clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

My Super Bowl Experience

Amidst all the great discussions about the draft, I thought I would step back and take a stroll down memory lane.  This story takes place in January, 1979 when I was finishing up a degree in Sports Management at Biscayne College (now St. Thomas University) in Miami.  There were only a handful of colleges back then who offered Sports Management, so the students at this small college came from all over the country.  The Steelers had just walloped the Houston Oilers to qualify for Super Bowl XIII, and since the game was in Miami, I was on Cloud 9.


Sitting in class one day my professor, who had local sports connections, asked if anyone wanted to volunteer to work the Super Bowl.  I shot out of my seat like a rocket.  The other students were from all over the country and they knew I was from Pittsburgh, so I got the gig.


When I asked what I was to do, I was informed they needed someone to drive the truck with the band equipment for the halftime show.  No problem.  I can drive a truck.  What I learned was that the halftime show was actually 13 bands, all from Caribbean countries, that would cover the entire field!  It turned out the truck was not a semi (they would have never asked a kid to drive such), but the biggest vehicle possible with two axles.


During rehearsal, I actually tried to drive when in truth I did not belong behind that wheel.  Since I already volunteered and since my beloved Steelers were involved, I was young and dumb enough to try.  I didn’t get very far.  In the middle of my first turn onto Biscayne Boulevard I knew I was in trouble.  So much so, that I stopped the truck in the middle of the turn and got out!  I had stopped traffic both ways on a major highway but I couldn’t go on. 


I ran back in the building and told the boss that his truck was in the middle of the road and that I couldn’t drive it.  He went berserk and found someone to get it off the road and then he took me behind the woodshed.  I had caused some major trauma.  When he was done yelling, I meekly apologized and said I had no idea that the "halftime band" was actually 13 of them!!  I handed back my beautiful credential that was going to get me in Super Bowl XIII and started to walk away pouting like a puppy.


With divine intervention, he started feeling bad for me and admitted, "You know, someone should have told you the size of the truck.  That was my fault."  I think he also realized how screwed up his already-stressed world would have been had I continued driving and been in a wreck.  And with that he handed me back the credential saying "You can still help with set-up."



Come Super Bowl Sunday, here was this college kid, lifelong die-hard fan of the Steelers, down on the field during pre-game getting all the halftime props ready.  After we were done, all the rest of the helpers left the field.  Our credential didn’t allow us on the field during the game.  I told myself that I wasn’t leaving that field until someone made me.  As it turned out, none of the cops ever asked me to leave.  I had a credential dangling with the Super Bowl logo on it and no one bothered to check the small print!

Back in those days security wasn’t nearly as tight and I basically took advantage of it.


I wasn’t permitted in the bench area, but I freely roamed the sidelines and end zones with the closest of officials and photographers.  I basically stayed inside the 25-yard lines ahead of the ball.


The game itself was clearly the best Super Bowl played to date and is still considered one of the all-time greats.  The Steelers came out smoking and scored on their first drive.  I was around the other side of the end zone when John Stallworth snagged a 28-yard touchdown pass, but my moments of guessing right were still to come.


The Steelers had gone the entire season without giving up a touchdown in the first quarter, a remarkable feat, until the Cowboys scored on the very last play of the first quarter.  A short Roger Staubach pass to Tony Hill turned into a long gain when Mel Blount had his back to the play, locked onto his own assignment, while Hill waltzed right by him.


No sooner did Pittsburgh get the ball back, when Hollywood Henderson (yes, this was the infamous "Bradshaw can’t spell C.A.T." game) locked up a scrambling Bradshaw while Mike Hegman stripped him of the ball and ran 38 yards into the end zone.  We had gone from a seven-point lead to a seven-point deficit in about four plays.


