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VOL. 131 | NO. 21 | Friday, January 29, 2016

Matriculating Down the Field Of History to Super Bowl 50

By Don Wade

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For sports fans of my generation, there is something very personal about the Super Bowl. My earliest television sports memory is from Super Bowl I, which wasn’t even originally called the Super Bowl and retroactively introduced me to Roman numerals.

Kansas City Chiefs Mike Garrett (21) carries the ball as two unidentified Green Bay Packers close in, Jan. 15, 1967 in Super Bowl I. 

(AP Photo)

In fact, I was XIV before I realized they served a purpose other than counting really important pro football games.

Anyway, my hometown Kansas City Chiefs played in the first Big Game representing the upstart American Football League (AFL) against the establishment National Football League (NFL). Back then, the latter acronym was not better-known than the IRS nor viewed with the same suspicion; there wasn’t a major motion picture about repetitive head trauma.

Super Bowl I, of course, did not go so well for the Chiefs. They lost 35-10 to the Green Bay Packers and coach Vince Lombardi, for whom the championship trophy is now named.

The inaugural Super Bowl was played on Jan. 15, 1967, at Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles and billed as the “First World Championship Game: AFL vs. NFL.” Pretty small world, considering Kansas City and Green Bay share the same time zone.

But given that we are now at the eve of Super Bowl 50 – the NFL is giving the Roman numerals a year off – it’s just about mind-blowing to consider what the Super Bowl has become and that it now spans a half-century.

Or as one of my sons loves to say: “I’ll tell my kids that Grandpa was born before the first Super Bowl! Man, you’re old.”

Yes, in the early days the mission to become Super Bowl champion was rather like the quest for the Iron Throne. The realities of automobile and air travel and the dawn of color TV were counterbalanced by the fact that the halftime show at four of the first five Super Bowls amounted to college marching bands; in the other, the entertainment was Carol Channing – the real one.

The other night I was flipping channels when I noticed NFL Network was re-airing Super Bowl I. I tuned in for a few minutes, watching quarterback Lenny Dawson and the Chiefs score the whole of their 10 points. They only trailed 14-10 at halftime. Very respectable.

I didn’t need to see what happened after that, just needed to check the listings for the re-airing of that glorious Super Bowl IV when my Chiefs beat the Minnesota Vikings 23-7. Kansas City coach Hank Stram was forever captured by NFL Films pacing the sideline like a vested, balding Napoleon, his sheet of plays rolled up in his meaty palm, and shouting, “Pump it in there, baby! Keep matriculating the ball down the field, boys!”

“I’m Peyton (Manning) all the way. I love Cam Newton and the Panthers, but the roots are with Peyton and I hope he gets a ring.”

–Mike Conley

In my youth, the Super Bowl was like having a field trip come straight into the living room. I could now count in Roman numerals and had been moved to open a dictionary to learn the definition of “matriculating,” which previously I believed to be a very naughty word.

The Chiefs, historians will note, have not been back to the Super Bowl since Jan. 11, 1970, at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans. Not only was this long before the time of today’s players, but 20 years after that, Janet Jackson’s wardrobe wasn’t even a twinkle in Justin Timberlake’s eye.

Of course, time stands still for no one. The infamous wardrobe malfunction happened during halftime of Super Bowl XXXVIII, Feb. 1, 2004. The New England Patriots beat the Carolina Panthers that day, 32-29, and quarterback Tom Brady was the game’s Most Valuable Player. No one checked the air pressure in any of the footballs.

Now, on Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, the Panthers will play the Denver Broncos. The game might be good or, like so many of them, it might not. You, as a fan, might have a dog in this fight or you might just be glad the Patriots aren’t there. Or you might be looking for any tie to your team – which is what well-documented Indianapolis Colts fan and Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley is doing.

“I’m Peyton (Manning) all the way,” Conley said. “I love Cam Newton and the Panthers, but the roots are with Peyton and I hope he gets a ring.”

As for the halftime entertainment, Coldplay will be joined by Beyoncé and Bruno Mars. The show might be great or it might be Black Eyed Peas/New Kids on the Block awful. Like with the game itself, you don’t know until the players take to the field.

Which team will win this game, I don’t know. But after a half-century of Super Bowls of this much I am sure: Comedian Ron White has spoken the American sports gospel and it shall never be challenged.

“I believe that a bad Super Bowl halftime show,” he said, “is still better than a soccer game.”

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