This week in North Texas, I hope to give you a small peek inside Super Bowl XLV, my ninth as a volunteer member of the NFL’s PR staff. But before we can look ahead to a week of Steelers and Packers news and notes for the big game in North Texas, I want to take a look back.
In the previous eight games I’ve worked, I’ve seen the Patriots three title wins, the Giants upset of the Pats in SB42 and the historic Saints victory in SB44. I’ve missed only two games since I first became part of the league on the Saints PR staff for the 2000 season — Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa and Super Bowl XL in Detroit.
I am firmly convinced that the Super Bowl itself is the greatest one-day sporting event in the world. And the week leading up to the game is a celebration of football in its ultimate form — two teams fighting to be World Champions.
In order, here are the previous eight games and a memory or two from each.
Super Bowl XXXVI (New Orleans) — The first post 9-11 Super Bowl was moved a week, thanks to Saints owner Tom Benson who worked out a deal to move a major car dealer convention’s dates around after the league finished the regular season a week later due to postponements. The security was tight in the Louisiana Superdome, and U2 gave a stirring halftime performance, which included Bono’s United States flag lining on the inside of his jacket as the names of the 9-11 victims rolled in the background and tears rolled down the faces of the crowd. On the field, the Adam Vinatieri field goal as time expired gave the Patriots a victory over a St. Louis Rams team expected to win big with a high-powered offense.
Super Bowl XXXVII (San Diego) — It was the Buccaneers turn, as they turned back the Raiders in Qualcomm Stadium. A perfect week of weather was capped by the Bucs winning their first Super Bowl title. Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden made plenty of “Chucky” faces against the team who “traded” him for draft picks the year before. The day of the game, everyone learned of the disappearance of center Barret Robbins. Raiders QB Rich Gannon was picked off five times, and Tampa Bay’s Dexter Jackson grabbed two of them for MVP honors. After the game, a disappointed Raiders owner Al Davis came through the locker room and quietly comforted his players.
Super Bowl XXXVIII (Houston) — The Patriots snatched victory from the Carolina Panthers after Carolina scored late to tie the game at 29-29, but the ensuing kickoff went out of bounds and gave the Pats great field position. QB Tom Brady came to New England’s rescue and Vinatieri made another Super game-winner, a 41-yarder with four seconds left. Afterward, a disconsolate Carolina QB Jake Delhomme shook his head and told an observer, “I didn’t do enough.” He did enough to give his team the win, but the Patriots just did more. We also saw more as Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake gave a halftime “show” that no one in the press corps saw until fans at home replayed the moment on their DVRs and called their local media, who in turn got word to those media working the game. That was an internal subplot to a thrilling second half.
Super Bowl XXXIX (Jacksonville) — An unseasonably cold week dominated the early headlines and the expected return of Eagles WR Terrell Owens after an ankle injury was looked as a sign by the thousands of Philadelphia fans who desended on Jacksonville. But the Patriots had other ideas as they cemented their dynasty status with their third win in four seasons. It was the Deion Branch show as he caught 11 passes for 133 yards to win the Pete Rozelle MVP Trophy.
Super Bowl XLI (South Florida) — The Colts and Bears squared off at Dolphins Stadium, and it rained for the first time at Super Bowl game. The turf, tended by the “Sod God” George Toma, held up for the better part of three quarters. Standing on the sideline near the Westwood One sideline announcer in the first half was a person in jeans and tennis shoes, wearing a trash bag as a modified poncho — Billy Joel, who had performed the National Anthem earlier. He saw plenty as Devin Hester electrified the crowd with his 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to start the game. But Colts QB Peyton Manning won his first Super Bowl title and the MVP award, and head coach Tony Dungy finally got his Super Bowl ring.
Super Bowl XLII (Glendale) — All of the elements were there for a historic night in University of Phoenix Stadium: The 18-0 Patriots trying to become the second team in NFL history to go undefeated, a fourth Super Bowl title in the decade for New England, and thousands of Patriot fans who made the trip to Arizona. But someone forgot to tell the Giants, who were not-so-quietly confident in media interviews leading up to the game after pushing the Pats to the brink in the final game of the regular season. The first hint that things would be different was when New York effectively took a sixth of the clock off the board on the game’s first drive to go up 3-0 after a 16-play, 63-yard march that took a unbelievable 9:59. The Pats grabbed a 14-10 lead on a Randy Moss TD catch with 2:42 left and the pro-New England crowd was going nuts. Then, Eli Manning eluded a sack, David Tyree made an amazing catch off his helmet to keep the drive alive. Then it was Manning to Plaxico Burress for a 17-14 lead. A last-ditch New England drive stalled, and the Giants backed up their words as their fans high in the upper decks celebrated the upset.
Super Bowl XLIII (Tampa) — The Steelers won their sixth Super Bowl title 27-23 over the Arizona Cardinals after a last-minute drive by QB Ben Roethlisberger, who found Santonio Holmes for a 6-yard TD catch that was upheld by replay. It erased Arizona’s furious fourth-quarter comeback from a 20-7 deficit to take a 23-20 lead on a Larry Fitgerald 64-yard TD catch from Kurt Warner with 2:37 to play. A 100-yard interception return by the Steelers’ James Harrison to close out the half stunned the crowd in Raymond James Stadium as Pittsburgh led 17-7. Just like Carolina five years earlier, a first-time entrant couldn’t close out a Super Bowl victory in the dying minutes.
Super Bowl XLIV (South Florida) — After a 43-year wait, the New Orleans Saints finally won their first Super Bowl after Tracy Porter’s interception-return TD of Colts QB Peyton Manning sealed a 31-17 victory in Sun Life Stadium. The whole week was a Cajun lovefeast as the perenially lowly Saints came to life under head coach Sean Payton and game MVP Drew Brees. A gutsy onside kick to start the second half stole a possession and Porter’s pick stole away a potential second Super Bowl title for Indy in four years. Four years after the Saints had to relocate for the 2005 season in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction and the failure of the levees that brought a flood to New Orleans, a flood of tears and cries of “Who Dat?” filled the city and region still in recovery.