Spagnola: Let's Take A Golden Walk Down Super Bowl Memory Lane

IRVING, Texas– Everything seems to be turning up Golden these days.

         This is Super Bowl 50, the Golden Anniversary game on Sunday in Santa Clara, Calif., heading back to the state where the very first Super Bowl was played, that one at the L.A. Coliseum down the coast.

         There has been the Golden Anniversary team, one loaded with six Cowboys, including offensive guard Larry Allen, who quite humbly was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame this past Tuesday in Waco, Texas.

         There has been the Golden 50 logos on the NFL fields all season long.

         There is the Gold Collection of apparel being sold.

         So what you say my Golden Memories, having attended 24 Super Bowls during my career. Started Jan. 26, 1986, spending an entire week in New Orleans covering Super Bowl XX between the Chicago Bears and the New England Patriots and last attending Super Bowl XLV five years ago, Feb. 6, 2011, at AT&T Stadium.

         What a ride it's been, the games, the plays, the people, the personal experiences. Why, tickets to Super Bowl I, then known as the NFL-AFL Championship Game, cost $12. By the time I bought a ticket to Super Bowl XX they were selling for $75. When I last bought a ticket to Super Bowl XXX, Jan. 28, 1996, in Tempe, Ariz., they were $300. And now, wow, face value ranged between $850 and $1,800.

         And nice touch by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell Friday afternoon during his annual state of the NFL address for introducing Norma Hunt, wife of the late Lamar Hunt, owner of the Kansas City Chiefs and AFL pioneer. Mrs. Hunt will be attending her 50th Super Bowl on Sunday, truly Golden.

         So let's take a short ride down my Super Bowl memory lane.

*        Super Bowl XX, Jan, 26, 1986, New Orleans: Bears 46, Patriots 16*: Sticking out more than the game was a mid-week side-trip to Columbia, Miss., hometown of Bears running back Walter Payton, at that time already the NFL's all-time leading rusher. The idea was to write a story about what was going on in Walter's hometown that week, not all that far from New Orleans. My college roommate and I, who both had previously worked up-state in Jackson, Miss., wandered over to Columbia High School, just to see where Walter had played. Out into the parking lot walks an elderly gentlemen since this was after school hours, approaching us to see what we were doing. Turns out this was Charles Boston, now school principal but back then Walter's high school football coach. By the way, he's the brother of Ralph Boston, the 1960 long jump Olympic Gold Medalist in Rome and the first man to reach 27 feet.

         Mr. Boston was on his way home, told us he didn't want to make his wife mad, so invited us to come on over to the house to continue speaking about Walter. We did. Gosh, his wife wanted to feed us, first thing. But Mr. Boston fed us with a lifetime of Walter Payton stories, how the kids in the neighborhood played in the field next to their house, how the kids used to buy their penny candy in what used to be a store across the street and how he was the one to convince Walter to play football instead of just the drums in the marching band.

He also told us how Walter Payton's great talents and personality went a long way toward smoothing over the tensions created at Columbia High that first year of integration in the Mississippi public school systems. Yes, the purity of sports and the football team's sudden success bringing the previously segregated student body together. That day turned out far better than the game.

*        Super Bowl XXIII, Jan 22, 1989, South Florida: 49ers 20, Bengals 16:*Yes, I got to witness in person "The Drive," Joe Montana, with 3:10 left to play and the Bengals leading 16-13, taking the 49ers 92 yards for the winning score, throwing a 10-yard touchdown pass with 34 seconds left to, not Jerry Rice, but John Taylor. On the way back to Miami after the game, from our buses, we could still see the flames in the Overtown section of the city where riots had taken place the previous week.

*        Super Bowl XXV, Jan. 27, 1991, Tampa, Fla.: Giants 20, Bills 19:* Even more so than Scott Norwood's "wide right" on his 47-yard field-goal attempt as time was expiring, even more so than former Cowboys cornerback Everson Walls winning a Super Bowl ring in his first season after being cut by the Cowboys, were these: With Gulf War tensions high, there were huge military helicopters flying over the stadium pregame, with manned guns poking out the open side doors.

That, and chasing after Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson all week as he was conducting an offensive coordinator search to replace Dave Shula. He already had interviewed two or three candidates, and having tired of us reporters dogging him, he came down his hotel elevator on like Thursday to tell us to relax, go cover the Super Bowl, have fun, that he wasn't going to do anything that week. He didn't, until soon after hiring some Rams wide receivers coach named Norval Turner.

*        Super Bowl XXVI, Jan. 26, 1992, Minneapolis: Redskins 37, Bills 24:* Cold. Severely cold. The Super Bowl logo ice sculpture outside the NFL host hotel never melted. Not one drop. But as myself and my former Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger teammate and best friend departed the postgame reception, out walks Atlanta head coach Jerry Glanville. We struck up a conversation. The Falcons had drafted Southern Mississippi quarterback Brett Favre that year, 33rd pick overall (second round) and my buddy Rick, whose dad had been the SID at Southern Miss, couldn't help but ask Glanville about Favre's future. Did he think Favre could play in the league? Glanville said, something to the effect that Brett has to understand all of his partying needs to end each week by Wednesday. Like two weeks later, the Falcons traded Favre to the Packers for a first-round pick.

