Super Bowl memories, from Max McGee to Mario Manningham

The Super Bowl has morphed into one of the biggest events in the world, but as someone who has personally been on hand for almost every edition of the game since its inception -- whether in my capacity as a personnel man for the Dallas Cowboys or as an interested observer -- I can say that it wasn't always that way.

Of course, that isn't to imply that it was ever boring. Each installment has been packed with more larger-than-life moments than the one before.

As we look forward to watching the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos square off in MetLife Stadium for Super Bowl XLVIII, I thought I'd look back and share some of my favorite Super Bowl memories.

» This was the first time that the AFL and NFL faced off for pro football's ultimate prize, and the level of competition between the two leagues was intense. There was a lot of back and forth, a lot of "Our league is better than your league," and it showed, both on the field and off. NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle decided there should be a party before the game, so everyone gathered at a hotel -- nothing fancy, just a ballroom and some folding chairs. And, of course, everyone from the AFL stayed on one side of the room while everyone from the NFL stayed on the other. The hard-bitten attitude wasn't limited to players, coaches or executives; I remember the wife of one of the Jets' minority owners trying to rile up everyone from the AFL by standing and giving this big, impassioned speech.

» The announced attendance at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was 61,946, though the crowd looked to actually be about 51,000. The funny thing is, if you count everyone who's claimed to be there since then, the stadium would have had to seat about two million. Tickets cost $6, $10 and $12 -- and I remember a big outcry greeting that last price point, with people incredulously refusing to pay that much to watch football. The game wasn't the late-night prime-time showcase it is now, either; I remember the sun shining on my seat below the press box.

» Broadcast on both CBS and NBC, the Super Bowl was far from the TV juggernaut it is today, though concessions were made for the medium even then: They had to re-kick to start the second half because NBC missed the initial kickoff. The game was blacked out in the Los Angeles area, so people took antennas and coat hangers and pointed them north, in hopes of catching the Santa Barbara telecast.

» The officiating crew was mixed, made up of referees from both leagues. They also played with two different balls; an AFL ball was used for Kansas City's possessions and an NFL ball was used for Green Bay's possessions.

» Everyone remembers the great story of Packers receiver Max McGee, who told teammate Boyd Dowler -- one of the really great people of all time, just an outstanding person -- not to get hurt, because McGee, who'd been living it up until 7 a.m., was in no shape to play. Of course, Dowler got hurt, forcing McGee to take the field -- whereupon he caught seven passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns.

» The game was a great one in the first half, with Green Bay heading into the intermission with a 14-10 advantage -- but the Packers ran away with it after the break. Green Bay started blitzing Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson more, which played a big factor. Willie Wood snared a key pick on the fourth offensive play of the third quarter, setting up a short touchdown run for the Packers' Elijah Pitts, and it was off to the races.

» This was the one where Joe Namath made his famous guarantee, promising that the Jets -- huge underdogs going in -- would beat Baltimore. Few believed him, but then-Colts quarterbacks Johnny Unitas and Earl Morrall combined to give up four interceptions, while Namath threw for 206 yards in leading New York to a 16-7 win -- the AFL's first.

» Interestingly, it's tough to find a program from this game, which was held at the Orange Bowl in Miami. This is because the truck that was delivering the programs to the stadium was involved in a traffic accident on the freeway, leaving programs scattered all over the road.

» The Cowboys finally won it all in this one. We came back from losing our first Super Bowl appearance the year before to beat the Dolphins in New Orleans, playing in front of a crowd of 81,000 -- the best-attended game to that point. Not that it came with much pomp and circumstance, though; we stayed at what would today be called a motel, a two-story place (with a pool in back) across the street from the airport.

» Miami was supposed to be such a good running team, led by Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Mercury Morris -- but we held the Dolphins to 80 yards rushing and 185 total yards. We got Csonka, who didn't fumble once in the regular season, to give the ball up in the first quarter, allowing us to draw first blood and take a 3-0 lead. That was a big play.

» With Tom Landry and Roger Staubach squaring off against Don Shula and Bob Griese, this was a fun game to watch. Dallas finished with 352 total yards, and Chuck Howley -- who was the Super Bowl MVP the year before, making him the only player to this day to have won the award while playing for the losing side -- snagged a key interception.

» This was a special one because it marked the introduction of the Super Bowl cybercast. Randy Cross, Jeff Hostetler and myself provided coverage of Super Bowl week for -- which launched that year -- starting with media day on Tuesday and leading up to the game itself. The Internet was just turning into what we know it as today, as this article from the San Francisco Chronicle covering the cybercast makes clear, with its unwieldy use of the term "World Wide Web," helpful explanation of what a chat room is ("an area where people logged onto the site can interact by typing in messages and viewing responses") and its slightly bemused overall tone ("Nobody is under any illusions that is a threat to television").

» Just how highly were we thought of? Well, we didn't quite get to sit in the press box -- in fact, we had to sit on top of it, nearly eight stories above the ground.

» Between the three of us, nobody had any idea as to what the Internet was going to be. Mark Zimmerman, who worked at NBC, was a sharp young guy who was on the cutting edge. He was involved with putting the whole thing together. The numbers it generated for the time were unreal.

» Of course, the teams involved, Dallas and Pittsburgh, were two very good teams with great followings. The Cowboys came in loose, but the game ended up being a good one, sparked by a surprise onside kick by the Steelers -- which Randy, Jeff and myself knew was coming, as one of the Steelers coaches told us to watch out for the tactic.

» And by the way, six years later, when my partner for the Super Bowl XXXVI cybercast was Marv Levy, the Internet was a much bigger thing -- but we weren't much closer to the field. We were stationed practically on the roof of the Superdome in New Orleans.

» I remember there being a lot of chatter ahead of this one questioning whether Indianapolis -- considered the smallest city to ever host a Super Bowl -- could pull it off, and whether the February weather in that part of the country would get in the way. Well, not only did the city fulfill its hosting duties flawlessly, but the weather was unbelievable; it was like spring the whole time I was there.

» Before the game, I had an opportunity to talk to Bill Belichick. I remember him being really relaxed on the sideline, with his son and daughter at his side. He told me he thought the Patriots were going to really play well that day, that they had really practiced well. Then I walked to the other side of the field, where the Giants coaches told me they were going to do everything possible to control the pace of the game, knowing that New England liked to run lots of plays quickly in order to wear out its opponents. And the Giants did control the clock well.

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» Really, one of the stars of this game was Giants punter Steve Weatherford. Eli manning won the Super Bowl MVP award, and rightfully so, but Weatherford was one of the hidden heroes, with three kicks downed inside the 20 and zero returned. We also can't forget about Chase Blackburn, who left a job as a teacher in Ohio to join the Giants in late November -- and made a key interception in the fourth quarter.

» That's not to say that the quarterbacks didn't deserve the attention they got, with Manning completing his first nine pass attempts and Tom Brady completing 16 consecutive passes at one point. Manning, of course, also threw that bomb down the left sideline to Mario Manningham on the game-winning drive -- the ball seemed to go about 40 yards in the air, but it landed in Manningham's mitts like Manning had just handed it to him.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter _@GilBrandt_.

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