A Final Super Bowl Reflection … Cup O’Chiefs

The moment happened early in Super Bowl week. Driving down I-95 between Fort Lauderdale and Miami, the car filled with the sound of the Bobby Caldwell song “What I Won’t Do For Love.”

I don’t know about you, but there’s a soundtrack to my life and at various times hearing a song will stir the primal goo in my brain and recall happier times, sometimes sad times, often just ordinary times.

This time I was instantly transferred back to January 1979, when on this same highway, during a Super Bowl week, I heard Caldwell’s song for the first time. I was in south Florida to see my first Super Bowl, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys at the Orange Bowl. That was Super Bowl XII. I can remember that drive with a clarity unavailable to me for events of just a month ago.

Thirty-one years later, life brought me full circle back to another Super Bowl, this one with the roman numerals XLIV, between the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints at a building that wasn’t around 31 years ago, the Joe Robbie, Pro Player Park, Dolphins, Dolphin, Land Shark, Sun Life Stadium.

I drove by the Orange Bowl; it’s not there anymore. That’s where the Florida Marlins are building their new baseball stadium.

My calculations made this Super Bowl the 25th that I’ve attended since that first one. To say that much has changed in that time would be a laughable understatement. When the Steelers beat the Cowboys in January of ‘79, Super Sunday was not a national holiday. The television commercials shown during the game were not discussed for the week after the game. The only media types found around the game or teams were those involved in covering sports. Gossip columnists, TV entertainment shows, business networks, radio shock jocks and all sports television networks were either nowhere to be found or had not been invented. 

For Super Bowl XIII I had a seat in the main press box at the Orange Bowl, and for the 24 games I’ve attended since I’ve had seats in the press box, in the auxiliary press box and out in the stands, sometimes in seats where I could feel the heat from the exhaust of the planes in the pre-game flyover.

Luckily, I’ve never had to pay for a chair. Today, the media is bused into the stadium site, where general parking is extremely limited. Back at Super Bowl XIII, I was joined by my father and we drove our rental car within a block of the Orange Bowl and parked in the front yard of a house for $5. Dad didn’t have a ticket, but about 30 minutes before the game he bought one for $25 as the scalpers unloaded the last of their supplies. Face value was $30.

Last Sunday, my oldest daughter was in Sun Life Stadium to see the game. Like her old man, she got to ride on somebody else’s tab and received the ticket as part of her job. The face value was $900. There were some seats on the club level that sold for $1,000 face value.

Unfortunately, those prices make it quite difficult for the ordinary person to visit a Super Bowl city, part for a long weekend and see the game. Based on the four-night minimum that goes with most hotels during a Super Bowl weekend, a family of four from Kansas City that wanted to see the Colts and Saints would spend about $1,500 on airfares (if they bought early), in the neighborhood of $1,200 for the hotel, untold hundreds on food, drink and souvenirs and $3,200 for four seats in the upper deck. Throw in a rental car and assorted other expenditures and the tab is going to land somewhere between $7,500 and $10,000.

Back in January 1979, the Steelers headquarters for the week was the Marriott at the Miami Airport. It was no resort; it was a hotel for businessmen flying in or out after meetings and appointments. This year, the Colts stayed at a Marriott Resort on the beach in Fort Lauderdale. They were less than 100 yards away from the Atlantic Ocean, instead of being 50 yards away from the access road to MIA.

The Steelers victory over the Cowboys featured two of the three teams with the best records in the regular season, drew a television audience of 74.7 million. A 30-second commercial in the game broadcast went for $185,000.

Sunday’s game featured the teams with the best record in each conference and drew record viewership – not only for the Super Bowl, but all television history – with 106 million. A 30-second commercial cost advertisers $2.5 to 2.8 million.

Yes, things have changed around this game. Interest grew and grew and grew, fostered by the league that went the extra mile to promote the game. That helped create not just a Sunday of action, not just a weekend of activity, but a week-long celebration of football. The chicken-and-egg question can be debated from both ends of this one: did the Super Bowl help make pro football America’s new past-time, or did the fact football had replaced baseball as the national past-time help lift the championship game to new heights in the sports world. It was probably a little bit of both.

What was interesting about Super Bowl XLIV and the scene throughout the week was the diminished numbers evident everywhere. The media headquarters was the Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center. Radio Row seemed smaller than usual. The area for the print media looked about the same, but there were fewer writers using the space.

Super Bowl Week used to be party central for even the slovenly scribblers, tin throats and hairdos. It wasn’t unusual to have access to some sort of free bar and appetizers every night. Not so much this year. The NFL Commissioner’s Party used to be the social event of the week and invitations to the soiree were even scalped. These events were always held in some place different and unusual, but always big huge spaces, because thousands would be invited. This year, the event was down-sized and held in the convention center in two large ballrooms.

Has the Super Bowl peaked? Those 106 million fans watching television would indicate otherwise. Tighter budgets all around had more to do with the economy than the declining status of the game.

The NFL and its championship game are quite healthy, helped by three consecutive games that came down to late in the fourth quarter before there was a decision on the outcome. Hopefully the owners and players will remember that over the next year or so as they negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement. While the average fan can no longer attend the Super Bowl, it is the No. 1 sporting event in the country.


At 5 o’clock Tuesday evening, the parade began moving out of the area around the Superdome and snaked its way through the central business district of New Orleans, before hitting Canal Street near the French Quarter and finishing up at the New Orleans Convention Center. The route was 3.7 miles and featured 12 floats, 15 marching bands, the Budweiser Clydesdales and a military color guard.

Saints fans were standing 15 deep and braved temperatures cold enough that New Orleans officials had to enact the city’s freeze plan. The floats stopped at a reviewing stand so elected officials could hold a champagne toast the 31-17 victory over Indianapolis.

“How’s the ‘who dat’ nation feel tonight?” Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees (left) yelled when his float stopped at the reviewing stand. “This toast goes out to you. We love you and we won that championship for you.”

Ten krewes that hold parades during Mardi Gras donated floats for the team to ride. The krewes of Endymion, Bacchus, Rex, Zulu, Alla, Caesar, Tucks, Muses, Orpheus and Babylon had floats in the parade that were used to ferry Saints players, coaches and administrators. Players and coaches threw beads to the fans, just like it was an official Mardi Gras parade.

An official estimate on the size of the crowd wasn’t available, but many fans said the parade seemed larger than any during Mardi Gras.

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