Not to worry, on the third play of the Steelers next possession, Stallworth again caught a pass designed simply to move the chains, but after breaking a tackle, he ran by four Cowboys like they were statues, 75 yards to paydirt.  Things settled a bit until the last half-minute of the half.  Bradshaw hit Rocky Bleier right at the boundry of the end zone.  For a split second, I actually thought I was going to catch that pass, it was coming right at me.  In fact, I scampered back so that Rocky wouldn’t run into me (he ended up falling instead of running out-of-bounds.  How neat was that?  Even more pleasing was that it was Bleier, who had been through so much in Viet Nam and subsequent rehab, who scored his one and only Super Bowl touchdown. 


As a sidenote, the Steelers did not punt the entire first half, attributed to three Bradshaw touchdowns and three Bradshaw turnovers.  In addition, Swanny and Stall combined for over 200 yards by the half.


At haltime I earned my keep (hardly) by helping to roll a gigantic blue tarp not only covering the field, but the entire ground level of the Orange Bowl.  The blue was to depict water and on the tarp were the islands of the Carribean.  The 13 bands each played, making this one of the first really long halftimes.  In fact, the first half was played in complete daylight and the second half in complete darkness since the entire dusk transition occurred during the long halftime.


The third quarter produced only one memorable play, but it still ranks among the top 10 memorable plays in Super Bowl history.  With the Cowboys trailing 21-14 and inside the Pittsburgh red zone, the Steelers sent Jack Lambert on an inside blitz leaving the middle of the field wide open.  Lambert was one of the greatest cover linebackers in NFL history, but he gets little credit for that.  His mantra is so entrenched in that mean, snarly Dracula-looking toughness, that people never gave him enough credit for his coverage ability.  He would go sideline to sideline and then 35 yards downfield draped all over a would-be receiver.


Anyhow, with the middle wide open, Staubach found Hall of Famer Jackie Smith all alone in the end zone.  I might have been the closest human being to Smith when he dropped that famous touchdown pass that would have tied the score at 21 (certainly no Steelers were anywhere close!).  I was at least one of the closest, standing in the middle of the back of the end zone with the photographers.  Dallas settled for a field goal that pulled the score to 21-17.  Smith never played again.


The fourth quarter continued to make this game an all-time classic, with both teams scoring 28 points in the final seven minutes.  It started with Pittsburgh inside the Dallas 20.  On a third-down play, the Steelers didn’t get the play off.  The whistle stopped play for delay of game and everyone heard it, except Hollywood Henderson.  He came in untouched and flung Bradshaw to the ground.  Today he would have been flagged, incarcerated and deprived of his first-born male.  Back then it wasn’t even a penalty.


It did, however, spark a fire in Franco Harris.  In 12 years with the Steelers, I never saw him lose his cool or become emotional, even after the Immaculate Reception, but he was infuriated with Henderson.  He got in Hollywood’s face and then screamed something in his own huddle.  On the very next play, despite being third and nine, Harris went up the middle like a maniac and went all the way to the house.  The only Cowboy who have a chance of tackling him, Charlie Waters, ran smack into the umpire and the play was history.


Roy Gerela squibbed the ensuing kickoff and Hall of Famer Randy White tried to return it.  He had a cast on his arm from a fracture the week prior, which didn’t help matters when none other than Tony Dungy blasted into him and caused a fumble.  Dirt Winston recovered and on the very next play, the Blonde Bomber went right to the end zone where Lynn Swann made one of his patented acrobatic catches to make the score 35-17.


Of course, Roger Staubach was great and so were the Cowboys (defending NFL champions).  They marched down field for a score; onside kick recovered; another march and score and while I thought the Steelers sideline was way too nonchalant and celebratory, the score became 35-31.


Still, with less than a half minute to play, Dallas needed another onside recovery and subsequent miracle.  The man who prevented that dream, who cradled the kick in fetal position, was Rocky Bleier.  Game over.


Imagine all that from the eyes and ears of a college senior, down on the field with all the action, witnessing the team he loves more than he should ever admit.