Power of 10: Super Bowl returns to South Florida yet again

Note: The following story is an excerpt from the official Super Bowl XLIV game program, which is available now on NFLShop.com.

The first nine Super Bowls played in South Florida are remembered for more than the football history they made…and that's saying a lot.

Let's review the region's Super Bowl résumé: four games determined by four points or fewer; twice the game-winning points scored in the closing seconds; Lombardi's final win as the Packers head coach and Walsh's last stand at the helm of the 49ers; and career-defining performances by legends named Namath, Montana, Young, Elway, and Manning.

With that as our backdrop, there's no reason to believe this 44th Super Bowl -- XLIV by the sacred Roman numerals-will be any less crackling.

This year's game will make it 10 times that the Super Bowl has been played in South Florida, a record for any region (one ahead of New Orleans). Yet for as good as the games have been, the real reason for South Florida's league-leading catch is its top-of-the-line weather. With an average daily high temperature of 78 degrees in February, not a single Super Bowl here has been fought out in conditions that could be classified as chilly. And until the game three years ago, the closest Super Bowl fans here ever came to feeling rain was the sweat flying off the players.

"I wouldn't be coaching in Green Bay if I didn't like cold weather," said Vince Lombardi, whose Packers captured the first Super Bowl held in the Sunshine State. "But I have to say, playing in Miami saves a hell of a lot of bag-packing."

While the weather hasn't changed, the Super Bowl certainly has. And throughout this evolution, South Florida has remained a go-to site for the NFL's signature event-with hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues, and infrastructure that can ably accommodate the more than 100,000 fans who flood the region in the days leading up to the game. Once a boon for the city of Miami, the economic benefit now cuts a much wider swath. The league has acknowledged this growth by, for the first time, locating its Super Bowl headquarters in Fort Lauderdale.

Even if the nation's struggling economy is likely to nick at this year's bottom line, Nicki Grossman, president and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention/Visitors Bureau, still pegs the economic impact to the region at approximately $400 million.

"The economic split for this year's Super Bowl will be Broward County [including Fort Lauderdale] with about 50 percent of the revenues, 40 percent for Miami-Dade, and 10 percent for Palm Beach County," she says.

Super Bowl I was held at Los Angeles' Memorial Coliseum, and the game came to Miami a year later. An Orange Bowl crowd of 75,546 looked on as Lombardi's ace quarterback, Bart Starr, dissected the Oakland Raiders, 33-14. Starr completed 13 of 24 passes for 202 yards to earn his second straight Super Bowl MVP award.

The New York Jets won Super Bowl III, upsetting the Baltimore Colts, 16-7. That marked the first victory by the then-American Football League over the established National Football League, coming two years before the leagues merged.

And although Dwight D. Eisenhower, our 34th president, would die that year at age 78, and the venerable Saturday Evening Post shut down after 131 years of publication, for one day Super Bowl III was the biggest headline of all. To some in football circles, it remains that way, even four decades later.

The NFL's supposedly savvier Colts were heavily favored. Their veteran QB, Earl Morrall, was expected to calmly counter Joe Namath's bluster after the Jets signal-caller proclaimed at the Miami Touchdown Club banquet earlier in the week, "I guarantee we will win the game."

Morrall, after all, was the MVP that season in the "superior" league. But in the Super Bowl, Namath made Morrall look like a sandlotter in tattered jeans. When Colts head coach Don Shula finally switched from Morrall to sore-armed Johnny Unitas, the game was all but over, and underrated Jets coach Weeb Ewbank became one of the most celebrated men in his profession.

"I thought all along we'd win," Ewbank finally said when some of the shouting had quieted down. "But I figured I'd be taken for a damn fool if I said it. Besides, our players already believed it."

They believed it even more while building a big lead before the Colts finally hit the scoreboard in the fourth quarter. And as Namath was proving to be the complete quarterback on the field, standing on the Jets sideline was the normally bland-faced Ewbank, grinning like a mule eating briars. "Toward the end of the game, I almost wished I'd gone ahead and predicted we'd win," he said.

It looked as though Miami was acquiring a copyright on Super Bowls when the Orange Bowl furnished the setting for Baltimore's 16-13 win over Dallas (despite fumbling five times) in a super-ragged Super Bowl V. Jim O'Brien's 32-yard field goal with five seconds to play won it for the Colts, but the game also is known for being the first Super Bowl played on Astroturf and for being the only one to have a player from the losing team -- Cowboys linebacker Chuck Howley -- chosen as Most Valuable Player. Howley was recognized for his two interceptions and three tackles in the close setback.

