Monday, January 17, 2011

The Stupor Bowl

In the early years of the Super Bowl, the winner tended to be known pretty early in the game.

Sometimes the score alone told you how lopsided the game had been. Sometimes the score appeared to be competitive, but if you had watched the game, you knew how deceptive that kind of appearance could be.

Super Bowl V, which was played between the Baltimore Colts and the Dallas Cowboys on this day in Miami 40 years ago, went right down to the wire.

I don't remember if I knew the Super Bowl would be played that day. I probably did. I was collecting football cards in those days, and I may have known.

But if I did know it was Super Bowl Sunday, I probably expected to watch the game with my father and maybe a few of the neighborhood kids, with whom I recall playing a game of touch football on our country road upon my family's return from church.

In those days, Super Bowls, like more than 90% of pro football games at that time, were played during the daylight hours. I don't remember what time the game began, but you can tell, in the attached clip, that the sun was shining brightly when Jim O'Brien's last–second field goal won the game for Baltimore so my best guess is that the game must have kicked off around 1 or 2 p.m. Central time.

My father was a college professor, and on that day, some of his students came over. In hindsight, I can only presume that my parents invited them over. My father had recently purchased a color television, and I guess he wanted to show it off a little.

At the time, though, I'm not sure what I thought. My brother and I were acquainted with many of my father's students. They had been to our home before to help my father landscape our property.

My father taught religion which required him to be ordained; as such, he sometimes performed the marriage ceremonies for his students, and it seems to me that perhaps one or two of the couples he married were there that day.

Perhaps my mother served snacks to the visitors, but I have no memory of that. I certainly don't remember anything like a party, just a group of people gathered in our living room to watch the football game. It wasn't a terribly large living room, either.

The neighborhood kids and I joined my parents and the guests to watch the game, which was sloppy but close. How sloppy was it? The two teams combined for nearly a dozen turnovers, setting a Super Bowl record. Seven of those turnovers were made by the winning team, setting a record for a winning squad. The Cowboys committed 10 penalties, yet another record.

Most of the time, the Super Bowl MVP award goes to an offensive player — often a quarterback although it has sometimes gone to a running back or a wide receiver. In fact, the first four Super Bowl MVPs were all quarterbacks.

But Super Bowl V was an exception. It was the first of only seven times that a defensive player won the award.

And it is the only time that a member of the losing team won the award.

Maybe that's the real penalty you pay for committing seven turnovers and still winning the game. You must forfeit the MVP. But the truth was that no one on the Colts, not even the great Johnny Unitas, played well enough to be recognized as the most valuable player.

Not surprisingly, some folks dubbed the game the "Stupor Bowl."

Mom might well have served something that afternoon. She often entertained guests in our home and frequently served things she had prepared herself. I was particularly fond of mini–meatballs she made and served in a kind of barbecue sauce.

Cooking was just one of her many talents — but that's another story.

I can't say that I remember if there were any such snacks in the house that afternoon. If there were, I probably gave them no more thought than I did on any other occasion when there were people in the house.

And, in four decades, I can't really say I've given much more thought than that to Super Bowl V. Today, I remember only two things clearly about that game — Jim O'Brien's last–second, game–winning field goal from a rather pedestrian distance of 32 yards, and the Cowboys and Colts swarming after a loose football that kept squirting away from everyone in a play that looked more like a slapstick routine than a clip from a champioinship game.

As I understand it, the Colts' Bubba Smith still refuses to wear the ring he won that day because he was so embarrassed by the team's performance. It's the only Super Bowl ring he won during his playing days, but he won't wear it. I doubt that anyone has argued with him about it. He's a big man. Maybe they'll slip the ring on his finger when they're about to bury him.

And Chuck Howley, the only man from a losing team (so far) to win a Super Bowl MVP award, turned it down. I don't know what they'll do with that after Howley passes.

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