14 Super Bowl Sideshows and Subplots

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At Super Bowl XV in New Orleans -- my first Super Bowl -- wildman defensive lineman John Matuszak of the Oakland Raiders nominated himself as a most unlikely Bourbon Street chaperone.

"I'm going to see that there's no funny business," The Tooz said. "I've had enough parties for 20 people's lifetimes. I'll keep our young fellows out of trouble."

A day later, Matuszak didn't just break curfew. He shattered it, rolling in at 3 a.m.

Dick Vermeil, the coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, Oakland's opponent, said he would've sent Matuszak home immediately if The Tooz played for him.

"Wednesday night is my normal night to go out, so I went out, curfew or no curfew," Matuszak said. "I'll pay my fine. I walked out the front door. I had nothing to hide.

"Some guy said he heard the club had hired deputies to stand guard and try to stop me. If I want to go out, I go out. I don't care what kind of deputies they have. Vermeil can't understand that. Hey, use your head, buddy. I couldn't play for him in a million years, and I wouldn't want to."

Vermeil never saw the big picture as a coach. Once, during a workout at the Eagles' practice field in Philadelphia, Vermeil got frustrated with construction workers building a stage for a Rolling Stones concert. Hammers. Saws. The noise was a distraction. As a joke, we asked him if he were a fan of the Rolling Stones -- knowing full well Vermeil had complete tunnel vision about football.

"No," he said, "but my kids read their magazine."

Vermeil put his team through two practices the Tuesday of the Super Bowl. He enforced curfew nightly. He accounted for his players' every waking minute. When they lined up for the Super Bowl introductions, they looked tight. They played tighter.

Meanwhile, the Raiders ran up $15,000 in fines for breaking team rules that week. In the locker room before the game, some of them played cards. During the game, others ate peanuts on the sideline. They won easily, 27-10.

Raiders' offensive lineman Gene Upshaw, who would later lead the NFL player's association, told Sports Illustrated, "If (head coach) Tom Flores sent home every guy on his football team who screwed up, he'd be the only guy on the sideline."

No term is more overused during Super Bowl week than "distractions." Coaches preach sermons against them.

"You always have one knucklehead in every group, but you hope that the guys are trusting what you're telling them [about the week]," former Giants coach Jim Fassel told ESPN.com. "That's all you can do in the end. You just have to hope they're listening."

The media gets completely distracted asking about distractions. What we've learned over the years, and what we may find out again in Super Bowl XLVI between New England and the New York Giants is not all distractions are created equal.

14 Super Bowl Sideshows and Subplots

1. At Super Bowl XXXIII, Atlanta defensive back Eugene Robinson was picked up for soliciting oral sex from an undercover female cop the night before the Super Bowl.

It's hard to say what was worse. That Dan Reeves played him anyway. That he gave up a 80-yard TD pass in a lopsided loss to John Elway's Denver Broncos.

Or that a day earlier he'd received the Bart Starr Award for "outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field and in the community."

2. Chiefs' quarterback Len Dawson was linked to a federal gambling investigation the week of Super Bowl IV after a man named Donald Dawson was arrested with $400,000 on him and Len Dawson's phone number on a slip of paper. Turned out the Dawsons were not related and the quarterback was never charged.

But if you had, say, laid money on Dawson not being distracted, you would've won as easily as the Chiefs did over Minnesota. Dawson was the MVP in a 23-7 thrashing of the heavily favored Vikings .

3. At Super Bowl III when Jets quarterback Joe Namath guaranteed a win over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts, it made big news. The supremely confident Namath wasn't just putting on a show for the media. He also didn't shy away from trash talking his opponents in person.

Namath, decked out in a fur coat, spotted Baltimore kicker Lou Michaels in a South Florida restaurant. Namath told him, "We’re gonna kick the --- out of you, and I’m gonna do it," Michaels recalled.

The Jets won, 16-7.

4. At Super Bowl XX, Bears coach Mike Ditka was so worried about Jim McMahon that he threatened to fine McMahon's roommate, Kurt Becker, if the quarterback caused any problems out on the town.

Nice try. A New Orleans media outlet reported that McMahon, in an interview with a Chicago radio station, had said of the people of New Orleans, "The women are sluts and the men are idiots." McMahon never said it. (At least not in a radio interview.)

During the same week, McMahon mooned a helicopter circling over the Bears' practice field.

The Bears, who also brought attention to themselves by making a Super Bowl Shuffle video, blew out New England, 46-10.

