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A Ho-Hum Night: Commentary on the Commercials of Super Bowl XLVIII

Superbowlxvliii.screenhotI watch the Super Bowl for every facet of it.  The singing of the National Anthem by opera star Renee Fleming was OK, but couldn't compare to past efforts by Beyonce, Cher or Jennifer Hudson.  Bruno Mars' halftime show was a treat (I could have done without the brief appearance by the Red Hot Chili Peppers).  I didn't stick around after the game for the airing of The New Girl but I tuned in later for Brooklyn Nine-Nine.  As for the game itself, I waited for the Broncos' comeback, but it was not to be, but watching the Seahawks pounce on them had some entertainment value. 

 

SuperbowladsAnd then there is the advertising, a different animal from the game's other components because the ads aren't monolithic.  Each has to be considered separately.  But overall, they were an uninspiring lot.  Rest assured, no ad from this year's lineup of advertisers will be part of any Advertising Hall of Fame induction.  On a scale of 1-10 I would rate none at 8 or higher - even a 7 might be generous.  Nonetheless, I had a few favorites (relatively speaking).

 

  • Wonderful Pistachios - I've never liked this campaign, which has been running for three years, but with Stephen Colbert featured, I was amused.

Stephen.colbert.pistachios

 

  • Doritos - The time capsule made from a cardboard box made me laugh, especially when the fellow thought he had traveled to the future and the angry old neighbor greeting him when he opened the box was the little kid.
  • Chevy Silverado - This ad, showing a bull being taken to stud, got my attention because of the disco song "You Sexy Thing".  It was cute and I thought the photography of the bull and cows was great.

Chevy.silverado.bull

 

  • Butterfinger - A silly set-up with a couples therapy set up, but it did get my attention because of the product introduced, i.e., peanut butter cups.
  • Toyota - Featuring Terry Crews and the Muppets, Crews is appealing because of his exasperated muscle-hulk persona (somewhat like the Rock).  By coincidence, he also co-stars in the Fox sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which aired after the Super Bowl. 

Terry.crews.toyota.ad

 

  • Subway - Despite its usual uninspired creative, the ad nonetheless gained my attention with news about its Fritos Chicken Enchilada sub.
  • Go Daddy - The swarm of shirtless hulks running (along with a muscle lady) got my attention.  I watched it with interest to see what the ad was for and was, not surprisingly, disappointed by the payoff.
  • Esurance - Airing immediately after the game, it wasn't technically in the Super Bowl, but close enough.  I liked it because of John Krasinski's delivery.

 

Like all of the Super Bowls, the vast majority of ads were boring, nonsensical, derivative, aimed at the masses.  Rather than go through each one I'll feature just a few to berate (actually, fourteen of them):

 

  • Coca Cola - Despite it being on of the unofficial sponsors of American obesity not one overweight individual was shown.
  • Audi - Although the "doberhuahua" was somewhat amusing, the ad's tag line, "Compromise scares us too", turned me  off.  I half expected a voice at the end announcing that Audi was official car of the Tea Party.

Audi_dog

 

  • Chrysler - I was told this wasn't a Saturday Night Live parody commercial, but I'm not convinced.  Bob Dylan took the place of Clint Eastwood and Eminem who did similar rah-rah Detroit ads in previous Super Bowls.  Great, someone in their 70s touting a struggling industry.  I wonder if viewers under 30 even know who Dylan was?
  • Anheuser Busch Clydesdales - The "awww" factor stopped working for me years ago.  Now I just roll my eyes as I think of all the easily manipulated misty eyes across America.  A-B should have a tie-in with Hallmark.
  • Chobani Yogurt - So much build up for so little pay-off.  A bear eating yogurt?  Wow.
  • H&M - David Beckham has been featured perhaps one year too many.   Or is H&M planning on showing him every year as he ages?

David.beckham.handm

 

 

  • Beats Music - Ellen Degeneres once again milked her tiresome dancing routine.  (And I'm not looking forward to her hosting the Oscars.)  When I started writing about this ad my incorrect recollection was that this was an ad for Beats by Dr Dre. headphones.
  • Carmax - Yes, there were a number of funny aspects but too much of it was ho-hum, including the central character, who was an uncharismatic schlump.  And at the end of the ad I didn't know exactly what Carmax was.
  • Honda/Hugfest - This spot began with an earnest Bruce Willis, but then it turned stupid when the camera panned out to show Fred Armisen hugging him - what was the connection between the two?

