From Montana to Flacco, looking back at memories of 24 Super Bowls
Sharing recollections and memories from attendance at 24 straight Super Bowls -- from the end of Montana's run with San Francisco, through the Cowboys' great teams in the 1990s, and through last season's epic finish.
Super Bowl XLVIII will be my 25th consecutive Super Bowl.
Where the hell did the time go?
When I first started covering Super Bowls, I had a full head of hair and Radio Row was three or four radio stations -- not the monstrosity it has become.
Parading TV and movie stars through Radio Row was unthinkable. Now look. The media crowds weren't close to what they are now. You could actually talk to players back then on Media Day. About football stuff.
In the years since, the Super Bowl has become the "it" happening in this country. Super Bowl week is full of chic parties, trendy happenings and a weeklong event as we ready for the game.
I thought it would get big, but never this big.
So as I ready for my 25th game, it's a good time to look back at the first 24 games and highlight some of my memories. It has been a heck of a ride, and I truly feel fortunate to have been to 25 in a row. It's a great job and I am thankful that I do what I do for a living. I work for a great company and have for the past 14 years after going to the first 11 Super Bowls working at the Florida Times-Union.
Here's hoping I make another 25. No, just kidding.
In 25 years I expect to be on my couch screaming at the TV on Super Bowl Sunday complaining that the damn quarterback won't stay in the pocket.
Here's a look at my first 24 Super Bowls:
Super Bowl XXIV: 49ers 55, Broncos 10
The first one will always have that special feel. At the time, I was working for the Times-Union. Radio Row was maybe four stations huddled in a ballroom of the Hyatt Regency. I remember thinking how important the game seemed then, but multiply the growth by 100 now. The 49ers just rolled over the Broncos 55-10. Denver's defensive backs were abused by Joe Montana. After the game, the thing that stood out was being in the 49ers' locker room and hearing Tim McKyer and Don Griffin chanting: "We got the speed limit. We got the speed limit." That's how long ago that was. The speed limit was 55.
Super Bowl XXV: Giants 20, Bills 19
This Super Bowl was special to me. My mother had passed away in December 1989. She was a lifelong Giants fan. To this day, I can still hear her yelling: "Throw it, Phillip [Simms]. Throw it." Then a year later, the Giants made their run. They won at San Francisco when Roger Craig fumbled to set up a game-winning field goal. I was there. I remember looking up and thinking my mom was smiling somewhere thanks to that miracle fumble. There was no week in between then, so we all had to fly right to Tampa, Fla. When we got there, the security because of the Gulf War was thick. It wasn't close to what it is now, but it was for the time an obvious change. That was, of course, the Whitney Houston national anthem. It was sensational. As for the game, I still can't believe the Giants won that day. They did a great job slowing down Jim Kelly and limiting his time on the field. When Scott Norwood's kick went wide, all I could think about was my mother. Somewhere she was sitting in that Giants shirt she wore when they won it in 1986 and was smiling down. Her Jints had done it again.
Super Bowl XXVI: Redskins 37, Bills 24
This was the Minneapolis Super Bowl. I hate cold, but I thought the city did a fantastic job. The people were so nice, and they did a great job of making it so you didn't need to be outside all that much. As for the game, it wasn't much of a battle. The Bills had no answer for Mark Rypien and the Redskins offense. Rypien carved them to shreds to hand the Bills their second consecutive loss. He threw for 292 yards and two scores. You might remember this as the game where Thurman Thomas couldn't find his helmet for the first drive. He was a nonfactor in the game as well with 13 yards.
Super Bowl XXVII: Cowboys 52, Bills 17
This was my first California Super Bowl in the famed Rose Bowl. I had been there to watch Arizona State beat Michigan in 1987, but this was much grander. I remember the buses on their way to Media Day getting a police escort through rush-hour traffic. The game itself was horrible. Dallas blew out the Bills, showing off their speed, power and the swagger Jimmy Johnson brought to the team. This was the game that Don Beebe made himself famous by running down Leon Lett after a turnover. Other than the pageantry, it was a bad Super Bowl -- unless you were a Cowboys fan.
Super Bowl XXVIII: Cowboys 30, Bills 13
This was the first Super Bowl held in Atlanta. I remember wondering if there would be another there, and there was in 2000. As for the game, the Bills led 13-6 at the half and I thought this was their chance. But they didn't score in the second half and the Cowboys went back-to-back. The Bills haven't been back to the Super Bowl since, but that run of four consecutive is truly impressive.
Super Bowl XXIX: 49ers 49, Chargers 26
This Miami Super Bowl was a mismatch from the get-go. Many thought the Cowboys-49ers NFC Championship Game was the real Super Bowl. And it was. I remember this one mostly for 49ers quarterback Steve Young's six touchdown passes. The Chargers had no answer for the 49ers' passing game. This was Young's first Super Bowl and his chance to get the "monkey off his back." And he did in grand style. The sad thing looking back now is that eight players from that Chargers team have died or were killed since then.
