Greatest Super Bowl ever, Phil? As I tried to jog my memory (and I’ve seen most everyone of them, having watched the first ever, in a one-third empty L.A. Coliseum as the Lombardi Packers easily dispatched the rising Kansas City Chiefs), the first thing that came to mind was Duane Thomas’s post-Super Bowl remark in the early ’70s, I think it was, which went like this: “If it’s the ultimate game, why are they playing it again next year?” As Americans we do have a tendency to crown the latest big thing the greatest ever — but wait until next year.
As a general point, the Super Bowls of the the last decade or so have been for the most part tremendously competitive (though last year’s in the Miami rain and starring the woefully uncoached Chicago Bears offense was as ugly as any Toilet Bowl). For my money — but again you have to be an oldster here — the greatest ever will remain Joe Namath’s beautifully engineered 16-7 Jet upset of the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in 1969. If you weren’t alive then, you wouldn’t know just how strong a bias existed against the upstart American Football League — the conventional wisdom was that the establish National Football League was far and away the only genuine game around. The Packers’ easy wins in Super Bowls I and II seemed to cement this perception. Then along came Namath, predicting a win, and pulling it off in the greatest performance of his career. He didn’t throw for his usual, AFL style yardage. Instead he ball-controlled Baltimore to death, thanks especially to Matt Snell’s running, and the wonderfully named Emerson Boozer’s. On that Super Bowl Sunday, the Jets might as well have been the Packers.
Afterward, the experts remained convinced that the Jets’ win was a fluke. So the same thing happened all over again in Super Bowl IV. This time it was the Kansas City Chief, learning from their performance in Super Bowl I, overwhelmingly defeated the heavily favored Minnesota Vikings, doing so this time with an offense that was more sophisticated than any the NFL had ever seen. Hank Stram’s greatest moment, and in my book the second greatest of all the Super Bowls.
In due course, the merger of the two leagues took over and the experts came to accept the AFL as an equal — particularly after a few NFL teams like the Steelers, Browns, and disgraced Colts were switched to the AFL to balance things out. But there’s nothing like being there at the creation of history. After that, it’s never the same.