Brucewillis.fredarmisne

 

  • Hyundai - I like Johnny Galecki but I hardly think of him as a spokesperson - and Richard Lewis?  He was barely recognizable.  And similar to Bruce Willis/Fred Armisen, what was the connection between the two?
  • Jeep/Are You Restless? - Puh-leez, much too pompous and the product pitch came much too late.
  • Volkswagen - A dad tells his uninterested daughter that an angel gets his wings every time a VW reaches 100,000 miles.  Too many examples shown, I got the point the first time.  And why did one of the guys at the urinal have small wings?  Only 50,000 miles?
  • Bud Light/Ian Rappaport's Night on the Town - I hate all mass-market beer commercials, and Anhueser-Busch is the exclusive beer advertiser at the big game. 
  • Crackle.com - Featuring Jerry and George from Seinfeld, I didn't realize this was an ad (for a website that airs Seinfeld's show "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee").  The only thing that went through my mind was how Jerry and George had aged but not Newman (who showed up at the end).

Jerry.george.superbowlad    

 


A Smorgasbord of Super Bowl Facts & Figures: A Game-by-Game Review

SuperbowltrophyWhether it's the game, the high-profile advertising, or its halftime show, the Super Bowl has something for nearly everyone - no wonder it attracts more than 100 million viewers.  (The only thing missing is a red carpet ceremony!)  To salute this all-encompassing event, what follows are brief summaries of each of the fifty-two Super Bowls, a quirky melange of milestones and fun facts - perfect for entertaining friends and family when they gather together for this year's game. 

 

1967

The first "AFL-NFL World Championship" game aired on two TV networks.  It had the smallest stadium attendance of any Super Bowl - 61,946.

 

Firstsuperbowl

1968

The Packers won for the second year in a row.  "Cheeseheads" would then have to wait until 1997 until their next Super Bowl appearance.  Two weeks after this win the Packers iconic coach, Vince Lombardi, announced his retirement.   

1969

This Super Bowl set a record for the fewest combined touchdowns, two.  The New York Jets' stunning upset of the Colts (who were 18 point favorites) was replicated later that year with the Mets' improbable World Series victory over the Orioles.  

 

Joenamath  

1970

The game was played with wet field conditions and under a threat of tornadoesCarol Channing provided halftime entertainment. 

1971

A field goal with five seconds left in the game broke a tie, giving Baltimore a victory over Dallas.  The cost of a :30 spot was 8% lower than the previous year (only four other years would have a price decrease).  Two years after singing the National Anthem, orange juice queen, Anita Bryant, performed this year's halftime show (this was six years before she became notorious for leading the charge against gay rights legislation in Dade Co.).  The game had the earliest East Coast kick-off time of any Super Bowl - 2PM. 

1972

At kick-off the temperature at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans was 38 degrees, making it the coldest of all Super Bowls.  The Cowboys defeated the Dolphins, who were limited to three points - the fewest points by a Super Bowl participant. 

 

1972superbowl

1973

A year after the coldest playing conditions for a Super Bowl, this year's had the warmest as the temperature was 84 degrees in Los Angeles at kick-off time.  Then the Miami Dolphins completed an undefeated season with a Super Bowl victory.  Their 14 points were the fewest scored by any winning team.  Their opponents, the Redskins, were held scoreless until 2:07 was left in the 4th Quarter.

 

84

1974

This was the first Super Bowl to charge $100,000 for a :30 commercial ($480,000 in today's inflation-adjusted dollars). 

1975

At halftime the score was Steelers 2 Vikings 0, the fewest combined points in the first half of any Super Bowl. 

1976

It was a very chilly day in Miami, with a kick-off temperature of only 57 degrees.  The telecast had the highest share of viewing of any Super Bowl - 78%.  A Bicentennial themed halftime show featured the squeaky clean singers and dancers known as "Up With People". 

