The Super Bowl turns 50 on Sunday, having grown from a mid-’60s curiosity into a national obsession. We asked three columnists, two staff writers and two former Vikings beat writers to shake their notebooks and see what memories would fall out. And did they ever.
Click the links to jump directly to a specific set of memories
Sid Hartman: The early days | Patrick Reusse: Legends, music and all-time one-liners | Mark Craig: Wardrobe malfunctions and hospital visits | Kevin Seifert: Don't forget to look up | Jim Klobuchar: Four Vikings trips, four losses | Kent Youngblood: Reporter, interrupted | Jim Souhan: From curious observer to veteran status
Star Tribune sports columnist
Super Bowl I (Green Bay 35, Kansas City 10) Jan. 15, 1967; Los Angeles Coliseum: The first game, there was nobody there. The Los Angeles Coliseum is huge, and I’d say there were maybe 20,000 left at the end. The game meant nothing. No parties, no nothing. Just a football game.
Max McGee ended up being the hero of the game by catching two touchdown passes, but he didn’t think he was going to play. The night before the game, I went with a couple of Packers guys to a bar in Los Angeles and saw McGee. Supposedly he stayed out all night. When Boyd Dowler got hurt early in the game, McGee replaced him.
Super Bowl IV (Kansas City 23, Vikings 7) Jan. 11, 1970; Tulane Stadium: The game was in New Orleans, and they were starting to do it up pretty big, at least with all the stuff before the game. There was a race with hot air balloons, one of them was marked NFL and the other one was marked AFL, and the NFL one crashed into the stands. That was kind of like the Vikings on that day. They just didn’t play very well. Everyone remembers Chiefs coach Hank Stram was wired for sound for the game and they have played that stuff ever since, with Stram laughing at the Vikings. The Vikings took that loss really hard, boy.
Super Bowl VIII (Miami 24, Vikings 7) Jan. 13, 1974; Rice Stadium: In Houston, the Vikings practiced at a high school and the Dolphins practiced in the Houston Oilers’ facility. Vikings coach Bud Grant (left) was really upset. There were birds flying around the locker room. There were no lockers, the players just hung their stuff up on nails and hooks. He told the reporters that it wasn’t even fit for a junior high team. The league got mad at Grant for complaining and fined him $5,000. As far as the game, Miami was a dominating team. They were undefeated the year before. I almost didn’t make it into the game. I rode over on the team bus, and Fran Tarkenton and Grady Alderman locked me in the bathroom on the bus.
Super Bowl IX (Pittsburgh 16, Vikings 6) Jan. 12, 1975; Tulane Stadium: The Vikings had a hotel by the airport that people said was the NFL getting revenge for them complaining about the year before. Anyway, Howard Cosell came out to the Vikings hotel to do some interviews, and they set them up down by the swimming pool. Wally Hilgenberg and Alan Page went out on a balcony and dumped some trash cans full of water on Cosell. He was interviewing Fran Tarkenton at the time, and Tarkenton got out of the way, but the water hit Cosell and knocked his toupee sideways. A lot of people think Cosell had it in for the Vikings after that.
Super Bowl XI (Oakland 32, Vikings 14) Jan. 9, 1977; Rose Bowl: The night before the game I roomed with Grant at the hotel. Bud ate about three gallons of ice cream that night. Bud liked ice cream. I knew Al Davis, the Oakland owner, real well from when he worked for Sid Gillman. I was the only media guy who could watch the Vikings practice, and Davis was bugging me for a scouting report. I told him, and I don’t know why I said it, that the Vikings think they can block a punt.
The Raiders had the great punter, Ray Guy, who had never had a punt blocked. Sure enough, Fred McNeill blocked a punt and the Vikings got the ball at the Oakland 3-yard line early in the game. But Brent McClanahan fumbled the ball away, and Oakland just dominated after that.
Star Tribune sports columnist
The one Super Bowl that I covered that included the Vikings was on Jan. 12, 1975. It was cold in New Orleans, the Superdome was not yet complete, and the game was played in Tulane Stadium.
