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Last night I was stumbling across channels and found the original broadcast of Super Bowl III on the NBC Sports Network. I ended up watching all 3 hours of it.
It made me want to shout at ESPN that this is what a channel like ESPN Classic should have been versus the constant showing of 19 Duke basketball games from 3 years ago.
Part of the appeal was the memories of a then 12-year-old me watching in disbelief as the Colts kept committing turnover after turnover every time they got near the goal line. It just reminded me of my post-game reaction, namely that the Colts couldn’t get out of their own way and if they just stopped throwing interceptions, they could have easily won.
Heck, if they had just kneeled every time they got into the red zone and kicked field goals they would have won. Back then the goal posts were on the goal line, so once you breached the 20, a field goal was like an extra point.
Part of the appeal was also the memory of my Dad, who had decided to become a Colt fan, mainly because I had decided to become a Redskins fan. Where I grew up in Norfolk, you either got the Colts or the Redskins, so there was always a tug of war on who got to watch the 25-inch console color television with no remote control in the den (I was the remote control). He too was pained by the game, but when the Colts finally punched it in for a touchdown in the final 3 minutes, he was elated.
This, I soon learned, was because he had bought a square in the office pool, and had a 6 for the Jets and a 7 for the Colts. He had thought the Colts would have to win 27-6 for him to win and had long given up on that early in the second half. But he then realized 16-7 was a winner. And what was the first thing he said to me after explaining that?
What all Dads say when a windfall comes their way: “Don’t tell Mom.”
The real appeal of the game was the original announcers, and the differences I kept noting in how the game has changed. Much like a song can bring back memories of an earlier time, the voices of Curt Gowdy, Al DeRogatis and Kyle Rote did the same for me. I’d always found Gowdy to be a bit tiresome at times as a kid, but he was the voice of 1969, particularly later in the year when the Miracle New York Mets shocked the world and won the World Series.
The goal posts being on the goal line immediately stood out. The way officials called the game did too. Some was the nature of the calls; I mean, how many times do you see fights on the sideline and no flags are called? Or defensive players spearing receivers and it’s just considered a good hit? Even the way the officials called the penalties was with such an exaggerated motion seemed like they were trying to be a parody of themselves.
Gowdy at one point bragged about how many people were seeing the game, noting the game was being televised via satellite all the way to Hawaii and even parts of Mexico. Apparently just seeing the game away from the continental US was a big deal back then, although he also noted the game was blacked out in the Miami area. Apparently the Super Bowl was still so small, the NFL thought local TV would hurt ticket sales.
Then there was Kyle Rote, constantly referring to Colts players who came on a blitz as coming on a “Red Dog.” In the sandlots as a young kid, I occasionally heard that terms, but not much after. It originated back in the 50s because the guy credited with inventing the blitz was a guy named Donald Nesbit “Red Dog” Ettinger. He played at Kansas and later with the New York Giants as a linebacker.
These days, the term “Red Dog” no longer hunts. I don’t think I’ve heard it in 50 years.
The names the announcers kept calling on both sides sounded like an NFL encyclopedia of players from my youth. Everyone remembers Joe Namath, but guys like George Sauer, Matt Snell, Gerry Philbin and Johnny Sample from the Jets and the likes of Tom Matte, Ordell Braase, Rick Volk, Don Shinnick and Jimmy Orr from Baltimore brought back memories of “hey, I remember him.”
It was surprisingly fun. And if a station ever aired a Washington Redskins game with Sonny Jurgensen throwing for 400 yards in the 60s, or Bart Starr and the Green Bay Packers from the same time period with the original broadcasters, I’d watch it. But not some condensed version of highlights. The original broadcasters are what made it fun. Just the highlights would make it about sports; hearing what the announcers thought important at the time made it about history and nostalgia.
Which is the very definition in my world of a “classic.”