Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Please forgive me. I wrote columns for the sports page for so many years that I feel it imperative on Super Bowl Saturday to comment on the upcoming game. It will likely not be the greatest game because, as Duane Thomas once said, “They have another one scheduled for next year.”
Nevertheless, many traditional fans say that the ultimate game was played in New York in 1958 when the Baltimore Colts beat the Giants 23-17 in overtime. That game in ‘58 catapulted the National Football League into a major television attraction. Prior to that time, major league baseball dominated the media and college football was much more popular nationwide.
Once the legendary Johnny Unitas handed off to Alan Ameche for the game winner in the fading Gotham light, the NFL began its meteoric rise.
There is a local connection to that historic Colts backfield. A few years earlier, Ameche was selected in the draft and replaced the position once held by hard-running Zolly Toth. Toth graduated from Pocahontas High School where he was an all-area star for the Indians. He graduated from Louisiana State University and then turned pro.
Zolly, in fact, is credited as having been the first NFL runner to gain 100 yards in each of his first two games. He and the late “Bullet Bill” Dudley of Graham High School and University of Virginia fame were selected in 1950 to play in the professional all-star game now known as the Pro Bowl. Not bad for Tazewell County to have two players chosen for that honor. Dudley later won an NFL Most Valuable Player award and is in the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Getting back to the present, tomorrow’s game will be held at the Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., just across the river from Yankee Stadium. Actually, it is (sort of) Yankee Stadium III after a major renovation and then a construction of a new facility a few years back. Met Life will be hosting its first Super Bowl.
Many say the game should not be held in a cold-weather outdoor venue. They are too young to remember the NFL “Ice Bowl” between Dallas and Green Bay in 1967. Several players suffered frostbitten fingers and toes when the temperature dipped to –13 degrees.
Fans watching the Broncos and Seahawks live tomorrow will be given a “survival kit” including items ranging from earmuffs to lip balm.
That is probably little comfort to those survivors of the Frozen Tundra contest, who suffered in old-fashioned clothing a season before the introduction of artificial turf at the Astrodome in Houston, inaugurating the start of another unprecedented change in the business of outdoor sports.
Vince Lombardi coached the Packers to victory in that frozen festivity earning Green Bay a trip to the AFL-NFL World Championship Game in Los Angeles. The American Football League champion Kansas City Chiefs played the NFL leading Packers. Green Bay won 35-10 and won again 33-14 the next year over the Raiders.
It was New York again which revolutionized the league in 1969 when the Jets, running back Matt Snell and quarterback “Broadway” Joe Namath, upset the highly favored Colts 16-7 in Super Bowl III. That gave the AFL enough respect and leverage to force a merger so the two old leagues became conferences and the entire operation then became known as the NFL.
Kansas City owner Lamar Hunt helped to rename the game into the “Super” Bowl after he noticed one of his children playing with a popular toy known as the Super Ball. Lombardi was honored (he had passed away by then) in 1970 when the winner’s trophy was renamed for him.
The Pittsburgh Steelers won four Super Bowls in the 70s, with Northfork’s Tom Beasley (a Virginia Tech standout) being a key performer in several of them. Richlands High School All-State ace Mike Compton, an All American at West Virginia, helped the New England Patriots to a pair of NFL titles during his steller career. Welch native Rod Martin tied a Super Bowl record with three interceptions in Super Bowl XV to help the Raiders beat the Eagles.
The high temperature may reach 37 degrees Sunday, two degrees colder than Super Bowl VI in 1972, played outdoors at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans. That game warmed my heart, however with the following significant numbers — Dallas 24, Miami 3.
Larry Hypes, a teacher at Tazewell High School, is a Daily Telegraph columnist.