Saturday, January 31, 2009

Super memories

Neither time nor space permitted me to run a Super Bowl column in Saturday's print edition of the Wilson Daily Times but I have a few things to say about America's Greatest Sporting Event.

I'm not that enchanted by this year's matchup, to be honest. Sure, there are some angles out there. The lowly Cardinals' possible rise to the top or the Steelers winning an unprecedented sixth championship. But nothing about this one really speaks to me the way the Super Bowls of my youth do. You see, me and the Super Bowl go way back. It started right after I was born. I can always remember what Super Bowl it is by simply remembering my age (which isn't as simple as it sounds at times).

The first one remember watching was the Redskins-Dolphins in Super Bowl VII but all I recall are grainy sequences from my grandparents' old black-and-white television. I must admit here that I have been a lifelong Redskins fan; at least up until the current ownership and free agency warped my sentiments. I only follow the NFL in a professional sense now but my affinity towards the Burgundy and Gold have certainly colored my past.

So, if you will, I am here to proclaim my top 10 all-time Super Bowl memories in somewhat orderly fashion.

10. Super Bowl X, Pittsburgh vs. Dallas, Miami — As an avowed Cowboys-hating fourth-grader, I was a huge Steelers fan that day. Will never forget the acrobatic catches Lynn Swann made and the end zone interception by Glen Edwards to seal Pittsburgh's 21-17 win. Can you believe the Super Bowl used to begin early Sunday afternoon, like any other regular-season game, back then?

9. Super Bowl XXXIV, Tennessee vs. St. Louis, Atlanta — The one play that puts this one on the list is the touchdown-saving tackle by Rams linebacker Mike Jones of Titans wide receiver Kevin Dyson on the one-foot line to end the game and give the Rams a 23-17 win. It's the only Super Bowl that ended with a team stopped a foot short of the tying TD on the last play. Years later, the Oiler-Titans are still searching for their first Super Bowl title.

8. Super Bowl XXXII, Denver vs. Green Bay, San Diego — Nobody thought the Broncos had a chance against Brett Favre and the Packers but I had been following Denver's run all season. In fact, the Broncos had two great seasons in a row but were derailed by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first round of the playoffs the previous year. I spent the whole week telling a buddy who was a Packers fan that an upset was imminent. And it crystallized into one unforgettable moment when 37-year-old quarterback John Elway got helicopter-flipped by a vicious dual hit from Packers defensive backs LeRoy Butler and Mike Prior. Elway bounced up, fired up his teammates and got them into the end zone two plays later as Denver pulled off the 31-24 upset.

7. Super Bowl XXV, New York vs. Buffalo, Tampa — The Pre-Bobby Brown Whitney Houston sang the national anthem as the fighter jets flew over in missing-man formation as the first Gulf War was in full swing. But that's not what I remember most. I remember being the only guy at the Super Bowl beach party insisting the Giants would win and (normally I don't root for the 'Skins NFC East opponents in a SB) my prediction came to fruition when Buffalo's Scott Norwood missed a potentially game-winning field goal at the final gun. The Giants won 20-19 on the first Super Bowl that I had seen to come down to the final play.

6. Super Bowl XXIII, Cincinnati vs. San Francisco, Miami — This one stamped, in my mind, the 49ers' Joe Montana as the greatest quarterback to ever play as he led the team on a 92-yard game-winning drive, culminating in a TD pass to John Taylor with 34 seconds left in San Francisco's 20-16 win.

5. Super Bowl XLII, New England vs. New York, Glendale, Ariz. — No way were the Patriots going 19-0. As I had done in 1991, I went against my enmity for Redskins rivals and took the Giants to pull off the upset — and did they ever. I know it's only been 12 months since it happened but who will ever forget Eli Manning spinning out of what looked like a sure sack and finding wide receiver David Tyree 32 yards downfield. All Tyree did was make a circus grab, holding the ball against his helmet. Four plays later, the Giants were in the end zone for a 17-14 stunner. (Edited to correctly name David Tyree, not David Patten — who never even played for the Giants! — made that awesome catch. Apologies to Tyree and mucho grande 'preesh to V!)

4. Super Bowl XXXVIII, New England vs. Carolina, Houston — The Carolina Panthers have never been my favorite team but as I watched from my apartment in El Cerrito, Calif., I was certainly rooting for my home state to enjoy its first world championship. When Carolina QB Jake Delhomme hit that ancient Demon Deacon Ricky Prohl for the tying TD with about a minute to go, I thought the Panthers would get it done in overtime. But then John Kasay, who has done so much in his Carolina kicking career, committed the Cardinal sin — he sent the kickoff out of bounds. From there, it didn't take much for the Pats to get in Adam Vinatieri's range and the diminutive kicker won another Super Bowl on a last-second kick 32-29. Of course, the other memorable thing about this game was Janet Jackson's notorious "wardrobe malfunction," which somehow I noticed from the balcony outside the apartment from 30 feet away. Funny how that works.

3. Super Bowl XXVI, Buffalo vs. Washington, Minneapolis — This one is memorable to me mostly because it's the only one I've ever watched outside the United States. I was on a post-collegiate backpacking trek through New Zealand and watched the Redskins win their third Super Bowl in a pub in Auckland. Kickoff was Monday at noon, in local time, and luckily it was a national holiday in N.Z. so the pub was packed with curious Kiwis there to imbibe as much as watch American-style football. But by the time the 'Skins had won 37-24 and sent the Bills to their second straight Super Bowl lose, I think I had taught several locals and some German tourists the words to "Hail to the Redskins!"

2. Super Bowl XXII, Denver vs. Washington, San Diego — This one was weird because really, the Redskins didn't belong. They'd had a solid season but the 49ers had gone 15-1 and were clearly the best team in the NFL that year. But the wild-card Minnesota Vikings tripped up San Francisco in a huge first-round upset and the 'Skins edged the Vikes in the NFC championship. Denver wasn't that great but the Broncos had just been to a Super Bowl, losing to the Giants the previous season. So when John Elway led Denver to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, I was dangerously close to breaking my TV set. But before I knew it, Washington QB Doug Williams donned his Superman suit and fired four TD passes in the second quarter and the 'Skins took a 35-10 lead at halftime on their way to a 42-10 victory. I just remember that by Washington's fifth TD of the quarter, I was laying on my back, too tired to even cheer, much less sing "Hail to the Redkins!"

1. Super Bowl XVII, Miami vs. Washington, Pasadena, Calif. — Easily the best one because it was the first time I'd experienced Super Bowl Sunday as a fan of the winning team. The moment that lives forever, still to this day as my favorite as a fan of any team, came early in the fourth quarter, about 10 minutes to play. Washington had trailed the Dolphins all game and it was 17-13 and the 'Skins faced a fourth-and-inches at the Miami 43-yard line. Everyone watching the game knew the ball was going to John Riggins but it wasn't clear which way he was taking it. As the Washington wide receiver went in motion before the play, Dolphins cornerback Don McNeal went with him, then realized he'd been pulled out of position so as he reacted, he slipped. Riggins took the ball through a hole on the left side, picking up the first down but "The Diesel" was only in first gear. But the time the late-to-arrive McNeal got to Riggins turning the corner, all he got for his efforts was No. 44 shrugging off his diving attempt at a tackle before chugging the rest of the way into the end zone. There was still a lot of time left in the game but as I bounded off the living room floor in ecstasy, I knew then the 'Skins were on their way to the championship. I still get chill bumps thinking about it.

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