Today, this national sporting holiday brings me to a self-imposed tradition. In a few minutes I’ll open the Sunday newspaper, some of you might remember those, and peruse the scores of the previous fifty-five Super Bowls. I’ll mentally quiz myself on what I remember about each game or if I even remember the game at all. I’ve been to four of them, an equal opportunity winner with the Colts, Cowboys, ‘Niners and Steelers grabbing the rings. I’ll spend an extra moment or two reminiscing about those in particular.
However, it was the first game I attended, Super Bowl V in Miami, that for me is still top of mind a half century later. It was one I’ll never forget for all the wrong reasons. It was that bad. Immediately afterwards the game was dubbed the Blunder Bowl, the Blooper Bowl and/or the Stupor Bowl, take your pick, well deserving of each of those condescending plaudits.
Historically, V joined the first four Super Bowls remembered in the annals but for unusual reasons. In fact, when the game that we now know as Super Bowl I was played in 1967, it was still a full three years before the game was titled Super anything. Games I, II and III were originally billed as the NFL-AFL World Championship Game. At that time there was incredible animosity between the two leagues. The NFL was very senior, around for 47 years; the AFL only seven, so this first ever encounter was for more than just a trophy — pride and bragging rights were foremost. The American sporting public saw it as nothing more than a made for television exhibition with 40,000 empty seats at the Los Angeles Coliseum on January 15, 1967. CBS representing the NFL and NBC with the AFL both televised it. ESPN was still a dozen years from conception. Green Bay off a 12-2 season won the NFL title and Kansas City at 11-2-1, was the AFL champion. To nobody’s surprise, the Packers, a two touchdown favorite, thumped the Chiefs, 35-10. As the story goes, aging Green Bay wide receiver Max McGee thought so little of the game that in his role as a back-up to all-star Boyd Dowler, McGee broke curfew the night before and showed up on game day smashed. He didn’t expect to play, leaving or forgetting his helmet in the Packers’ locker room. Dowler gets hurt; McGee scurries to borrow a helmet and winds up catching seven passes and two touchdowns from Bart Starr. Then he ingested a box of Alka-Seltzer.
Super Bowl II, or the second NFL-AFL World Championship Game, moved to Miami in 1968, which was just fine with Green Bay coming off their legendary Ice Bowl win a week earlier over Dallas on the frozen Wisconsin tundra. This time the opponent was AFL champion Oakland sporting a 13-1 record. The Pack was only 9-4-1 but oddsmakers didn’t think this would be much of a game either, once again tabbing Green Bay as a two touchdown choice. The Packers didn’t disappoint their backers with a 33-14 easy cover that wasn’t as close as the final score. The game still wasn’t a sellout, with 5,000 empty seats in the Orange Bowl. We have no idea what McGee did the night before, but he only caught one pass and for the second year in a row Starr was the MVP. The game also marked the end of Vince Lombardi’s coaching career in Green Bay.
The next two years was when the redheaded stepchildren got their due. In the 1969 game the Jets at 11-3 were huge 19-point underdogs to the mighty Baltimore Colts, 13-1 on the season. The Jets took charge on the Orange Bowl field just as Joe Namath had guaranteed and made short order of Don Shula’s Colts 16-7. Every Jets fan was convinced this was the first of many championships to follow, which really didn’t work out that way. It illustrated the AFL could indeed go toe-to-toe with the haughty NFL. In 1970 the game was officially dubbed the “Super Bowl,” a name coined by Kansas City owner Lamar Hunt after a toy his daughter played with called a Super Ball. The League then went back and retitled games one, two and three the Super Bowl. Kansas City proved the oddsmakers wrong in ‘70 at Super Bowl IV in New Orleans, with a 23-7 win over 13-point favorite Minnesota. The AFL kids were square with the big boys at two wins each.
The landscape of professional football changed drastically during the 1970 campaign. It was the 51st season of the National Football League but the first after the official AFL-NFL merger. There was an imbalance of teams in each league: the AFL had 10 franchises, the NFL 16. So to unite both leagues into one NFL, Baltimore, Cleveland and Pittsburgh moved to the AFC creating two 13 team conferences. Some of us not only remember a daily newspaper but also when the Colts, Browns and Steelers played over in the senior circuit.
That same year this gangly 18-year-old kid left Long Island becoming a freshman at the University of Miami. He and a fellow classmate, Sean Gallagher of Philadelphia, bought Miami Dolphins season tickets at the steep price for two college kids of $72 apiece. No, not $72 a game, but $72 to sit in Section C on the Orange Bowl’s 25-yard line for the seven regular season and two preseason Dolphins schedule. That’s eight bucks a game.
The Super Bowl was coming back to Miami in January of 1971 and tickets were offered to all Dolphins season ticket holders to put asses on the hard Orange Bowl benches for a game not certain to be a sellout. Gallagher and I bought a pair at $15 each. Pricey, but the only other thing we had to do on a Sunday afternoon at 2 pm was study and we went to school at Miami for a reason — it was a study-free zone.
Besides, due to the very archaic NFL television rules, the game was blacked out in the host market. So if you lived in South Florida the only way you could see the January 17, 1971, contest between Baltimore and Dallas was to either be in the stands or travel outside of a 75-mile radius, to West Palm Beach or Fort Myers. Not many did. Or you could have visited Rodney, with the ‘fro at Gate 10, scalping fifteen dollar ducats for thirty.