5. Green Bay backup Max McGee figured he wouldn't play much behind receivers Boyd Dowler and Carroll Dale. After all, he only caught four passes all year.

So he got drunk the night before Super Bowl I, telling Dowler, "I hope you don't get hurt. I'm not in very good shape." After an injury to Dowler on the second series, McGee borrowed a helmet and rushed into the game. He caught 7 passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns in a 35-10 win over Kansas City.

6. In the same Green Bay-Kansas City Super Bowl, the Chiefs' intimidator, Fred "The Hammer" Williamson predicted mayhem.

"Two hammers to Dowler, one to Dale should be enough," he said.

Williamson was carried off on a stretcher after trying to tackle Green Bay's Donnie Anderson.

7. A year ago, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger took his linemen out to dinner Tuesday night in Dallas. Internet footage of Roethlisberger singing "Piano Man" at a -- you guessed it -- piano bar appeared on TMZ.

It somehow became a Super Bowl week story, I guess because Roethlisberger started the season under suspension after the league looked into allegations he sexually assaulted a woman at a bar in Georgia.

See the connection? No.

Not many people did.

"I'm not concerned one iota," Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin said of Roethlisberger's choice of entertainment. "It's normal for guys to eat dinner, believe it or not. During the course of the season, guys go out on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Believe it or not, guys live lives."

8. Cowboys linebacker Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson tried to get Steelers' quarterback Terry Bradshaw worked up in Super Bowl XIII by saying, "Bradshaw is so dumb he couldn't spell 'cat' if you spotted him the 'C' and the 'A'."

"I may be dumb,'' Bradshaw said. "But I'm not stupid.

Bradshaw threw four TD passes and 318 yards in a 35-31 win. In addressing the incident later, he shrugged and said, "It's football, not rocket science."

9. Bengals fullback Stanley Wilson on Super Bowl Saturday told his teammates he was going back to his room to get his playbook. A Cincinnati coach found him in the bathroom of his hotel room, wasted on cocaine.

He was left off the active roster for Super Bowl XXIII. In a tight game where he might've made the difference, the Bengals lost to San Francisco, 20-16.

10. Buffalo linebacker Darryl Talley should've recognized an omen when he saw it at Super Bowl XXVII. He apparently exchanged words with Magic Johnson at a nightclub in L.A. and got the worst of it from Johnson's bodyguard. Talley denied the exchange turned physical. Whatever happened couldn't come close to matching the hurt the Cowboys put on the Bills in a 52-17 romp.

11. The biggest collector's item in Super Bowl history should be a recording of Bill Parcells telling his Patriots to avoid distractions in Super Bowl XXXI.

Why? Six days before the game, a newspaper story linked Parcells with the Jets head coaching job. Parcells reportedly spent part of Super Bowl week planning his exit and did not fly back with the team after its 35-21 loss to the Packers.

12. In the same Super Bowl, Brett Favre turned heads when spotted with a beer in hand on Bourbon Street. After all, his 1996 rehabilitation from a Vicodin addiction had been public knowledge. Reports had Favre dry heaving before the game, which Favre attributed to nerves. He threw for 246 yards and two touchdowns while running for another score in the Packs' comfortable win.

13. In the biggest AWOL incident since Stanley Wilson, Raiders' Pro Bowl center Barret Robbins went missing in Tijuana the day before Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego.

Robbins, who would later be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, told his wife he'd stopped taking his medication for depression. He said he thought the Raiders had won the Super Bowl and that he was in Tijuana celebrating the victory.

He was left off the active roster. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Raiders, 48-21.

14. After the Redskins lost Super Bowl VII, Washington's Roosevelt Taylor blamed head coach George Allen for his strict, buttoned-down approach.

"He screwed up the whole damned week," Taylor said. "We got there being confined by curfew one night a week during the season. We get out there, and there's curfew every night. We had to eat every meal together, you went to practice together, to the press conferences together.

"George really hated Los Angeles. He got that from George Halas. Halas used to call L.A. the 'sex-pool' of America. George believed it too. So the whole week became a boring thing. Even though we worked hard, the boredom carried over to the game. ... It sure didn't help us."

In 1969, Allen, as head coach of the L.A. Rams, hired the first-ever special teams coach in the NFL.

His name?

Dick Vermeil.

Bud Shaw is a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer who has also written for the Philadelphia Daily News, San Diego Union-Tribune, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The National. You can read his Plain Dealer columns at Cleveland.com, and read all his mental_floss articles here.

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February 2, 2012 - 8:17pm
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