Super Bowl XXX: Cowboys 27, Steelers 17
This one was big for me because it was played at my alma mater, Arizona State. Sun Devil Stadium was the host for the game, which was awarded only after the state voted to recognize the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. The Cowboys were back in the game with Barry Switzer as head coach after Johnson left the team. The Cowboys won the game, but they lost the stats game. That's because Larry Brown picked off two Neil O'Donnell passes, both setting up Dallas touchdowns, to give the Cowboys the victory. I remember thinking somebody would pay Brown big money. Oakland did. Bad move.
Super Bowl XXXI: Packers 35, Patriots 21
This was a Super Bowl I almost covered as a beat guy with a team in it. The 1996 Jaguars, who I covered, shocked the world and made it to the AFC Championship Game but lost to the Patriots. The Packers beat Carolina to get there, and I remember going to their team hotel to visit with LeRoy Butler and Edgar Bennett before the game. I knew those two from Jacksonville since they were both from there and I remember thinking how confident they seemed. The big plays of the game were from two guys I covered with the Jaguars. On the second play, Andre Rison caught a 54-yard pass from Brett Favre for a score and then Desmond Howard returned a kickoff 99 yards for a score. One more thing I remember from this game: The halftime show was a Blues Brothers tribute, which I didn't think was too impressive.
Super Bowl XXXII: Broncos 31, Packers 24
This was my first Super Bowl in San Diego. The city wasn't quite what it would become, but it was still a beautiful place. The thing I remember most about this game was John Elway's "helicopter ride" on a scramble. It showed how much he wanted to win, and he did. After the game, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen stood on the podium and said, "This one's for John." I remember that like it was yesterday. And now John has his team in the game again, only this time as a general manager.
Super Bowl XXXIII: Broncos 34, Falcons 19
This was my second Super Bowl in Miami and it became known for Falcons safety Eugene Robinson getting arrested the night before the game for solicitation of a prostitute. He played, but he was panned for that happening the night before the game. Some said the distraction did in the Falcons. I disagree. They weren't good enough. Denver was the better team and Elway went back-to-back.
Super Bowl XXXIV: Rams 23, Titans 16
This was the second Atlanta game, and it became known for the ice storm. The weather was horrible and you could barely go outside. This was another Super Bowl I expected to be covering as a beat guy. The Jaguars went 14-2 and blew out Miami in the AFC divisional round, but the Titans upset them in the AFC Championship Game. Out the window went the plans for a Jaguars book. St. Louis had the Greatest Show on Turf -- an offense that I loved watching -- and I expected them to win the game. They did, but this is one that will be remembered for the Mike Jones tackle of Kevin Dyson just short of the goal line to give the Rams the victory.
Super Bowl XXXV: Ravens 34, Giants 7
I remember this game in Tampa for the Ray Lewis pregame hype. He had been arrested in Atlanta the year before in the now-famous double murder that involved some of Lewis' friends. The Media Day hype was all about Lewis, who ended up being named MVP of the game. The Ravens dominated with their defense. The big play I remember was the 84-yard kickoff return by Jermaine Lewis. It was a day for those named Lewis. Ray Lewis was the star of the defense, Jermaine Lewis keyed the special teams and Jamal Lewis was the leading rusher.
Super Bowl XXXVI: Patriots 20, Rams 17
It was back to New Orleans for this one, but this was the first game since the 9-11 tragedy. The security was the tightest it had ever been. The game was moved back a week because of the tragedy in September, so it was the first Super Bowl held in February. The thing that stood out most to me was the halftime show. U2 sang Where the Streets Have No Name as the names of the Sept. 11 victims rolled down behind them on a sheet. It was painful. Jay Glazer, now at Fox, was working with us at the time at CBS. I remember him trying to find the name of a close friend on that sheet as it scrolled down. I felt bad when he finally saw it roll on by. If I remember, the guy's last name was Cain. That put the game in perspective. New England won the game with a guy named Tom Brady leading them to the game-winning drive. It was a huge upset and Brady's first Super Bowl victory. Who knew then what he would become?
Super Bowl XXXVII: Buccaneers 48, Raiders 21
It was back to San Diego for another game. By this time, San Diego had become a big-time city. The Gaslamp district was alive and well. This game is known for two things: The Jon Gruden trade and Barrett Robbins. Gruden was the coach of Oakland for three seasons, but was traded to the Bucs for draft picks before the season. He led Tampa Bay to the game against his former team. This was also the Robbins Super Bowl. The center for the Oakland Raiders went missing and ended up in the hospital and didn't play. It was later found he had some addiction issues. It didn't matter on the field. The Raiders were no match for the Bucs. Tampa Bay picked off Rich Gannon five times and returned three for scores. It was ugly.
Super Bowl XXXVIII: Patriots 32, Panthers 29
This was my first Super Bowl in Houston, and it ended up being a heck of a week. One of my biggest memories is going to a Rockets game and sitting in a box having beers with my wife and Allen Wilson from the Buffalo News. Wilson was a big man with a kind heart. He passed away two years ago after a battle with leukemia and Big Allen is missed. As for the game, it ended up being a good one. The Patriots and Brady won their second Super Bowl when Adam Vinatieri kicked a 42-yard field goal with four seconds left. The big flap from this game was the Janet Jackson-Justin Timberlake halftime debacle. I missed it live by the way.
