V&R Stories: The National Football League and an Automotive Storyteller
As much as my brother and I liked the National Football League, it took us a while before we actually went to a game.
Before I dive into this little series of stories, I understand fully this is an automotive website. It is all about cars. However, the biggest game in American football is happening just a few miles from V&R's headquarters. How can we not ignore the hype?
Let's be honest here, how many of us actually are automotive enthusiasts and sports fans? I know for a fact that you might (or might not) be both. You might be on my Facebook posting photos from an NFL game – in particular, during the Minnesota Vikings regular season.
Since I was a child, the NFL was an added bonus after the baseball season. My mother was a huge baseball fan and made sure she handed down the game to both Matthew and I. Mom was not as interested in football unless the Los Angeles Rams did something special that season. Mind you, this was when the team played in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum the first time around (since 1946) before moving to Anaheim, St. Louis, and back to the Coliseum again.
Watching Merlin Olsen, Roman Gabriel, and the Youngbloods in the post-Fearsome Foursome era was all fine and dandy. Yet, I was curious about the league, the game, and the teams playing in it. For context, this was just after the merger of the NFL and the rival American Football League. It was after the AFL proved its point with Joe Namath fulfilling his guarantee of a New York Jets victory in Super Bowl III. By the time the Baltimore Colts settled into the new American Football Conference, they exacted their revenge for a Super Bowl victory two years later.
This is where my memory gets much clearer.
While the Rams were the local team, I sought fandom elsewhere. I found my team, thanks to a controversial call on a catch during the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. If Franco Harris did not scoop up that ball that bounced off of either the Steelers' John Fuqua or the Oakland Raiders' Jack Tatum, then I would not have given any attention to the NFL and that team in Western Pennsylvania.
From 1972, I was a Steelers fan. Franco Harris was my favorite player. Between him, Terry Bradshaw, the Steel Curtain defense, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, and Rocky Bleier, I would not have invested in pennants, jerseys, and a Terrible Towel. That childhood fan relationship lasted through Super Bowl XIV in 1980.
Since that point, I was a huge Joe Montana fan. The San Francisco 49ers quarterback grew up in Western Pennsylvania, went to the University of Norte Dame, showed how he could prove everyone wrong on the field at the 1979 Cotton Bowl, and would eventually become a hero for a city and a region. Before he could attain his hero status, he went to the school of Bill Walsh. In his third year, he earned the starting quarterback position on the 49ers. That would lead to The Catch to Dwight Clark and a win at Super Bowl XVI.
In 1987, I moved from Reseda to San Rafael, north of San Francisco. Prior my time in Marin County, my relationship with the 49ers deepened because of Montana and the rest of the team. They played in the first two NFL games I ever attended. The first was in the Coliseum, where the Rams were supplanted by the Raiders. That was September 22, 1985. I had my friends around me and we were running late. The plan was to just race down there – I had a rented Ford Tempo, the other car was a four-cylinder Mustang. What I can recall was making sure I made the lights going southbound on Vermont Avenue towards the Coliseum.
There were plenty of 49ers and Raiders fan on hand – 87,000 of us together watching my team win 34-10. We survived the heat, the drive, and just being there for this first NFL experience.
My next game in attendance would take place at Anaheim Stadium with the Rams and the 49ers. My memory of this game was foggy, but from what I recalled I took my brother and a friend to the game. The 49ers naturally won.
After my move north, I experienced the wins at Super Bowl XXIII and XXIV through house parties, a few friends, and an unbridled enthusiasm for the then-home team. I heard about the celebrations in The City on Broadway that were wild and splendid. I never made it down there to experience it.
I could have remained a 49ers fan through the rest of my time in the Bay Area. Yet, there was a quarterback controversy between Montana and Steve Young. I saw Young at a United States Football League game when he was on the Los Angeles Express. I thought he was one of the most over-hyped quarterbacks ever. He had since proved himself otherwise in later years.
