Saturday, February 02, 2013

The Night Before The Super Bowl

Not Pictured: Jase, Willie or Uncle Si (Special Teams)
The first Super Bowl I really paid attention to was after the 1980 season. (You want the Roman Numerals, you can get them yourself). It was the Eagles and Raiders, and I was living in suburban Philly, and all of us were entranced with our wacky Iggles. We had a 6'8" wide receiver named Harold. We had a quarterback nicknamed "The Polish Rifle". We had a star defensive end named Claude and a star running back named Wilbert and a middle linebacker named Bill Bergey who, thirty three years on, would have fit in just fine on Duck Dynasty. And we'd beaten the hated, the loathed, the screw-Santa-lets-throw-snowballs-at-these-guys Dallas Cowboys to get to the Super Bowl.

Eagles coach Dick Vermeil was really the prototype for the modern football coach, in that he ate, slept, breathed and dreamed work. He'd retire a couple of years later citing burnout, the result of too many years catching a few hours' sleep on a couch in his office at the Vet after yet another late night studying film. By all accounts he wasn't a Sabanesque tyrant or a Belichickian commissar, demanding complete autonomy over the team and infusing his job of coaching large men in tight stretchy pants with militaristic fervor, but he did up the bar on intensity and the sort of effort expected from coaches. The coaching landscape of today is thus an unfortunate part of his legacy.

But back in January 1981, that sort of intensity manifested the night before the Super Bowl in a fairly straightforward way: curfew for the Eagles. Rather than risk having his team get sideswiped by the temptations of the French Quarter - all they needed was for Louie Giammona to show up at gametime wearing beads - Vermeil sent Woody Peoples, Keith Krepfle and the rest of the boys to bed early. Their opponents, the Oakland Raiders faced no such restrictions. Led by Ringo Starr movie bit player John Matuszak, a guy nicknamed "the Mad Stork" and the finest football player ever to come out of Colgate (Mark van Eeghen), the Raiders stayed out all night, guzzled whatever the hell they felt like guzzling, and presumably dragged themselves back to their hotel fifteen minutes before gametime.

And then once the game started, they proceeded to beat the clean-living Eagles like they were Keith Moon's crash cymbal. It was over, for all intents and purposes, by halftime. There's a lesson in there somewhere, I suppose, but I don't think anyone ever learned it.
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