Truth be told, the game had been preceded by a few thirsty nights in the French Quarter, including on the Saturday before the game. The kickoff time on Sunday was 2 p.m., and the recommendation for media was to get on a bus to the stadium many hours earlier.
Pat Thompson had been my roommate as the St. Paul newspapers tried to save a few bucks in covering the event. Pat returned to the room one night and apparently found me in a deep slumber after several hours of imbibing.
Mr. Thompson taped my thunderous snoring and would replay this on request in press boxes for several years to come.
There was a more embarrassing moment as we arrived at the stadium at midmorning on Sunday. This was the double-knit days and I noticed a dastardly thread on the sports coat that I was wearing.
I started asking other media members on the uncrowded bus if they had a fingernail clipper, which would be used to snip the thread. I wasn’t at my sharpest, still shaking off the effects of an evening that had ended around 4 a.m., and finally asked Bruce Bennett if he had a fingernail clipper.
As a sportswriter, Bruce was my first boss at the Duluth News Tribune. I admired Bruce greatly, but he wasn’t the best fellow to ask this question for this reason: Bruce as born with arms that ended at his elbows, and had overcome this obstacle with amazing determination and adaptation.
But, “No,” my former boss Bruce said firmly, he did not have a fingernail clipper.
With the legends
I was 29 and working in obscurity at the St. Paul newspapers. Upon entrance into the rickety Tulane Stadium press box, I looked at the seating chart and found my name listed in the third row, between Red Smith of the New York Times and Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times.
Smith was then and will remain for eternity the smoothest wordsmith in the history of American sportswriting. And Murray will have the distinction as the greatest when it came to one-liners.
It was more than two hours to kickoff, so I shot the breeze with fellow Minnesota reporters for quite some time and then made my way toward the seat. There was Smith on the left and Murray on the right.
As I pulled out my assigned chair, I nodded to these magnificent scribes and said, “Here we are, gentlemen, three of the greatest sportswriters of all-time.”
Red Smith laughed. Jim Murray did not.
The music man
The first Super Bowl that I covered as a columnist was Oakland vs. Philadelphia on Jan. 25, 1981 — this time in the Superdome in New Orleans.
The Raiders were sensational during the interviews that took place leading to the game. They were goofy as interviewees, and then great as players, in beating the Eagles 27-10. But this was the highlight: At the Super Bowl party on Friday night at New Orleans’ convention center, I was able to maneuver to within 10 feet of the little stage where Count Basie played the piano as Joe Williams sang the blues.
You can quote me
The Raiders were back in the Super Bowl, representing Los Angeles, and getting ready to play defending champion Washington on Jan. 22, 1984, in Raymond James Tampa Stadium.
Matt Millen was a standout linebacker for the Raiders. Later, he became the worst general manager in the history of professional sports with the Detroit Lions, and today he’s the most inane analyst in college football, but back then he was among the many quipsters employed by the Raiders.
The players were assigned to tables in a hotel ballroom for interview sessions during the week. The fantastic Dick Schaap was circulating around the room, accompanied by a TV crew with a boom mike.
Schaap waited politely for a turn to ask a question and then said to Millen: “[Washington’s] Russ Grimm said he would beat up his mother to win this Super Bowl. What would you do to win this game?
Without hesitation, Millen said: “I would beat up Russ Grimm’s mother, too.”
Schaap nodded, said, “Thank you, Matt,” and resumed his journey around the room with the boom mike in tow.
San Diego was a first-time host for the Super Bowl on Jan. 31, 1988. Washington put on an otherworldly offensive display in the second quarter, scoring 35 points and creating a 42-10 rout of Denver.
Doug Williams was the star and somewhat historic as the first black starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl.
This stadium still exists in San Diego as Qualcomm. Even then, it was ill-equipped as a facility to handle all the extras attached to the Super Bowl, particularly the media crunch.
There were hundreds of us standing outside a gate after the game, waiting to get inside for interviews. It was six lanes of traffic trying to squeeze into two lanes, and media types aren’t exactly proponents of the zipper merge.
