If it hadn’t turned into the John Riggins Bowl, Super Bowl XVII may have been called the Jimmy Cefalo Bowl. Riggins led his Redskins to a 27-17 victory over Cefalo’s Dolphins. But the Dolphins led 17-10 at the half, thanks to Cefalo’s 76-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter.
I jumped right out of my chair when Cefalo hauled in that pass. Unfortunately, it turned out to be one of only four passes David Woodley completed all day.
After the game, Dolphins Coach Don Shula said Cefalo might have had another touchdown in the second half had Woodley thrown the ball deeper.
It’s hard to believe that game, played in 1983, was 36 years ago. It’s also hard to believe this is one of the few memories I have of the Super Bowl games themselves.
Oh, I can picture Max McGee reaching behind him to reel in a touchdown pass in the first one, Lynn Swann’s catch in Super Bowl X, Desmond Howard’s 99-yard kick return in XXXI, and the “Philly Special” a year ago. But most of my Super Bowl memories are of things off the field.
Like the one and only Super Bowl I attended. It was the sixth, VI in Super Bowl language. I always remember it was the first the Dallas Cowboys won, but I can never recall the score. It was 24-3. I looked it up.
I do remember where it was played: Tulane Stadium in New Orleans. And the price of a ticket: 15 bucks. My Uncle Eddie Strubeck, who passed away a couple of years ago, took me on the trip sponsored by the Hughestown Sports Club. We flew out of Avoca.
It was surprisingly cold in New Orleans and I distinctly recall shivering in my camel-hair sport coat, the warmest thing I had with me, as I went out for a stroll by myself on Bourbon Street the morning after the game. The street was nearly deserted and I considered hightailing it back to the comfort of the hotel when I spotted Yogi Berra walking right toward me. Yogi was warm and friendly, but what I remember most was his size. He seemed even shorter than the 5’7 he was purported to be.
The memory that comes to mind first, however, is not one I am comfortable sharing. But I will. Tulane wasn’t much of a stadium and not quite equipped to handle the overflow crowd. For one thing, there were not enough facilities. The few portable toilets had long, long lines.
I was standing in the back of the end zone bleachers as kickoff neared and looked down to see some Miami Dolphins fans take an innovative approach to the rest room situation. All decked out in their Dolphins gear, they made a circle with each guy taking a turn peeing in the middle.
My other Super Bowl memories, and my fondest, are of trying to “localize” the game as the editor of a small, weekly paper. My colleague Jack Smiles came up with a great idea, which he still employs today in Pittston Progress. He’ll find a die-hard fan of each team and write a story about them.
Some years are easier than others. The first time the Baltimore Ravens got to the game in 2001 there wasn’t a Ravens fan to be found. We had just about given up when Jack, stopping for a burger at Majestic Lunch on Main Street, looked to his left and the guy sitting on the stool next to him was wearing a Ravens hat.
In 2005 when the Eagles won the NFC championship, Jack and I had a last-minute idea: let’s try to get a bunch of Eagles fans together for a photo. The problem was, we dreamt up the idea on a Saturday afternoon and, with the Super Bowl a week away, the photo had to be taken the next day, the Sunday before the game. There was no Facebook then so our only means of letting fans know was the newspaper. If we put a notice in the paper on Sunday morning, could we get enough Eagles fans out for a photo? Maybe if we put the notice on page one, we could.
Lesson learned? Never underestimate Eagles fans.
A good hundred or more showed up on the Pittston Tomato Festival Lot … and in full regalia: jerseys, hats, scarves, banners, balloons, pennants, kids in jerseys, dogs in jerseys. On Super Bowl Sunday, we ran the photo right across the center two pages under the headline This is Eagles Country.
We always believed had we been able to get a copy of that paper to the Eagles locker room before the game the outcome (24-21, Patriots) would have been different.
Of course, we did the same for the Steelers the next year, but it was the 2009 Steelers photo op that I will always remember. Rain had been forecast for Sunday morning and since we always took the photo on the Tomato Festival lot, we wondered what to tell Steelers fans in the newspaper notice. We wound up writing: And if it rains, show up anyway. After all, you’re Steelers fans.
Man, did it rain.
I woke up to a downpour. There was no way we’d be able to take a photo outdoors. Still, I had no doubt Steelers fans would show up, particularly after that challenge. So I hopped in my car and began zipping around trying to come up with an indoor venue. I thought about the gym at the YMCA but the building was closed. Then I considered the Seton Catholic High School gym. Also locked.
Time was fleeting. Steelers fans would be arriving any minute at the Tomato lot.
I swung by St. John the Evangelist Church. Mass was being celebrated, but across the street at the rectory I found my old friend Jim Cortegerone, now a deacon. He was on his way to bring Communion to shut-ins. He didn’t have a key to the gym but said he could get me into the school auditorium.
I dispatched Jack to the Tomato lot to steer people to the auditorium and then began flicking on the lights inside. One of the first Steelers fans to arrive at the new location was Bobby Lewis in his impossible-to-miss Steelers van which he had painted himself. With Mass still going on there was little parking, so I told Bobby to pull up right on the sidewalk in front of the auditorium so folks would know where to go.
It wasn’t long before they began streaming in. Tom Jackson had this enormous Steelers flag on a pole and I asked him to march back and forth in front of the building.
The crowd swelled. Somebody had a boom box and started playing the Steelers fight song and just like that we had a pep rally. Right around then Mass concluded and people began exiting the church next door. You should have seen the looks on their faces.
That’s when it hit me someone should let Msgr. John Bendik know what was happening behind his back. He was the pastor, after all.
I found him in the priests’ chambers behind the altar. Thank God we have a long, lovely history because he was completely understanding. So much so, that I asked if he would consider coming over to offer a blessing.
It took a lot to quiet the crowd but when we did, I introduced Msgr. Bendik by saying, “You think you’re Steelers fans? Here’s a guy who wears black every day of his life.”
Two years later we planned better. We got Pittston Area High School to open the school lobby for a photo of local Steelers fans and, no surprise, we also attracted a good handful of Packers supporters. That was fun, too, but nothing will top the impromptu Steelers rally the day it rained.
Unless, of course, if the Steelers and Eagles ever both make it to the game.
Can you imagine?
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.