Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Are You Ready for Some F-f-f-football...?
Super Bowl XVI, Part Two
"After 15 games in warm weather climates, Super Bowl XVI was played in the Pontiac, Michigan. Pontiac Silverdome, 25 miles from Detroit. While surrounding areas shivered in below zero chill factors, 81,270 fans enjoyed 72 degree comfort in the huge, 5-year-old stadium." - www.superbowl-history.com/1982.php
A steamy haze of sweat and cigarette smoke quickly filled the dome. It was as if the entire crowd was thawing out. After our long wait in the frigid cold we all began to sweat immediately in the warm air inside with our many layers on, peeling them off slowly as we became warmer, but I can't say I was ever comfortable. Also, the shot of warm air made we want to fall asleep. But, hell, I was at the Super Bowl.
There was a special connection to the Super Bowl for my father. Super Bowl I was played on my first birthday, January 15, 1967, with the Green Bay Packers playing. I was born in Green Bay. My father was a journalist there and had known several of the players, even reputedly having had some over to the house for barbecues and such, so it was exciting for him that the Packers were to play in the Very First Super Bowl. (Football championships had been played for decades of course, but not until the National Football League merged with its rival American Football League did these games become Super.) To this day, my father tries to go to every Packers vs. Bears game whether played in Green Bay or Chicago. It was a big deal for him to be able to take his sons to a Super Bowl, and my brothers and I are still grateful that we went.
We were spectators, however, not fans. None of us had any emotional stake in either of the teams playing - the San Francisco 49ers nor the Cincinnati Bengals - but it was just so cool to be there. My oldest brother had chosen to root for the 49ers because he had followed the exciting rise of a young Joe Montana. Knowing nothing of either team, I brushed off the San Francisco team with ignorant male adolescent and mid-western bigotry by determining that they were from California and therefore freaks, and furthermore they were from San Francisco and must be gay. I chose the Bengals largely because of the aesthetics of their uniforms. The irony of my decision-making completely escaped me at the time.
I joined in the newly minted chant "Who Dey?! Who Dey?! Who Dey tink gonna beat dem Bengals?!!" and marveled at the players' super-cool helmets, which boldly sported not a logo but tiger stripes! Hell yeah! And not gay at all...
One of the most grueling aspects of the entire event was half-time. The entertainment was by Up With People. Remember them? You MUST, they also played for Super Bowls X, XIV and XX. Now, I know the organization has done a lot of good things, and I've even known a few people who have been in their touring shows, but really...Up with People? They danced around with hyper positivism in stripey jumpsuits to clappy, kicky choreography. The music was insipid, uninspiring, and downright annoying, like twenty year olds singing stuff from Sesame Street with unwaivering seriousness. The fans in the stadium looked around, puzzled, and many booed. And it went on ENDLESSLY. This was not entertainment for the football fans. It was entertainment for the football broadcast, live muzak carefully chosen for it's complete lack of controversy, long before the days of wardrobe malfunctions and Prince. Entertainment that allowed a viewer out there in televisionland to get up, take a piss and get more beer. We, however, were locked inside the dome with them. Ugh.
The Bengals lost 26-21 despite passing San Francisco in total scrimmage yards, 356 to 275. Joe Montana was named the MVP with 14 of 22 completed passes for 157 yards. I was disappointed by the loss but I don't know if I cared that much. "Who Dey?" got old really fast. It was time to go home. The whole thing had been supremely anti-climactic. I was exhausted.
We had planned to drive back home immediately after the game. It would be another brutal, cramped trip, but the whole thing was almost over. I couldn't wait. When we left the Silverdome it was dark and even more frigid than at the beginning of the day. Everything was covered with that dirty frost that shows up only in the coldest weather when every drop of moisture is squeezed out of the air. We looked out on a sea of gray, frost-covered cars and trudged hurriedly to ours. When we got in it was like sitting in a freezer. The little Accord started right up however and my father gave himself a pat on the back for deciding to take it instead of the Cougar. As we sat there waiting for the engine and the interior to warm up, we noticed several stranded drivers around us, their cars frozen and not starting. Suckers, we thought. Ours had fired up...
The car in front of us was one of the frozen ones and needed a jump. Sure, why not. My dad was ready to oblige quickly and then hit the road. We couldn't get the other car started however because the Honda didn't have enough power. My father went to help the other driver find someone else able to jump his big car. But as my dad looked around he saw row after row of stranded cars. Grabbing my oldest brother, he set out out to help whomever he could. It was another hour before we left the parking lot.
The snow started right away. This was the big winter storm that my father had been expecting. The winds were furious and the snow blinding. It piled up into massive drifts before our eyes. We crawled slowly westward toward Chicago with almost no visibility, our front-wheel drive pulling us through the tracks of whatever car was ahead of us. Through the blowing, falling snow we saw the shadows of dozen of cars and trucks off the side of the highway, either having pulled over intentionally or slid off, out of control. Certain stretches of the interstate looked like a parking lot. Still, we chugged along.
It was an eight hour, white-knuckle ride. My cramped legs were secondary to my worry. We all studied the road ahead and around us with great intensity, and my father reminded us of what a good decision he had made in taking the Accord and not the Cougar. "Look at all those big cars sliding around the road" he'd say. We all gratefully conceded.
There was nothing easy about that trip. And though there were a lot of great things about that game, it was not very satisfying to me because I had no connection to the teams playing. But I appreciated how important this was to my father and that he had gone through so much just to give us that experience, and how great it was that I had actually been to a Super Bowl. It was cool to show the program to my friends and brag about how I had been there, where they had only been in the record-breaking 85 million or so that had watched it on TV. Pfft...yeah...And, later, that little Accord that pulled us through the snowstorm would even become a pivotal prop in one of the most life-changing events I've ever experienced.
I don't care about sports at all anymore. I don't know why. They just don't interest me, even though I've played a lot: football, baseball, track, gymnastics. But, yep, my dad was right. I'm still talking about that frigid, exhausting, but cool Super Bowl XVI experience.
PS- Just a few hours before I wrote this the Green Bay Packers lost the NFC Championship game to the New York Giants at their home field, Lambeau. The temperature at kick-off was minus 1 and the wind-chill dipped to 24 below. My father, having high hopes for another Packers Super Bowl, is very disappointed. A friend back home in Chicago just sent me a text message out of the blue: "It's 4 degrees".
Brrrr...I live in Southern California now...