It was all the sportswriters, TV reporters and camera people for themselves when the gate opened. There was elbowing and shouldering and, suddenly, even a stout fellow as myself was pushed toward a side wall.
And the gentleman I almost was pushed into was Eddie Robinson, the legendary coach for whom Williams had played at Grambling. I had interviewed Eddie previously, so I said, “Hey, coach, how about that Doug Williams?”
As my peers continued to grapple toward the interview area, I was getting my column through a casual 10-minute conversation with a proud Eddie Robinson.
Bottom line: It is better to be lucky than good as a sportswriter, particularly when covering the madness of a Super Bowl.
Star Tribune NFL writer
From covering 12 Super Bowls, I remember …
• The halftime buzz sweeping through Houston’s Reliant Stadium press box when Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” merged with the infancy of social media to upstage Adam Vinatieri’s game-winning field goal with four seconds left in Super Bowl XXXVIII.
• Being in awe of Bill Belichick’s mind manipulation skills when overhearing Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel say in the Super Bowl XXXIX winning locker room that “nobody gave us any respect.” The main story line that week: How the Patriots became an NFL dynasty.
• Seahawks tight end Jerramy Stevens, A) Telling reporters it would be a “sad day” when Steelers running back Jerome Bettis didn’t win the Super Bowl in his career finale in his hometown of Detroit; B) Drawing the considerable ire of Steelers linebacker Joey Porter and, C) Dropping three key passes as the Bus ended his Hall of Fame career with a Super Bowl win at Ford Field in 2006.
• Prince conducting the best midweek Super Bowl “news conference” ever by giving the appearance of a traditional Q&A session before breaking into a jam session (do people still say jam session?) leading up to his fantastic Super Bowl XLI halftime show on a rainy night in South Florida.
• Not typing David Tyree’s name all week until he made the wildest catch in Super Bowl history, trapping the ball against his helmet while falling and being tackled on a deep ball that set the stage for the Giants’ last-minute upset of the 18-0 Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
• Sitting next to legendary Miami Herald sportswriter Edwin Pope in Tampa for Super Bowl XLIII and hearing the man who had covered every Super Bowl declare James Harrison’s 100-yard interception return for a touchdown “the greatest play in Super Bowl history.”
• Saints cornerback Tracy Porter doing to Peyton Manning in Super Bowl XLIV what he did to Brett Favre two weeks earlier in the NFC Championship Game. Only worse.
• Watching Dallas crippled by snow and ice during the week of Super Bowl XLV and leaving the Jerry Dome thinking how fortunate the Super Bowl champion Packers were to replace Brett Favre with a guy who’s even better than Brett Favre.
• Adding another chapter to my shellfish-allergy horror story with a cab ride to the Tulane medical center in New Orleans, where I sat unnoticed until I turned sort of a fluorescent red. After a Benadryl-induced nap in the back room, I cabbed it back to the hotel around 2 a.m. with a column idea for what it’s like to cover Super Bowl XLVII in a city that’s trying to kill me.
• Trusting only one chef in New Orleans after the ER visit: Ronald McDonald.
• Capping the week in New Orleans sitting in a darkened Superdome, hoping the 34-minute power outage was nothing more sinister than a simple 34-minute power outage.
• Being plenty warm enough to walk around Times Square and even get a photo with Big Bird the night before Super Bowl XLVIII. He charged five bucks and spoke fewer words than the Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch did that week.
• Being back in Phoenix for Super Bowl XLIX and being amazed once again at how well the Patriots handle whichever “Gate” controversy they find themselves neck deep in at the moment. Only New England could have taken the air completely out of “Deflategate” before Super Bowl media day.
Former Star Tribune Vikings beat writer
I covered seven Super Bowls for the Star Tribune, visiting some of the best cities in the country for one of the biggest sporting events in the world. And if I have any regrets — sorry, former bosses — it is that I spent far too much time doing my job and made almost no effort to soak up and experience the world around me.
There was one occasion, however, when I had no choice.
