Manning was a legend taking flak for not delivering a trophy, I was a passive observer at best.
But life has a funny way of circling back on things, and, even though it had whisked me away from Indiana in the late 1990s, it was pulling me back to my Hoosier roots by late 2005.
In the summer of 2006, we made it home — for good — just in time for the Colts to begin the season that would finally deliver Manning from his post-season demons.
And, though I grew up a Bears fan, I had slowly shifted my allegiance to the hometown Colts since Bob Irsay absconded with them from Baltimore in the dark of night in 1984.
By ’06, if you had asked me which one I rooted for, I would have said both, with a slight nod to the Colts.
It’s much the same today.
By that time, though, I had a five-year-old son who was halfway through Kindergarten, and he had a definite rooting interest — Colts all the way.
In a football sense, then, Super Bowl XLI was the perfect homecoming. I couldn’t lose!
And so we pulled and shouted and lived and died with every heart-stopping minute of that cardiac playoff run, and we darn near brought down the house jumping for joy when Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison, Joseph Addai, Gary Brackett, Adam Vinatieri, Tony Dungy, Robert Mathis, Dwight Freeney, Bob Sanders and all the rest nailed down that Lombardi Trophy.
It was a moment that flooded me with father-son memories, and father-son dreams, and it made me remember just how sharp a full circle can jab at your soul — for better or worse.
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