 

Upwithpeople

1977

Super Bowl XI took place on Jan. 9, the earliest date ever.  It was also the first game played before a crowd of 100,000+.  Rather than sing the National Anthem at the start of the game, Vikki Carr sang America the Beautiful.  This was the Vikings fourth, and last, Super Bowl appearance (they lost all four games). 

1978

This was the first Super Bowl played in a domed stadium, New Orleans' Superdome (it would be held there six more times).  It was also the first with a kick-off time after 6PM on the East Coast (6:17). 

1979

The 31 points scored by the Cowboys was the most by a losing team (the Steelers won with 34 points).  This record was later tied by the 49ers in 2013 (the Ravens won with 35).

 

1979superbowl_steelers

1980

Nearly 104,000 attended the game at the LA Coliseum, the largest Super Bowl crowd ever.  One of the game's participants was the Los Angeles Rams, the first Super Bowl participant to play in its own TV market.  For the second time the Steelers won back-to-back Super Bowls (the first time was in 1975 and 1976) - the only team to do so. 

1981

To honor the American hostages in Iran who were released five days earlier, attendees were given yellow bows to hold in the air.  The price of a :30 spot was 45% higher than the previous year - the biggest year-to-year increase of any year. 

1982

This was the highest rated of any Super Bowl, with a 49.1 household rating.  The first Super Bowl to be played in a northern city (Detroit), it was played in a domed stadium, thereby protecting spectators and players from outdoor temperatures that hovered around 20 degrees.

 

1982superbowl

1983

The 1982 NFL season had been shortened by seven games due to a players strike in Sept/October.  Still, interest was quite high for the Super Bowl as the game posted its second highest rating.  After the game NBC premiered The A Team

1984

Apple's famed "1984" commercial aired during the game.  Before the game Barry Manilow sang the National Anthem.

 

Apple1984

1985

The game was played at Stanford Stadium in foggy conditions.  Featuring the 49ers and Dolphins, it was played just 25 miles from the 49ers stadium - the second Super Bowl participant to have close to a home field advantage (the first was the LA Rams in 1980).  The cost of a :30 commercial was 40% higher than that of 1984's game. 

1986

This was the first Super Bowl appearance by "Da Bears".  It was the last game to get a 70 share of viewing until 2012.

 

Dabears 

1987

Anheuser-Busch introduced Bud Light mascot Spuds MacKenzie during the game.  And after the game Disney unveiled its "I'm Going to Disneyland!" campaign.

 

Spuds.mackenzie

1988

One year after the Giants set the record for most points scored in the second half of a Super Bowl, the Redskins set the mark for most in the first half, with 35.  All of these points were scored in the 2nd quarter - the most for any quarter.  The game's 41.9 household rating was the lowest in 14 years.  Herb Alpert performed the last instrumental version of the National Anthem. 

1989

Coke aired a commercial in 3-D during halftime (glasses were distributed at supermarkets).  Also, Anheuser-Busch aired a series of ads called "The Bud Bowl" between teams of animated bottles of Bud Light and Budweiser.  Hundreds of Elvis impersonators performed during halftime, but no Elvis songs were performed.  (On a personal note, I won $50 in the office pool for the First Quarter score.)

1990

This was the most one-sided Super Bowl as the 49ers crushed the Broncos 55-10.  It was also quarterback Joe Montana's 4th Super Bowl win, tying him with the Steelers' Terry Bradshaw.  This was the third time the Broncos appeared in the past four years - all losses.  The game's 39.0 household rating was the lowest since 1969. 

1991

This game is remembered for Whitney Houston's powerful rendition of the National Anthem.  The game was a heart breaker for Buffalo as their kicker missed a game-winning field goal in the game's final second.  With a final score of 20-19, this is the only Super Bowl decided by one point.

 

Whitneyhouston_superbowl 

1992

Fox counter programmed the Super Bowl's halftime show with its comedy show In Living Color, and it created a noticeable viewing dip as the game's rating fell 24% from the 2nd quarter (a loss of 22 million viewers).  This was also the first Super Bowl to use a signer during the singing of the National Anthem.

 

Men.on.film

1993

The Cowboys 21 points in the 4th Quarter was the most ever scored in that quarter.  Final score was 52-17.  To prevent counter programming from stealing its halftime audience, Michael Jackson performed - the beginning of high profile acts appearing at halftime.