On Feb. 3, 2002, I was sitting next to colleague Kent Youngblood in the Superdome press box. The New England Patriots led the St. Louis Rams 14-3 at halftime, and I started writing what was then known as a “running” game story for early editions. I was one person who welcomed the extended halftime at Super Bowls; it gave me more time to write without missing any of the game.
I paid no attention as the halftime band set up and started playing. I didn’t realize the show was underway, in fact, until I heard my guy Youngblood tapping the press table to the beat (or close to it). I looked up, and there was U2 belting out “Beautiful Day.”
I was about to go back to writing when a banner unfurled behind the band. It read, “September 11, 2001,” and as U2 continued its set, the names of every single person killed in the 9/11 attacks were projected onto it.
It was the simplest but most moving memorial to the victims that I had seen. For six minutes, as U2 moved from “MLK” to “Where the Streets Have No Name,” name after name appeared on the banner. I knew that nearly 3,000 people had died in the attacks. I understood intellectually that it was a big and tragic number, but something about the way the names kept flowing down the banner that night took my breath away and consumed the remainder of my time to write “running.” It imposed a true sense of loss in the way that a simple number never could.
The opportunity to watch that halftime show in person remains one of the most evocative moments I’ve experienced. It was a reminder that the Super Bowl is about much more than a game, and it was a true life lesson: Look up every once in a while.
Former Star Tribune Vikings writer and columnist
Mercifully, the Vikings are spared another Super Bowl.
On Sunday, the National Football League makes its annual presentation of what America has generally accepted as the Holy Grail of the television arts, the Super Bowl.
Millions will watch on television. Most of the viewers will survive the halftime entertainment. For followers of the Vikings, there will undoubtedly be a few spasms of regret that their favorites could not be part of the show.
Please accept some well-intended consolation.
The Vikings’ history in the Super Bowl as it existed then, without today’s hysteria and overkill, offers scary precedents. I can tell you this as a witness to all four of their appearances in the years when I wrote pro football for the Minneapolis newspaper. I share the memories of the players with respect — Carl Eller, Jim Marshall, Alan Page, Fran Tarkenton, Ron Yary, Jeff Siemon, Chuck Foreman, Wally Hilgenberg, Bill Brown, Mick Tingelhoff, Paul Dickson, Ahmad Rashad and so many more.
And of course the coaches, Bud Grant, Jerry Burns and more. Some of these folks eventually were voted into pro football’s Hall of Fame. But in the Super Bowl, not so much. In fact blotto. It didn’t really matter who they played. It was a sort of equal opportunity hour for their opponents.
The Vikings’ pratfalls in the Super Bowl eventually took on what seemed like a cosmic inevitability. Siemon, the linebacker, and I later put together a book looking for some rationalization for all of this, but found no answers to the glum reality; the Vikings played in the Super Bowl against four different opponents in the 1970s and lost to Kansas City 23-7, to Miami 24-7, to Pittsburgh 16-6 and to Oakland 32-14. The worst was Oakland. With the game still scoreless in the first quarter, Fred McNeill blocked a punt and the Vikings took over on the Raiders 3-yard line. Two plays later, they tried a handoff up the middle. Result: a lost fumble by Brent McClanahan and the Vikings were never in it the rest of the way.
None of which alienated the Minnesota fans back home, scores of them, still imbued with the quality later defined as Minnesota Nice. They met the Vikings on their return from the loss to Oakland in impressive numbers. Grant thanked them for their loyalty and paused to answer a few questions. Somebody asked him why the team seemed to have so much trouble in the Super Bowl.
Grant weighed this reasonable question and, being Bud the pragmatist as always, answered: “Sometimes the other guys are better.”
Most fans, being fans, found this answer candid but unacceptable.
Grant was old school to the core. He was also no man to forgive a lippy opponent. When his team lost to Kansas City his coaching opponent, Hank Stram, was caught on a mike gloating about the Vikings defense running around like a Chinese fire drill.
