panem et circenses

Pollice Verso by Jean-Léon Gérôme

My first Super Bowl memory comes from January 18, 1976. My beloved Dallas Cowboys led by my boyhood hero, Roger Staubach, were playing in Super Bowl X against the hated Pittsburgh Steelers. I watched the game in a Holiday Inn guest room in Harvey, Illinois. (The family had just moved from Topeka, Kansas to Flossmoor, Illinois. We were staying at the Holiday Inn while renovations were being completed on the parsonage that was to become my “boyhood” home.) It was a close game. Lynn Swann was named MVP; making catches that became part of his career highlight video. Roger made a Hail Mary with three seconds to go that was intercepted in the endzone. Steelers 21. Cowboys 17. And my heart broke.

Two years later, January 15, 1978, in the first Super Bowl played in a dome (Super Bowl XII), my Cowboys rode those Broncos to victory. Cowboys 27. Broncos 10.

January 21, 1979. The year of the Mean Joe Greene ad where Mean Joe turns nice after being handed a Coke by a young fan. The game was another heartbreaker. Super Bowl XIII (unlucky 13). Steelers 35. Cowboys 31. And the Cowboys were never heard from again after the Staubach era ended until another quarterback, Troy Aikman, brought them to the big game fourteen years later.

After 1979 all my attention turned to my hometown team. The Monsters of the Midway. The Chicago Bears.

The date January 26, 1986 in Super Bowl lore could be seen in many lights. Super Bowl XX was the very first appearance in a Super Bowl by the New England Patriots. The first of eleven. It was also the first appearance by the Chicago Bears. The final score was the largest margin of victory in a Super Bowl. Bears 46. Patriots 10. The Fridge took the plunge. Sweetness did not score. The Bears shuffled home, champions.

The most memorable moment of that game came from the pre-game show where Tom Brokaw interviewed President Ronald Reagan. Near the end of the interview Reagan asked Brokaw for a moment of privilege in order to share a football memory of his playing days at Eureka College. The memory Reagan shared was a story that involved himself and his good friend and teammate, Bud Cole, my great uncle. (Catch the story at 6:45.) I still remember how delightfully shocked the family was watching the telecast in the warmth of Siesta Key, Florida.

My interest in the big game has lessened such that I find the use of Roman numerals as a way of numbering the Super Bowls more interesting than any of the actual games. Much has been written about how America’s zeal for the big game mirrors the zeal of the Roman Empire for it’s games. Americans are happy – and easily distracted from what really matters in life – as long as they are served bread and games. I believe there is some truth to the comparison. However, there is A TRUTH when it comes to the Super Bowl…Americans are happiest when the New England Patriots lose.