Saturday, January 15, 2011

January 15, 1967: A Super Bowl

LOS ANGELES - Taken out of context, looking at it just from a standpoint of the quality of the game, the Packers' 35-10 win over Kansas City was not very memorable. Green Bay was expected to have no problem dispatching the Chiefs, and they didn't. The Packers never trailed, Kansas City never got close in the second half. The better team won, and easily.

But that doesn't tell the whole story. It doesn't tell of the Kansas City players who were so nervous that they were throwing up in the tunnel before the game. It doesn't tell of Green Bay coach Vince Lombardi being so nervous that he was shaking in a pregame interview. And it doesn't tell how this game was the beginning of a great tradition, something that started as a novel idea and eventually grew enough to become an unofficial American holiday.

The first Super Bowl wasn't even called that at first; it was called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game. The NFL's representatives were the Green Bay Packers, who had won five league titles in seven years and were considered among the most pristigious NFL franchises. The Chiefs were seen as the perfect team to represent the AFL, as their owner, Lamar Hunt, had been instrumental in the formation of the league in 1960.

While the fact that the two leagues had agreed to an eventual merger gave credibility to the AFL, it was still widely believed that no AFL team would be able to play with the best the NFL had to offer. In fact, the NFL was seemed as so superior that the Packers almost had too much pressure on them, knowing how they'd be letting their league down if they lost. That explains why Lombardi was actually shaking during a pre-game interview. He didn't want to be the coach of the team that lost to an AFL team.

The nerves were there for the Chiefs, too. They had won the right to be the first AFL team to play an NFL team, and they didn't want to encourage the idea that the AFL was the weaker league.

Maybe it had to do with the strength of the leagues, or maybe the Packers were just good. Either way, it wasn't close. A 14-10 Packer lead kept growing in the second half as the Chiefs couldn't stop them. Little-known wide receiver Max McGee scored twice for Green Bay, as did running back Elijah Pitts. Bart Starr's 250 passing yards single-handedly topped Kansas City's 239 total yards.

Though the game itself was a bit of a downer, it started a tradition. Anticipation for the Super Bowl grew throughout the years, and today it's the most anticipated game on the American sports calendar.

January 15, 2006: INDIANAPOLIS - Quarterbacks have made scores of season-saving throws in football history. They've also kept the ball themselves for season-saving rushes. But the list of season-saving tackles by quarterbacks is short. In fact, Ben Roethlisberger might be the only one on the list. With the Steelers clinging to a 21-18 lead in the final minutes against Indianapolis, Pittsburgh was trying to punch one more into the end zone to clinch a victory. But Jerome Bettis fumbled for the first time all season and the ball was picked up by the Colts' Nick Harper. With only Roethlisberger to beat, Harper made a move that caused Roethlisberger to spin and lose his balance, but as he was falling, the Pittsburgh quarterback reached out and tripped Harper up by his ankles, preventing a sure touchdown. When the Colts' Mike Vanderjagt missed the tying field goal with 17 seconds remaining, Roethlisberger's tackle instantly became the most important ever made by a quarterback.

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