Several years later, in the final game of the 1974 season in Kansas City, the Vikings had the game won in the fourth quarter. Stram was in trouble with Chiefs ownership, having a miserable season. Grant kept his war horses on the field and scored at every opportunity to win 35-15. A few months later, Stram was out of a job.
But this is another era and pro football is soaked in popularity ratings. The NFL needs first to deal with the concussion issue and soon, because it has also become a dangerous game. Yet it has special moments of gratification for some of its earlier witnesses and chroniclers.
There has to be room, in any summing up of Vikings history, for the contribution of Francis Tarkenton. Despite the quality of his quarterbacking, Tarkenton was not the most popular with the crowds and the occasional critic when he played with the Vikings. He was quick with opinions and not bashful about defending them. From his first days with the Vikings, he roomed with a late arrival named Mick Tingelhoff, who spoke quietly but played hard and became the starting center.
They roomed together for years, seldom needed any excitement or shows on the road, talked a lot and developed a mutual respect. Mick handled his job, snapped the ball to his friend and sometimes threw an unscripted block for another offensive lineman who was having trouble holding his own block.
Years after Tarkenton was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1986, Tingelhoff, now ailing, was nominated for the Hall of Fame. Tarkenton made phone calls to Hall electors and visited some in person, lobbying for his old friend.
In 2015, Mick Tingelhoff was voted into the Hall of Fame.
Star Tribune reporter
Two years after parlaying his job coordinating the Vikings’ explosive 1998 offense into a head coaching job in Baltimore, Brian Billick had the Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa.
So I was doing a story on Billick and, because I’d gotten to know him well during that 1998 season, he agreed to give me a one-on-one interview the Thursday of Super Bowl week. He was going to do his news conference in a large tent, then he was going to meet me behind the tent.
He finished, walked out the back and we started talking. I was about 45 seconds into the interview when Sid Hartman came barreling around the corner, his huge tape recorder in hand. He hurried up to us, pushed me out of the way and started doing his own interview. The good-natured Billick answered Sid’s questions, then gave me some more time. Just further proof that it’s dangerous to get in Mr. Hartman’s way.
The day before the game, the Hall of Fame Class had just been announced. The big news for the Minnesota media was that former Vikings tackle Ron Yary finally had made his way into the Hall along with Nick Buoniconti, Marv Levy, Mike Munchak, Jackie Slater, Lynn Swann and Jack Youngblood.
Well, I worked all day on the Yary story, filed it, and went back to my hotel room to find my voice mail absolutely filled. Seems many folks thought the Youngblood staying at the media hotel in Tampa was the former Rams great.
Jack Youngblood Kent Youngblood (ca. 1998)
There were a bunch of interview requests from radio stations around the country, a number of congratulatory messages from fans and even some former players. It gave me a little insight into how the other half lives.
Star Tribune sports columnist
Super Bowl V: The first Super Bowl I can remember watching on TV. I was 7. We watched all big football games in the basement rec room of my Dad’s work buddy. There were fish tanks. The game was boring.
Super Bowl VI: The first Super Bowl that interested me. I was 8. Roger Staubach scrambling became my template for what football should be, and what quarterbacking should be. Still is.
Super Bowl VII: Dolphins kicker Gary Yepremian’s ill-fated improvised pass that wound up being intercepted and returned for a touchdown became the first hint that something silly could happen in a big football game.
Super Bowl X: The first Super Bowl that hinted that Super Bowls could be epic. Lynn Swann’s play led a Steelers comeback and broke the heart of a young football fan who didn’t know better than to care about the Cowboys.
Super Bowl XXIV: This was the first Super Bowl I covered. A young sportswriter at his first Super Bowl in New Orleans, covering people like Montana and Elway? The week was better than the game. Pro tip: If you’ve eaten a lot of jambalaya and imbibed a bit, don’t eat the mint on the hotel pillow. There were ramifications.
