(SPORTS) FOOTBALL'S CHANGED

What an exciting finish for the 2002 Super Bowl - and what a fantastic win by an underdog New England Patriots team that hardly anyone except their own players and coaches thought could win. Overcoming the odds and the critics, this game reminded me of Super Bowl III and the realization of how much:

THINGS HAVE CHANGED IN FOOTBALL.
By Jug Varner

As you look in the mirror on a day-to-day basis, you hardly notice the change; but look at your photo taken 30+ years ago and the difference is painfully obvious. During Super Bowl Week I happened to watch a play-by-play rerun of the 1969 Super Bowl III, between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Jets. The changes I saw there were quite obvious, too.

Following lopsided wins by the National League in the first two Super Bowl of 1967 and 1968, experts smugly predicted a continuing fate for the “inferior” American League Jets. There was no way they would beat the highly favored Colts. The odds went up even higher after quarterback Joe Namath issued his now-famous pre-game public “guarantee” that his Jets would win.

“What a laugh! What a stupid thing to do,” the experts said. So did Joe's coach Weeb Eubanks… until after the final score read: Jets 16, Colts 7.

I remember watching that game on TV in 1969, and how everyone was amazed that the Jets pulled it off. Also amazing was the huge plate of crow the Colt players, National League officials, fans, and media know-it-alls had to eat. They thought it was a freak happening, until the next year when Kansas City Chiefs won Super Bowl IV.

Historically, it was the turning point of success for the newly merged NFL and fan interest in future Super Bowls. The game itself, however, was very mild by comparison to 21st Century pro football.

Here are some of the thoughts that came to me while recently viewing reruns of that historic game:

  • The players seemed slow and plodding by today's standards as if they were on a muddy field with the wrong cleats on their shoes, yet the weather and field conditions were obviously good.
  • Most of the players and coaches were Caucasian. Perhaps this may explain the above reference to “slow and plodding.”
  • Both teams' game plans were simple and unimaginative.
  • Players were not as violent (nor as big and fast) as they are today.
  • Neither team played as aggressively on either side of the ball as they do now.
  • Pass coverage was looser, slower, and not as hard-hitting.
  • This game was almost injury free.
  • There was no audible trash talk. (What was a plus that was!)
  • Game officials were definitely in charge. Coaches and players did not seriously challenge calls. Sportsmanship and respect for authority - a rare phenomenon seldom experienced in today's culture - was still in evidence. (Another plus!)

Although exciting then, play like that today would be considered by most of us as b-o-r-i-n-g. If it were possible to pit teams and rules of that era against teams and rules of today, the 1969 Super Bowl finalists might be hard-pressed to even compete against any of the 2002 Super Bowl play-off teams

Of course, many other things were different in that era. They had no computers, TV replays, stadium TV screens, sideline technology, domed stadiums, fake turf, etc. Super Bowl III was the first one with a sell-out crowd about 30,000. The tickets cost $12. The gate gross receipts then could hardly cover the minimum salary of one NFL player today!

TV in 1969 was not the financial impact it was destined to become, salary caps were not a problem, players' unions had little influence, and signing bonuses were like petty cash compared to the astronomical figures modern draftees command. The world was shocked back in the days when Broadway Joe got a $400,000 contract as a rookie out of Alabama.

The media know-it-alls have not changed much when is comes to picking winners. They still eat a lot of crow for bad guesses and are no better than the rest of us. Otherwise, it is a whole new world in the sports media of print, TV, talk radio, Internet, etc. These so-called experts explain, analyze, speculate, and rehash everything so much before the game ever starts that the kick-off becomes almost anticlimactic. Fortunately, the game still has to be played.

Then comes recap time. Hotshot TV ex-jock sports reporters on ESPN, FOX, et al, now speak in a new “buck thirty-six minutes” tongue. So do their female counterparts. But, aside from the glib reporting of these fragile-looking distaffers, it is hard for old-timers like me to accept their expertise about a game they have never played. Their invasion of locker rooms and sidelines has added a feminine touch that also seems out of place. But, now that women have become pro wresters and boxers, it probably won't be long before they crash the barriers as pro football and hockey players.

Football is definitely a “whole 'nother game” than it was in the days of Super Bowl III but so are all other sports in the 21st Century. It is a sports-crazy world badly in need of some genuine heroes.