*        Super Bowl XXVII, Jan. 31, 1993, Los Angeles: Cowboys 52, Bills 17:* This could be a book. Let's start here: People outside Dallas didn't understand how good the Cowboys were, most saying they were still a year away, even after going on the road in the NFC title game to beat San Francisco, 30-20. The beautiful day at the Rose bowl. The chilling flyover. The Bills blocked Mike Saxon's punt on the Cowboys' first possession that led to a Bills touchdown. Michael Jackson's halftime performance. Leon Lett after the fact. Ken Norton's third-down, goal-line tackle of Bills running back Kenneth Davis, setting up Thomas Everett's end-zone interception the next play.

Most of all, this: I was the AFC Pool Reporter that year, watching and then writing a very sanitized report on the Bills' practices at Southern Cal for the entire media. Instead of worrying about stopping Emmitt Smith, seemed Bills officials were more worried about someone spying on their practices, to the point one day of having the high-dive at the nearby campus swimming pool closed and wanting the balconies at the nearby dormitory shut down. Should have worried more about stopping Troy Aikman.

*        Super Bowl XXVIII, Jan. 30, 1994, Atlanta: Cowboys 30, Bills 13:* Yep, fourth straight Super Bowl defeat for the Bills. So here goes: First, with the game tied 13-13 in the third quarter, Emmitt Smith's 15-yard touchdown run up the middle, where it seemed he parted the Red Sea, his seventh carry for 61 yards on the eight-play, 64-yard drive that broke the game open. And I know Emmitt finished with 30 carries for 132 yards and two touchdowns to win the MVP award, but had I had a vote, it would have gone to safety James Washington, who had a forced fumble, a 46-yard return of a Leon Lett forced fumble for a touchdown to tie the game at 13 in the first minute of the third quarter and then later an interception. Not bad for a former starter who had been relegated to a nickel safety that season.

  *      Super Bowl XXX, Jan, 28, 1996, Tempe, Ariz.: Cowboys 27, Steelers 17:* Of course, Larry Brown's game-saving interceptions with the Cowboys wilting in the second half, nearly 20 years ago to the day of Sunday's game. But foremost, the locker room after the game. Celebration, OK, but the scene was more one of relief. The Cowboys had survived, not only the Super Bowl that they just had to win after losing the chance the previous season to become the only team to win three consecutive Super Bowls when losing the NFC title game to San Francisco, 38-28, but also a season of turmoil. I mean the assistant coaches were strewn out on the floor in their portion of the locker room, still in their undergarments, and as I said then, looking like a bunch of boat people who had just landed ashore alive. Same for many of the players. Let Darren Woodson explain:

            "And it was the same thing with the players, there wasn't a celebration in the locker room, the normal celebration that we had in '92 and '93 being the Super Bowl champs. You know those were good times. That celebration in '95 was … I remember sitting there with seven or eight of the defensive backs and we're all in a circle and we're just sitting there on the bench thanking God the season was over with. I wasn't even thinking about a Super Bowl ring at the time. I was just thinking about what am I going to do in this offseason? How far away from this team am I going to be? Because I needed to get away as far as I possibly could for a short period of time."

         Super Bowl XXXIII, Jan. 31, 1999, South Florida: Broncos 34, Falcons 19: Pool Reporter that time for the NFC team, getting to know much better Falcons head coach Dan Reeves, the former Cowboys running back and assistant coach. During practice that week the Falcons were using an offensive guard at fullback. I thought that was common practice and put that in the pool report. Oh my, was Reeves hot. Not at me initially, but the Falcons beat writer for writing that in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Dan didn't understand the guy had to, and even though I apologized and fell on my sword, he continued to say, "OK, fine, but he should have known better." Dan was a stubborn guy. Well, the Falcons got smoked, the game not as close as the score might suggest. As he walked into the postgame press conference, our paths crossed, we made eye contact and he said with this little smirk, "Well, I guess the fullback didn't have anything to do with that." My tight smile muffled my laughter.

*        Super Bowl XLIV, Feb. 7, 2010, South Florida: Saints 31, Colts 17:* Sort of a kindred spirit with those Saints, after dealing with head coach Sean Payton all those years while he was an assistant in Dallas. I grew up during the Aints history, a suffering bunch of fans those good folks in Louisiana, and there was something cathartic to see them win their first Super Bowl. The auxiliary press box was basically a section in the stands that night, I mean as if you were right there with the fans. And when Tracy Porter sealed the game with that 74-yard interception return for a touchdown, the Saints fans in the stands didn't know what to do, celebrate or cry. They did both, very emotional. Pretty moving to see.

*        Super Bowl XLV, Feb. Feb. 6, 2011: North Texas, Packers 31, Steelers 25:* A flood of memories for sure. First Super Bowl in North Texas, despite the Cowboys history. The midweek ice storm paralyzing Dallas-Fort Worth. (Nearly five years to the day Saturday the temperatures are expected to be in the mid-50s, go figure.) The transportation nightmare, affecting the ability to finish the seating at AT&T Stadium. Working with the Super Bowl Committee, along with contributing to the book, Super Bowl Texas Style, documenting the entire event. One of the great pleasures was writing the stories of the three local media members honored that week for their long and distinguished contributions in the media world: Dan Jenkins, Frank Luksa and Pat Summerall. A shame, but Frank and Pat have since passed away.

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         So Sunday marks 30 years of intimate Super Bowl history for me since attending that first one, Super Bowl XX in New Orleans, though having sat there back on Jan, 15, 1967, watching that very first one with my dad, 49 Super Bowls ago. A long time ago that doesn't seem that long. And so here we go on Sunday, the 50th Super Bowl, Broncos-Panthers, indeed only scratching the surface all of these Golden memories coming my way.

         How lucky can a guy be?   

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