My most memorable moments covering sports (Part 9 – Super Bowls in New Orleans)
One of the best things about being a sports writer in New Orleans in that not only are there high school, college and professional teams to cover, but often time major events come here.
The first and biggest major team championship event to regularly visit New Orleans is the Super Bowl, going all the way back to Super Bowl IV in which the Kansas City Chiefs upset the Minnesota Vikings in Tulane Stadium in the final game before the AFL-NFL merger.
Since then nine more Super Bowls have been played in New Orleans as the Crescent City and Miami remain the most frequent stops for the NFL’s traveling championship spectacle.
I have covered the last five Super Bowls played in New Orleans, and those games comprise Part 9 in my 10-part series on the most memorable moments I have covered in sports.
- San Francisco 49ers 55, Denver Broncos 10 (1990)
The 49ers were prohibitive favorites and took a 13-3 lead after one quarter and a 27-3 lead at halftime and continued to expand their margin.
This was one of the least memorable Super Bowls ever played because of the 49ers’ record point total and margin of victory.
But sometimes in the absence of compelling competition you have to take a step back and simply appreciate the rare brilliance of an athlete or a team.
That Niners team was special and watching them perform was memorable.
- Green Bay Packers 35, New England Patriots 21 (1997)
This was the only Super Bowl that Brett Favre ever won.
I had seen Favre compete for Southern Mississippi against Tulane in the Superdome and the pinnacle of his NFL career took place in the same building.
But this game was memorable for other reasons as well.
It marked the first time a special teams player was named the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player as Desmond Howard’s 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown helped Green Bay break the game open in the third quarter.
Locally, the day was memorable for another reason. News had leaked during the week that the Saints were close to a deal to hire former Bears coach Mike Ditka as their new head coach.
Ditka took part in a pre-game ceremony on the field and I and a handful of other reporters managed to get down to field level and catch up with Ditka as he was walking toward an elevator to get to the suite from where he would watch the game.
“Mike, are you going to be the next head coach of the Saints?” I asked him.
Ditka’s answer was sufficiently vague that we knew he was about to be hired and the official announcement came later that week.
- Chicago Bears 46, New England Patriots 10 (1986)
Speaking of Ditka, the main reason he was hired was the success that his Bears team had in the 1985 season. They finished the season 15-1 and dominated the post-season in a year surpassed only by the 1972 Miami Dolphins’ perfect season.
This Bears team was as much a cultural phenomenon as a championship football team, featuring larger-than-life characters such as Ditka, defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, defensive lineman William “The Refrigerator” Perry and quarterback Jim McMahon. They even cut a popular music video, “The Super Bowl Shuffle.”
It was the first Super Bowl I covered and my assignment during the week was to cover the lead, breaking news story of the week. And the news kept breaking.
McMahon quarreled with the Bears over how to treat the bruised buttock he had suffered in the NFC Championship. The organization initially denied, then approved, McMahon’s request that his personal acupuncturist be allowed to treat him.
In between, a news helicopter circled over a Bears practice, trying to document how much McMahon was able to practice, and he responded by mooning the helicopter.
Meanwhile WDSU sports director Buddy Diliberto received a “tip” as the 10 p.m. newscast was ending that McMahon questioned the intelligence of the men in New Orleans and the virtue of the women in New Orleans.
Diliberto relayed what he had heard without checking to see if it was true, which it was not. The furor over the report led the station to suspend Diliberto and he holed up in Mobile, Ala., for the rest of the week.
Eventually the game was played and the Bears dominated.
- Baltimore Ravens Ravens 34, San Francisco 49ers 31 (2013)
The Super Bowl finally returned to New Orleans after a 10-year absence, the longest such drought for this city.
The match-up was distinctive because it marked the first time that the opposing head coaches in a Super Bowl were brothers. John Harbaugh was coaching the Ravens and Jim Harbaugh was coaching the 49ers, whose quarterback was Colin Kaepernick.
The game was disrupted for 34 minutes by a third-quarter power outage, but it wound up being a very good game. The Ravens, led by linebacker Ray Lewis in the final game of his career, kept the Niners out of the end zone late in the fourth quarter to prevail.
- New England Patriots 20, St. Louis Rams 17 (2002)
There have been a lot of lopsided Super Bowls.
There have been some poorly played Super Bowls.
There have been a few well played, very close Super Bowls and this was one of them.
The Rams and their “Greatest Show on Turf” offense were favored over a Patriots team that wasn’t expected to win the AFC.
The game was significant locally because the Rams featured two of the best football players ever to come out of New Orleans – running back Marshall Faulk and defensive back Aeneas Williams.
But this game was significant for non-football reasons. It was the first Super Bowl played in February because the first weekend of the season had been postponed one week in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The security at and around the Superdome was unprecedented, though not all that different than what has become the norm for major events ever since.
U2 provided one of the most memorable Super Bowl halftime shows, which climaxed when Bono opened his jacket to reveal a lining designed like an American flag.
The teams put on quite a show themselves and the game ended when New England’s Adam Vinatieri kicked a 48-yard field goal as time expired.
The Patriots moved into position for the kick with a textbook two-minute drive led by the game’s MVP – second-year quarterback Tom Brady, who had replaced an injured Drew Bledsoe early in the regular season.
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…