Years and years ago, in another century, when all this Super Bowl stuff started as a shotgun wedding between two enemy leagues, the football games were duds and the arrangements were colossal.
We’d tool off for Los Angeles, or New Orleans, or Miami — and the league functionaries would synchronize their NFL watches. Everything worked — the media interview sessions, the daily bus ventures to the team hotels to grill the athletes, the restaurants, the parties. Even the service in our jammed hotels.
All was hunky-dory — except for the football games, the primary reason for the overflow of hype.
You could walk on the sidewalks of the Super Bowl towns without the danger of skidding onto your bum — except for New Orleans on Bourbon Street. No sidewalk. There, the mobs congested across the pavement, every individual lugging a plastic cup containing some amber liquid.
Even Detroit — cursed by my colleagues from coast to coast — excelled.
And every human being with the wherewithal to purchase a game ticket was admitted into the Super Bowl stadium and could sit down to watch the game.
Midweek during the countdown to Super Bowl XLV in North Texas, Roger Goodell asked me to account for my good fortune to have covered all 45 of these extravaganzas.
“Timing and survival,” I responded to the Lord High Commissioner of the NFL. The truth as I see it.
“Timing and survival?” Goodell repeated.
Yep, The Detroit News promoted me to pro football beat writer late in the 1965 season. Then the merger occurred six months later, just before my actual rookie season. Super Bowl I was the result of the forced alliance between the National and American Football leagues.
And the survival — well, The News has seen fit to keep assigning me to Super Bowls, even in unofficial retirement.
I normally throw nothing away, particularly the memories. So, having covered 45 Super Bowls and having been witness to the festivities before every football game, I am asked frequently about my choice as to the best host city. Quickly praising Detroit and the marvelous work of Roger Penske and his assistant, Susan Sherer, I then mention New Orleans as a favorite town to visit.
Nobody ever considered asking me the worst Super Bowl city.
This could stand as an apology to Jacksonville, Fla.
Li’l old Jacksonville has emerged from the cellar.
You could walk on the sidewalks there — once we were bus-lifted into town from the boonies.
Dallas, with its Texas delusions of grandeur, has flopped into last place. On my personal list, anyway.
Soon after my conversation about timing and survival had ended, it was an appropriate time for dinner. We went out to a hot steakhouse. Over-priced, too.
The walk from the hotel and the Motorola Media Center — the NFL, so needy, is selling naming rights to large press and radio rooms, too, now. It was a four-block walk. Every step was treacherous Dallas could not control the weather — and neither could Goodell — during the last days of January and the first days of February. But after the snows hit North Texas the result was civic bewilderment.
The city officials in Dallas and the preening bureaucrats throughout North Texas just don’t know how to melt ice. They lack the fundamental knowledge about how to clean snow off the streets and pavements.
Dallas has flopped into last place because walking to restaurants there during the Super Bowl — a supposed festival attracting visitors from across the globe — was flopping dangerous.
No matter what, Detroit is capable of melting ice off the streets and sidewalks without imperiling drivers and pedestrians. All of Michigan has this knowledge without any delusions of grandeur.
We cheer just when Eminem appears in a Chrysler commercial with glowing cityscapes — imported from Detroit.
Then there was the super Super Bowl snafu.
People who purchased tickets and expected to watch a football game in Jerry Jones’ Cowboys Stadium were turned away at the gate. Their temporary seats were not approved by the fire chief in the Dallas suburb of Arlington. Some of those deprived already have filed lawsuits.
The NFL took responsibility for this failure. But Jones, swaggering, delusional owner of the Cowboys, and his helpers did not have his stadium ready for a seating emergency, according to Arlington city officials.
And ice chunks dropping from the roof of the stadium injured workers preparing the joint before the game.
There have been freezes and snow at New Orleans and Florida Super Bowl sites in the past. Those places coped with the results of the foul weather.
Keep on keeping on
Then came one more example of the Texan delusion of grandeur as I was making my escape from Dallas the other day — for California. I came upon the lead editorial in the Dallas Morning News.
Headline: “Let’s Do It Again.”
Then paragraph 5: “If you believe in North Texas as one of the nation’s premier locations to put on a big show and have a great time while doing it, you’re darn right it was.”
Well, gild the lily.
The editorial then admitted to all the mess-ups in the North Texas Super Bowl and pleaded for the NFL to ignore the failures. The editorial begged for the NFL to consider North Texas as a premier site for Super Bowl L, No. 50, in 2016. That is Jerry Jones’ newest delusion.
And that could be Goodell’s delusion, also.
The NFL is rolling forward at an overdrive speed. It is cutting corners in an economic malaise, with pro football at its peak popularity. Last Sunday’s Super Bowl hit the top rating of any TV show ever. The Nielsen ratings fact-finders announced that the game was viewed by 111 million zealots. The past four Super Bowls fit into the five highest-rated TV shows in the history of the medium, according to Nielsen.
And the NFL with its blunders in North Texas and worse, a possible lockout of the players next month, is racing into a cement wall. Contract meetings with the NFL Players Association and with the NFL owners have been canceled in the few days after the fiasco in Dallas.
This after Goodell’s annual State of the League news conference in Dallas.
“We need to have intense round-the-clock negotiations to address the issues and find a solution,” he told us.
Super Bowl XLV, despite the environment, turned into another colossal pro football game. I’m proud to be one of the nine media survivors — four writers, four photographers and the head of NFL films — who have covered all XLV of them.
I just hope there is a Super Bowl XLVI a year from now and hope to cover it.
For the NFL — and for Goodell — it’s a matter of timing and survival.