Nice to see the writing of the L.A. Times‘ best sports columnist, the late Jim Murray, back in the paper even if for only one day. Today’s crop of sports pundits, in the Times and elsewhere, can study Murray’s magic act ’til doomsday, but he will remain unique.
Murray’s topic was the first Super Bowl, and it’s brilliant as usual. He spends most of the column (originally titled “Fee, Fi, Fo — Fumble” when it ran on January 16, 1967) comparing the AFL’s losing Kansas City Chiefs to legendary underdogs like Hansel and Gretel, St. George, Little Red Riding Hood, and the NFL’s imposing Green Bay Packers to the various witches, giants and dragons they defeated. But, as Murray points out, the game was not a fairy tale, and the inferior Chiefs “just turned back into pumpkins.” Clever enough. Then Murray adds a twist:
Of course, there’s another way to look at the Super Bowl game (and you realize here I’m just looking at the thing in its broad literary aspects, not from a prosaic yards-per-carry, first-downs-on-the-goal-line kind of thing).
You have the Horatio Alger Jr. slant. Here you have poor-but-honest Harold, better known as [Green Bay Packers Coach] Vinnie Lombardi, from this small town who puts together a team by pluck and hard work and long hours, and devotion to his mother and the wall mottos in the parlor.
He finally reaches the top through this kind of perseverance. Whereupon, rich old squire [Kansas City Chiefs’ owner] Lamar Hunt comes along with all of Daddy’s money and says, “Ha! What’s so great about that? Bring me my checkbook and I’ll do it overnight.”
And poor-but-honest Harold (Vinnie Lombardi) said, “Fi on you, sir! You will not make a mockery of my devotion to thrift and loyalty and make sport of me in this fashion. I will give you a good thrashing.”
So he did.
The Murray reprint is part of a package that includes a good story about that first Super Bowl, played at the Coliseum before 61,000 curious football fans — way below the arena’s capacity. The game that started the nation’s biggest extravaganza of sports and commercial hype was considered an anticlimax to the classic “run for daylight” battle between the Packers and Dallas Cowboys, which settled the NFL championship. The AFL had merged with the NFL before the 1966 season, but was still seen as a separate league with inferior players.
Because Super Bowl I didn’t sell out, both CBS and NBC blacked out the game on local TV. I lived in cold Connecticut then and clearly remember watching the first Super Bowl with my father and brothers. We had just gotten our first color TV, which was placed in our freshly-decorated basement den, so the game became symbolic for me of a new lifestyle around our house.
The game itself was blah, but seeing the sunlit green grass and vivid uniforms on the new TV sealed Los Angeles for me as the capital of color. A year later almost to the day, a TWA jet landed at LAX, and out came my family and me, new Californians on the way to our new home.