"It's a team sport, [so] when you're the MVP and you're from the losing team, it's hard to celebrate," Howley said. "But it's quite an honor. When you lose, it's even greater."

Miami had to wait awhile before playing host for a fourth time. With other metropolitan areas constructing super-sized stadiums and catching on to the monetary spoils and the blizzards of publicity that Super Bowls attracted, competition for the game naturally grew. Five years passed before Miami nailed its next one. And it was a hit.

Super Bowl X came at a time when the NFL needed a good show, following several title matches that had fallen short on pizzazz. In the previous four Super Bowls, the losing teams had combined to score just one offensive touchdown.

Pittsburgh's Ernie Holmes was first to put the game into show-time mode. He didn't care for Miami's laid-back air, or any kind of Miami air for that matter.

"This place is for people with arthritis," joked Holmes, whose Steelers had beaten Minnesota in Super Bowl IX. "It's no place for champions. As a champion, I'd like to have some hip-hip-hooray going into another championship game."

There ended up being plenty of that for Holmes and the Steelers, who won their second straight NFL crown by beating Dallas, 21-17. Glen Edwards' pickoff of a Roger Staubach pass in the fading seconds effectively finished off the most competitive of the first 10 Super Bowls.

Lynn Swann was selected MVP after catching four Terry Bradshaw passes for 161 yards -- including long receptions of 64, 53, and 32 yards. All the while, Jack Lambert, L.C. Greenwood, Mike Wagner, and their talented defensive playmates were freezing Staubach's trigger-finger.

In January 1979, Miami landed its fifth Super Bowl and the first rematch in the game's history. Pittsburgh again outlasted Dallas, 35-31, in what would stand as the highest-scoring title game until Super Bowl XXVII. Bradshaw put up 318 yards passing and struck for four touchdowns -- on throws of 28 and 75 yards to John Stallworth, seven yards to Rocky Bleier, and eight yards to Swann. Staubach made things close, driving the Cowboys for two late scores, but it wasn't enough.

When the game returned for Super Bowl XXIII, it was at the Dolphins' new home, Joe Robbie Stadium. It delivered with one of the game's great finishes as San Francisco rallied past Cincinnati, 20-16. The Bengals led by three points, and it looked to be all over but the pouting when the 49ers took possession with less than two minutes on the clock and 92 yards between them and the end zone. At that point, a little sideline episode would wend its way into Super Bowl lore.

Just before the 49ers started their drive, quarterback Joe Montana looked into the stands and then elbowed a teammate. "Hey, that's John Candy up there," Montana said. The actor in the stands appeared more nervous than the QB on the field; Montana calmly moved his team to the Bengals' 10-yard line, where he flipped a scoring pass to John Taylor. That touchdown allowed Bill Walsh, who transformed the 49ers into a model franchise, to walk off the field a winner in what proved to be his final game as their head coach.

While no South Florida Super Bowl has matched that contest for shock termination, the region's seventh, eighth, and ninth title matchups -- San Francisco 49, San Diego 26 in XXIX; Denver 34, Atlanta 19 in XXXIII; and Indianapolis 29, Chicago 17 in XLI -- have given us memorable entries in Super Bowl annals.

For sheer one-man artistry, no Super Bowl can match the 49ers' rout of the Chargers. You can never say one man did it all, but few have ever come as close as quarterback Steve Young in XXIX. Young threw a Super Bowl-record six TD passes.

At the time, one couldn't imagine another player coming within a country mile of Young's huge day, but John Elway was close in XXXIII, and he did it with immense class.

One minute and 23 seconds remained when Elway was announced as the Most Valuable Player in Denver's defeat of the Falcons. He had the Broncos in position to score again but was too much the gentleman to even try. He took a knee on one play and then trotted to the sidelines, content to let Bubby Brister finish out the game and let Montana's all-time Super Bowl passing yardage record stand. With just 22 more yards, Elway would have surpassed Montana's mark of 357, set in the same stadium 10 years earlier.

Miami's ninth and most recent Super Bowl featured the heaviest rain to drench any Super Bowl. It pounded away all during Indianapolis' taming of Chicago three years ago. After the Bears' Devin Hester rocked Dolphin Stadium with his 92-yard opening kickoff return for a touchdown, the game reverted to the form most expected with the Colts and quarterback Peyton Manning taking control.

For most, coming to South Florida for a Super Bowl is pure pleasure. And that's the most powerful reason it's here for a tenth time.

Edwin Pope has been a columnist at The Miami Herald for more than 45 years and is one of sports journalism's most honored writers, having won the Red Smith Award and being a member of the National Sportscasters & Sportswriters Hall of Fame. He is among four journalists to cover every Super Bowl.

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