Over the past quarter century, I've been privileged to attend and cover 19 Super Bowls. I've witnessed game winning drives, upsets, blowouts, ice storms, and even the infamous wardrobe malfunction with Ms. Janet Jackson back in 2004 at the very same Houston stadium that will host Super Bowl LI on Sunday. It's been a full 13 years since Lombardi's Prize took center stage in our city, so it seems like a good time to relieve some of the most memorable moments covering the biggest spectacle in sports.
The best week of access and excitement: Super Bowl XXXI, January 26, 1997
For any media member, the goal is access and storylines. Far and away the greatest week of availability was leading into Super Bowl 31 in New Orleans. That matchup featured Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers vs. Drew Bledsoe and the New England Patriots. I can distinctly recall amazing meals with Michael Irvin and Sam Mills in the French Quarter. I conducted interviews for our network in the hotel rooms of Packers wide receiver Don Beebe and the team's president Bob Harlan. Bill Parcells was at his zenith of giving great sound bytes; it was awesome.
That week had a great flow, and was then turned upside down when the host city announced a few days before the Super Bowl that Mike Ditka would be the new head coach of the New Orleans Saints. The city went into a frenzy. By far, it provided the best access and the best excitement of coverage heading into the championship game.
Luckiest Media Moment: Super Bowl XXXII, Jan 25, 1998
Exactly one year later, the Green Bay Packers returned to the Super Bowl to defend their title against the Denver Broncos in San Diego. Heading into that week the biggest question was "could" Denver quarterback John Elway actually win "the big one?" After three previous Super Bowl losses by a combined 96 points, expectations were incredibly low for Elway. The coin toss featured Joe Gibbs and former quarterback Doug Williams, who had handed Elway one of those blowout losses earlier in his career, and I remember cringing and thinking, this is bad karma for #7.
Instead, in one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history, the Broncos, behind Elway's stellar play and a strong running game from eventual game MVP Terrell Davis, won 31-24. Late in the fourth quarter, I was on the sidelines standing next to Broncos wide receiver Ed Mccafferey. He had been injured late in the game, and was standing on crutches. Mccaffrey was one of our football analysts for our radio network and we had a great relationship by extension. Midway through the final quarter, he was placed on a golf cart as the medical team took him down a ramp toward the team locker room. I grabbed his helmet and asked, "Can I ride down with you?" His answer: "Hop on."
The result of that golf cart ride landed me in the victorious Broncos locker room a full 20 minutes before any other media member. I was the first to see Elway hug his wife, Janet, and Broncos owner Pat Bowlen. We actually interviewed Bowlen before NBC TV. It was a memorable night and game!
News travels slowly: Super Bowl XXXIII, Jan 31, 1999
For many, the game between the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons in Miami is not remembered for anything that actually transpired that day in the Broncos' Super Bowl repeat win in the last game that John Elway ever played. On the night before the game, Falcons safety Eugene Robinson was arrested for solicitation of prostitution along South Beach. Making it more ironic was that earlier that day, much of the media (myself included) had covered Robinson at a press conference as the recipient of the Bart Starr Award which recognizes "high moral character."
Fast forward to the Super Bowl Media Breakfast and, casually at the omelet stand were Atlanta Falcons PR folks who had no clue about the incident. They were simply excited for game day and were planning to enjoy their omelets and French toast. I've never seen a staff run out the door quicker in my life! News traveled much slower back then, and their day took a roller coaster turn, as it did for the Falcons, who were victimized early and often with the loss of Robinson from their secondary.
Class acts: Super Bowl XXXIV Jan 30th, 2000
The St. Louis Rams were the most electric offense I've ever witnessed in person. Billed as the "Greatest Show on Turf," they scored over 30 points in 12 of their games that season. Engineered by quarterback Kurt Warner, the Rams went undefeated at home that season, and Warner captured the MVP of the regular season and of Super Bowl XXXIV in the team's thrilling win over the Tennessee Titans in Atlanta. The Rams became the first ever domed team to win a World Championship.
After the contest, Rams Coach Dick Vermeil, the players, and even owner Georgia Frontiere couldn't have been more gracious. In the losing locker room, Eddie George gave us an extended interview, so courteous in defeat and such a class individual.
Even Andy Rooney from 60 Minutes, who sat next to me that night in the Georgia Dome, was in good spirits. Earlier in the week, when I chased Rooney down in a hotel lobby, he yelled, "I'm not a dog, you don't come running after me son!" On that night, all was well, and the city even thawed out from a brutal ice storm. I'm not sure if the city of Atlanta actually owned a salt truck, here's hoping they get it right in a few years when they host Super Bowl LIII.
Craig Larson Jr. is chief operating officer and program director of SB Nation Radio Network.