After the 1992 season, the 49ers brass had to choose which starting quarterback they should play going forward. Eventually, they chose Young. Montana was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs in 1993.
That was the moment I stopped being a 49ers fan. I went with Montana for what he had done going back to the 1979 Cotton Bowl. I stuck with my quarterback during his two years at Arrowhead Stadium. By 1995, I was a free agent when he retired from the game.
I went through many teams in the 1990s and 2000s. I also went to more NFL games. In my lifetime – at least since 1985 – I have attended games at six stadiums across the country, including San Diego, Washington, and Baltimore. When I arrived in the Twin Cities, I was fortunate to have attended a few games at the old Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome – more than any NFL stadium.
When I got here, I jumped on the Viking Ship – another name for the bandwagon that this community likes jumping on-and-off of. Yet, it can be a ship that has tried to best to stay afloat with recent successes taken into consideration. This was a ship that almost sailed into Super Bowl LII, except it was thwarted by the Philadelphia Eagles and their unruly fans.
My biggest year on the Viking Ship was when they had Brett Favre as the quarterback. Once the enemy of the state, the Mississippi Gunslinger was welcomed as a presumptive hero here in Minnesota.
The enemy was the Green Bay Packers. Favre may have saved Wisconsin's proud NFL franchise, but he was seen as extremely obnoxious…and quite the curiosity. For Favre to come to the Vikings, it took a sense of vengeance on the part of the quarterback from the University of Southern Mississippi. When Favre first donned the purple for the first time, all was forgiven.
Perhaps it was compensation for the 49ers losing Montana that I gained another Hall of Fame quarterback in Favre. Yet, what he did under the Metrodome's Teflon roof was a spark of excitement I have never seen from this team. He was not Fran Tarkenton, Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham, or Dante Culpepper. Favre was the same ol' gunslinger that frustrated Vikings team when he was out in Wisconsin.
I enjoyed every minute of Favre's time on the Vikings. From the "Pants on The Ground" postgame dance to the moment he almost took the team back to the Super Bowl, he gave me joy and the license to wear purple in public among my fellow Twin Cities residents.
His time was short – like Montana's time in Kansas City. Yet, I appreciated Brett Favre's career as a whole. He may be a Packer in the end, but I still liked what he did out on the field.
It all comes down to this week for the NFL. U.S. Bank Stadium has been a very center of all activity in this community. It has been a purple beacon for the Eagles and New England Patriots, the NFL brass, its current and former heroes, and their fans to celebrate the game in our cold and unforgiving climate. Luckily, the game itself will be held inside of the massive building on the eastern part of downtown Minneapolis.
The new building is much better than the claustrophobic Metrodome, but I will always have my memories of seeing the Vikings inside the former facility. Sometimes, imperfect venues will draw out the most vivid memories. The same could be said of my only visit to what is now called San Diego County Credit Union (SDCCU) Stadium in Mission Valley. That Chargers-Seattle Seahawks game in 1986 was fun to watch, with Steve Largent making a career mark that game.
I have been inside the new stadium, as you may have seen last year on this site for a couple of motorsports events covered by this site. It is an impressive facility and will play the part come February 4.
For an automotive journalist, Super Bowl LII might serve a few stories from the broadcast itself. The commercials are a story – a business school study on how to spend millions of dollars to get the best message across for your products. It would also serve to tell the story as to which vehicle the game's MVP will get.
But, we are sportspeople, too. We might have a team in the big game. If they win, it is for our own benefit rather than a story.
Yet, the larger story is how we arrive at the stadium – or our television screen – and see the big game unfold. Or, tell the story of how our favorite team has done in the regular season. Or, to consider the "what ifs" of years present and past. This is how America and Americans deal with the NFL.
Of course, I get to deal with the streets being shut down in downtown Minneapolis for the week of the big game. Thanks, NFL…
All photos by Randy Stern