Super Bowl XXXIX: Patriots 24, Eagles 21
This game was in my hometown, but I had no idea why. Jacksonville, which I have called home since 1987, was awarded the game but clearly wasn't ready for it, leading to what some still say is the worst Super Bowl week ever. I can't argue. The pregame talk was all about Terrell Owens playing after breaking his ankle in early December. Owens missed the playoffs but played in the Super Bowl. The Patriots won the game, their third with Brady and coach Bill Belichick, although the Eagles made a game of it late.
Super Bowl XL: Steelers 21, Seahawks 10
This game in Detroit I call my "Biosphere Super Bowl." Why? Much of the Super Bowl stuff was housed in the Renaissance Hotel and I barely left the building. I joke we could have grown our own food in that facility. This game is remembered for some questionable officiating, Willie Parker's big run and a stiff Pittsburgh defense. I also remember the Rolling Stones performing at halftime looking like a bunch of broken-down old men trying to stay relevant.
Super Bowl XLI: Colts 29, Bears 17
This game played in Miami was Peyton Manning's only Super Bowl victory (so far?). He led the Colts to a victory to get the big-game loser talk off him for the time being. Manning threw for 247 yards and a touchdown, but the Colts ran for almost 200 yards to get the victory. After the game, I remember talking to Manning as he walked from the podium. It was clear this was a man with a big burden off his shoulders. I thought then that it would shut up his critics. Boy, was I wrong or what?
Super Bowl XLII: Giants 17, Patriots 14
This game played in the new University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., was all about the quest for perfection. The Patriots came into the game 18-0 and were huge favorites. Having covered all three of the Giants' playoff games, I thought the Giants had a chance. In fact, I picked them to win in the week leading up to the game. I just thought they could match up with their defensive front. The play that still stands out is the catch by David Tyree to keep the game-winning drive alive. I remember after the game spending time with Tom Coughlin and his family. Coughlin was the coach in Jacksonville when I covered the Jaguars, and I remember thinking then that he had just achieved one of the best coaching jobs I had seen.
Super Bowl XLIII: Steelers 27, Cardinals 23
This game in Tampa was in the middle of the recession and a lot of the usual parties were canceled. It was much more low-key than normal. The talk entering the game was all about how Kurt Warner had resurrected his career and could possibly win his second Super Bowl. And it looked like he would when he hit Larry Fitzgerald late for a 64-yard touchdown with 2:37 left. But Ben Roethlisberger drove the Steelers for the game-winning TD to Santonio Holmes with 35 seconds left. I do remember a lot of the media members being more excited to see Bruce Springsteen at halftime than the actual game. I was not one of them.
Super Bowl XLIV: Saints 31, Colts 17
The game was back in Miami and it was highlighted by the quarterback matchup: Drew Brees vs. Peyton Manning. This was Manning's first chance to be a multiple Super Bowl winner. His legacy was the hot pregame talk, as it is this time. The Saints clinched the game when Tracy Porter picked off Manning and returned it for a score. The big talk after the game was Sean Payton's decision to try an onside kick to open the second half. It worked and his team rallied after it. One other thing I remember from this game: How bad The Who was halftime. I think that performance just about ended any chance of the old timers playing halftime again.
Super Bowl XLV: Packers 31, Steelers 25
The game was played in Arlington, Texas, for the first time in the amazing Cowboys Stadium, the stadium Jerry Jones built. But the week will forever be known as the ice and snow week. The weather was horrible. I remember walking out of a Stars hockey game and falling on my ass when I slipped on the ice. It was miserable. As for the game, it was not. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers put on a show, throwing for 304 yards and three scores to lead the Packers to the victory. But this is another Super Bowl that will be tarnished by the weather.
Super Bowl XLVI: Giants 21, Patriots 17
This was the first for Indianapolis. After leaving, I would say it was one of the best. The city did a great job hosting the game and the logistics were second to none. It was easy. As for the game, it was another classic between the Giants and Patriots. It came down to the final possession, but the Giants held on. The weirdest play came with 57 seconds left when the Patriots allowed the Giants to score a touchdown when New England was up 17-15. They did so because they had just one timeout. Ahmad Bradshaw tried to stop, but fell over at the 1 before he could and scored. The Patriots had a chance, but the Giants held on.
Super Bowl XLVI: Ravens 34, 49ers 31
The thing that stands out about this one for me was the power going out in the Superdome. The press box is high up in that stadium, so when the power went out we all looked around and wondered if something was going on. That's where we are now in terms of the way we live with the fear of terrorism. You never know. I can tell you there was a fair share of writers wondering if something was wrong until we found out differently. As far as the game, I don't think much about that being Ray Lewis' last game. That was way over-hyped. For me, it was about the goal-line stand in the end and the dynamic of those last four plays when Baltimore kept San Francisco out of the end zone to win the game.
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