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Toasting a beloved comrade: the Super Bowl

Up close, my mistress is not as wonderful as her reputation might suggest.

Her beauty is overrated. Her charm doesn't always live up to the hype. She can be a lot of work, and at times, she can be a lot of trouble. She is loud, she is showy, and she seems to get a little more out of control every year.

My mistress is the Super Bowl.

Ain't love grand?

We have been together for a long time, the Super Bowl and me. For 25 years now — or XXV, if you prefer — we have had this Same Time, Next Year relationship. After this week, I will have spent a half-year of my life wandering from one interview session to another to discover a better way of describing the importance of third down.

It is hard for a reporter to describe how he really feels about covering Super Bowls, which are always too crowded, too silly, too exasperating, too brain-numbing, too cliched and too over the top. On the other hand, most writers would rather lose a finger than miss one.

After all, the Super Bowl is the grandest spectacle in sports. There is no event that has more cameras, more viewers, more impact. Reputations are defined at the Super Bowl. Legacies are established. More and more, Hall of Fame voters want to see a Super Bowl on the resume of candidates.

For whatever else you can say about it, the Super Bowl matters.

There are the coaches. Over the past quarter-century, this game has seen the best of dour Bill Belichick and cerebral Bill Walsh and grumpy Bill Parcells and helmet-haired Jimmy Johnson. It has seen Barry Switzer win one and Marv Levy lose four. It had one trophy for Jon Gruden and another for Tony Dungy.

There are the quarterbacks. There was Doug Williams, who made history. There was Joe Montana, who made comebacks. The Super Bowl always has been a quarterback's game, and Tom Brady and John Elway and Steve Young and Kurt Warner and Ben Roethlisberger and Phil Simms and Peyton Manning and Brett Favre and Drew Brees all took turns proving it.

The best moment of all by a quarterback? It was Montana turning into Joe Cool in Super Bowl XXIII, leading his 49ers 92 yards in 11 plays to rip the hearts out of the Bengals. You got the feeling that if Montana had to drive his team 92 miles, he could have.

There are the controversies. In 1991, there was a TV reporter who "broke" the story that the NFL had covered up positive drug tests for "three white quarterbacks." (The league denied it.) There was a Cowboys assistant coach who had accused quarterback Troy Aikman of racism. (His teammates denied it.) There were reports that Jim McMahon had insulted the women and men of New Orleans on a radio show. (Replays of the show denied it.)

There are the good guys. Reggie White. Tedy Bruschi. Warner. John Lynch.

Here's a story: Back in 2002, I did a story on how former Rams star Marshall Faulk had grown up in a rough New Orleans neighborhood, where he went to sleep at night with gunshots in the distance.

The next year, when the Bucs went the distance, I went to the ritzy neighborhood of Lynch, where mansions lined the street. I wrote about how he went to sleep "with golf shots in the distance."

Lynch laughed but not until he scraped bits of Raider receivers off his shoulder pads.

There are the oddballs. Former 49ers tight end Jamie Williams had his own Spider-Man costume designed. Former Bills guard Mitch Frerotte used to paint his face like a pro wrestler before the NFL made him stop. McMahon liked headbands and full moons. And on and on.

There are the silly questions. Super Bowl week has now passed Halloween as the best week for odd characters. For instance, there is the silliness of media day, a cartoon afternoon that is now an impersonation of itself. It is a day of women reporters in short dresses and men reporters in long ones, of kids with microphones and stupid questions by design.

My favorite stupid question was back in 2000, when a TV reporter looked at a very large crucifix worn by Tennessee's Javon Kearse and said: "I see you're wearing a cross. What's the significance of that?"

Well, let's see. There was a shiny star and a baby born in Bethlehem … does any of this sound familiar?

There have been blabbermouths. Tony Siragusa spent Super Bowl week tossing out one-liners. There was Bills defensive line coach Chuck Dickinson, who wrecked his career by making sport of Washington's Hogs before Super Bowl XXVI, accusing Jim Lachey of having bad breath and Joe Jacoby of being a ballerina.

The best talker in the history of the Super Bowl, however, is former Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe, who seemed to believe they didn't have enough media days.

"I won't talk about a guy's wife or mother," Sharpe said at the time, "but if he has a physical deformity, I'll talk about that."

On the other hand, there have been players who hated talking. Mark Bavaro of the Giants, for one. Marvin Harrison, the old receiver of the Colts, did, too. Gilbert Brown didn't want to talk because he knew everyone else wanted to talk about his weight. And Leon Lett, who got so dizzy from the questions that he twice had to walk away from his seat to catch his breath.

There have been lunkheads. Cincinnati's Stanley Wilson was caught doing cocaine the night before Super Bowl XXIII. Atlanta's Eugene Robinson solicited an undercover cop. Oakland's Barret Robbins seemed to think the Super Bowl was in Tijuana and the postgame party came first.

There have been characters. San Francisco's Deion Sanders once talked about how he invented his onfield persona to jack up his paycheck. Philadelphia's Terrell Owens once guaranteed he'd be healthy to play in a Super Bowl. Bill Romanowski spent an hour trying to convince everyone he wasn't really a dirty player.

Then there was Ray Lewis, who had pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in a murder case, who spent an hour staring ahead and showing no sympathy for the victims in his case. It was the strangest hour in the history of the game, but Lewis still won MVP.

There have been clutch performers. Adam Vinatieri. Brady. Montana, Roethlisberger. There was the Giants' David Tyree, who caught a clutch pass with the top of his head in Super Bowl XLII.

For the life of me, however, I can't figure out why the Rams' Mike Jones doesn't get more credit for the most important defensive play in Super Bowl history. If he doesn't tackle Kevin Dyson a half-yard from the goal line in Super Bowl XXXIV, the game goes into overtime. Instead, his team won.

There have been goats. Asante Samuel of the Patriots was in position to knock away the pass to Tyree. Green Bay coach Mike Holmgren lost a down as his team lost a game to Denver. Eagles fans still think Donovan McNabb could have hurried a little late in their 2005 loss to New England.

The guy who catches too much grief, frankly, is Buffalo's Scott Norwood, who missed a 47-yard field goal in the Bills' 20-19 loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XXV.

The truth is that Norwood had never made a 47-yard field goal on grass in his career. Why should the Bills have expected it then? If you wish to blame someone, blame Levy for running Thurman Thomas (who averaged 9 yards a carry) only 15 times.

Most of all, there have been games lately. Real games.

Time was, the Super Bowl had everything but competition. One team was always going to clobber the other. Lately, that's changed. Since Super Bowl XXIII, nine games have been decided by a touchdown or less.

And so the memories come, the way they do every year at this time. The teams and the players and the moments change, but the impact of this game in this country does not. For the next 25 years, I suspect, it will be the same.

Today, I leave for another one.

To be honest, there are worse ways to make a living.

Toasting a beloved comrade: the Super Bowl 01/29/11 [Last modified: Saturday, January 29, 2011 8:10pm]
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