We sat in the west end zone, upper deck, the end zone that did not have Flipper flopping. Neither one of us had a car so we took a bus to the Orange Bowl; with stops and a transfer it made a 20 minute ride just short of two hours. With Baltimore moving to the AFC that season, the previously sexy AFL-NFL match-up, didn’t exist. Instead, the game never had the feel of the antagonistic rivalry that juiced the first four championships. If nothing else, it was an intramural contest between two former NFL partners.
Not being able to watch it on local television, the game sold out with over 79,000 on hand for the first Super Bowl to be played on artificial turf. Who could forget the scintillating halftime show split between the Southeast Missouri State College Marching Golden Eagles and singer and Florida Orange juice spokesperson Anita Bryant? She was 30 then, 81 today. It was just on the eve of Ms. Bryant’s anti-gay rights activism and only months before she became a punching bag for Johnny Carson’s monologues.
If the game itself wasn’t so bad it probably would have been forgetful. The two teams combined for 11 turnovers, five in the fourth quarter. Baltimore, which won the game, had seven of them, the most for any Super Bowl champion in the books. NBC’s Curt Gowdy and Kyle Rote told the television audience of 46 million that Vice President Spiro Agnew was at the game along with Muhammad Ali, six weeks before his first date with Joe Frazier. That might have been the day’s highlight.
Though you couldn’t watch the game in metro Miami, which turned out to be a blessing, it was the first Super Bowl to be broadcast live in Alaska. Skagway’s Sarah Palin was seven.
Referee Norm Schachter’s crew threw more flags than a re-start at Talladega. In total, 14 penalties were called with 10 of those for 133 yards owned by the Cowboys.
The Colts, who 13 years later moved to Indianapolis, trailed 13-7 when quarterback Johnny Unitas got hurt in the second quarter. He had thrown nine passes, completing only three, as Earl Morrall, widely considered the goat (the farm animal kind, not the GOAT) of the Super Bowl III loss to the Jets, entered in relief. He finished the top passer in the game going 7-15 for 147 yards and only one INT. Dallas QB Craig Morton was 12-26, a TD but three interceptions.
Cowboys head coach Tom Landry and Baltimore rookie boss Don McCafferty watched the carnage from their respective sidelines. McCafferty, long forgotten, earned his honorable mention by becoming the first Super Bowl coach not to wear a shirt and tie; instead, a short-sleeved T-shirt and a mock turtleneck. He was a bit too early for the soon-to-be fashionable Super Bowl hoodie.
Super Bowl V should have been a lot better than it was. A total of 11 players on that Poly-Turf field: Unitas, Ted Hendricks, John Mackey, Herb Adderley, Mike Ditka, Cliff Harris, Bob Hayes, Bob Lilly, Mel Renfro, Roger Staubach and Rayfield Wright were later inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. None got there with their play that day.
As raggedy as the game was, it produced the first exciting finish in big game history when another turnover, this time by Baltimore’s linebacker Mike Curtis intercepting Morton with just over a minute remaining and the contest square at 13. Curtis returned the ball 14 yards to the Dallas 28. Two plays later the Colts set-up in field goal position. Jim O’Brien, a rookie third round draft pick out of Cincinnati, had to make a 32-yarder which was no gimme — not only did he have an extra point blocked earlier in the game, but over the season he converted only 18 of 33 field goal tries. He tried to miss this one too, but the ball slid just inside the left upright for the lead. That was so long ago, the goalposts were still on the goal line. Ten more yards to the end line, like in today’s game, would have meant overtime. Dallas had one more play left, with six seconds to go, but fittingly Morton was intercepted again, this time by Jerry Logan as the clock struck midnight for the ‘Boys. I still have a recollection of the winning kick and staying to the end, which must have meant the bus back to campus was late. Baltimore won 16-13, covering as a 2.5 point favorite and cashing a winner’s share of $15K each. This afternoon, $15,000 will get you two upper deck nose bleeds for the Rams and Bengals.
To illustrate how abysmal things were offensively for the Cowboys and Colts in SB V, it was the first Super Bowl where the winning quarterback wasn’t the MVP: Starr twice, Namath and Len Dawson previously claimed the award. In fact, the only thing offensive about this game was how offensive it really was. Instead, the MVP went to a member of the defensive side. Except nobody on the winning Colts stood out, so for the first and still only time, a player from the losing team, Dallas linebacker Chuck Howley with two INTs was voted the MVP. Howley refused the trophy.
So today, as we gather at Super Bowl parties, or others of us who might be chastised for preferring to watch and wager alone, let’s remember that for all the outstanding athletes playing this Super Bowl LVI championship at a very high level, there was the other side of the coin: Super Bowl V played at a very low level.
And for those of us at that 1971 game we should have known what was in the cards. One of the first ever flyovers was scheduled to zoom over the Orange Bowl right at the end of trumpeter Tommy Loy blowing the final note of the national anthem. But another fumble. No flyover. Instead the planes arrived five minutes late, just after the kickoff.
Nothing else went according to plan that day, either.