Super Bowl XXV: The second Super Bowl I covered. The previous year I had hung out with former Cowboy Everson Walls in New Orleans. He was looking for a job. The veteran cornerback would sign on with Bill Parcells and the Giants and Walls would help Jeff Hostetler and Parcells pull off one of the greatest upsets in Super Bowl history, 20-19, over the Bills. I actually picked the Giants to win by one. Which should have been wrong, but apparently sometimes NFL kickers miss makable field goals at the end of games.
Super Bowl XXVI: The third Super Bowl I covered would be played at the Metrodome. I spent a couple of weeks following Washington and legendary coach Joe Gibbs, who would win his third Super Bowl in Minnesota.
One day a reporter asked him why he still slept in his office. Gibbs pretended he didn’t. The reporter then asked why Gibbs’ car was the only one in the parking lot still under snow. Gibbs: “Ya got me.’’ My fellow football writers raved about Minnesota hospitality.
Super Bowl XXXIX: Jacksonville tried to prove it was a great host city for a Super Bowl. Nobody bought it. Even Jacksonville’s stadium seemed ugly and outdated. The game, though, turned dramatic. Tom Brady threw touchdown passes to David Givens and Mike Vrabel, as if to accentuate the lack of receiving talent around him. Future Viking Donovan McNabb led a 13-play, 79- yard touchdown drive that consumed 3:52 of the final 5:40 of the fourth quarter. It was Andy Reid in a nutshell: Able to produce yards and points but terrible at clock management. The Patriots would kill most of the remaining clock before punting to the Eagles’ 4 and holding on.
Super Bowl XXVII: My first trip to the Rose Bowl. I had covered Dave Wannstedt as the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator, and I bumped into him with a bunch of Dallas writers at a hotel bar during the week. The conversation was off the record, but he left little doubt that his team would win in a blowout. Final: Dallas 52, Buffalo 17. The Rose Bowl, in the late-afternoon California sun, looked like a painting.
Super Bowl XXXIV: After a cold, ugly week in Atlanta, we saw a stunning game, with Kurt Warner throwing a 73-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Bruce to take the lead late in the fourth quarter, and Rams linebacker Mike Jones making a game-saving tackle of Kevin Dyson just short of the goal line on the last play of the game.
Super Bowl XLI: I sat in the rain in Miami (Sunrise, actually), to watch Peyton Manning win his only Super Bowl. Long after the game, Colts center Jeff Saturday talked at his locker about Manning insisting, during slow portions of practice, that Saturday get a bucket of water, dip footballs into it, and snap them to Manning. What he called the “wet ball drill’’ helped Manning, a dome quarterback, deal with slick conditions in Florida. I asked Archie Manning about it. “Huh,’’ he said. “I’ve never even heard of that.’’
Super Bowl XLVII: After another wonderful week in New Orleans, where I believe all Super Bowls should be held, the lights went out at the Superdome and the Harbaugh brothers’ teams waged a classic, with the Ravens’ defense holding on in the red zone at the end. Afterward, knowing how poorly the Superdome elevators work, I sprinted from the top of the stadium to the basement on the stadium’s old ramps and got there just in time to see Matt Birk walking off the field, his forehead creased and marked, blood covering his jersey.
I talked to him for 20 minutes then sprinted up the ramps to beat deadline with my favorite Super Bowl story.
Super Bowl XLVIII: Any play can lose a Super Bowl. The Broncos snapped the ball into the end zone for a safety on the first play from scrimmage. On their first second down of the game, Peyton Manning threw over the middle to star receiver Demaryius Thomas. It was the kind of routine play that helped the Broncos’ offense set records. This time, Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor rushed up and smashed Thomas, holding him to a 2-yard gain. Another completion, to Julius Thomas, wound up short of the first down marker and the Seahawks were on their way to a blowout.
Super Bowl XLIX: The Patriots’ Malcolm Butler won the game with a goal-line interception. Now I was standing in front of his locker, waiting for him to finish television interviews, so I could ask him about his life.
He told me about playing at West Alabama, about going undrafted, about how he had gotten beaten for a touchdown on a similar play in practice and Bill Belichick had told him how to play the pass the next time. When we finished talking, he told the gathering crowd to back up. “Can I please put on my pants?’’ he said.