 

Michael.jackson_superbowl

1994

Despite the Bills' kicker Steve Christie kicking the longest field goal in Super Bowl history (54 yards), Buffalo lost the Super Bowl for the fourth year in a row. 

1995

This was the first Super Bowl to charge $1 million for a :30 ad unit.  As for the game, the 49ers were 18-1/2 point favorites, the biggest spread ever, and won by 23, 49-26.  49ers quarterback Steve Young set a Super Bowl mark by throwing six touchdown passes.  The two teams combined for 75 points, most ever.  This is the only Super Bowl played between two West Coast teams (the San Diego Chargers was the other team).  This was the 49ers' fifth Super Bowl win, and it would their last time at the Big Game until 2013.  During the game the Budweiser frogs, Bud, Wies and Er, were first introduced.

 

One.million.dollars

1996

Diana Ross headlined the halftime show and ended her performance with a dramatic exit by helicopter.  An episode of Friends aired after the game and delivered an audience of 52 million, making it the largest Super Bowl lead-out ever. 

1997

The 24 points scored in the 1st quarter (New England 14 Green Bay 10) was the most ever.  This was the Packers first Super Bowl appearance since Super Bowl II. 

1998

The pre-game show was hosted by Sat. Night Live's Phil Hartman, who was murdered by his wife three months later.

 

Philhartman

1999

Cher, whose latest single Believe was rising on the charts, sang the National Anthem.

 

Cher_superbowl

2000

The average price of a :30 spot topped $2 million.  Host city, Atlanta, was plagued by two ice storms in the week leading up to the game.  This Super Bowl is often referred to as the "Dot-com Bowl" because nineteen dot-com companies aired commercials (nearly half of them were out of business within a few years, including Pets.com).

 

Pets

2001

Following the game the Season 2 premiere of Survivor aired, and its audience of 47 million was the second largest of any post-game programming. 

2002

The game was played at New Orleans' Superdome for the sixth time, most of any venue (a seventh time would be in 2013).  This Super Bowl had the distinction of having the latest kick-off time (on the East Coast) - 6:40 PM.  As for the game, the Patriots kicked a field goal with seven seconds remaining to win.  President Bush became the first president involved in any part of the game as he participated in the opening coin toss.  As U2 sang Where the Streets Have No Name during halftime, the names of all those who died on 9-11 were displayed on a white sheet behind the stage.  For the second year in a row the price of a :30 ad declined.

 

911superbowl

2003

In their first Super Bowl appearance, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won.  With a temperature of 82 degrees at kick-off time, this was the second warmest Super Bowl.  This was also the fourth Super Bowl to be played on Jan. 26 - the most of any date. 

2004

This game is known for the "Nipplegate" halftime incident between Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson.  As for the game, the 37 combined points scored in the 4th quarter was the most scored in any quarter of a Super Bowl.  And two years after New England won with seven seconds left, this year they won the game with eight seconds remaining.

 

Nipplegate

2005

Animal Planet aired its first Puppy Bowl opposite the game.  New England won for the second year in a row, the eighth time a team had back-to-back championships.

 

Puppybowl

2006

The Rolling Stones provided the halftime entertainment.  This was the first Super Bowl to use a five-second delay during the show. 

2007

This is the only Super Bowl in which the opening kickoff was returned for a touchdown.  Prince's halftime show took place in a steady rain.  An ad for Snickers created controversy because it showed two kissing after eating a Snickers bar from opposite ends.

 

Snickers

2008

In winning the Super Bowl, the Giants handed the Patriots their only loss of the season.  The E-Trade baby made his first appearance during the telecast.

 

2008superbowl

2009

The Steelers came from behind in the final minute to beat the Arizona Cardinals for their sixth Super Bowl victory, the most of any team.  Despite the Great Recession, the price of a :30 saw a price increase. 

2010

The Saints won in their first Super Bowl appearance.  The night's most popular commercial was for Snickers in which Betty White gets tackled during a football game.

 

Bettywhite_snickers

2011

Christina Aguilera sang the Star-Spangled Banner and got some of the lyrics wrong.  This was the first time Dallas hosted the Super Bowl. 

2012

Madonna provided the halftime entertainment and perhaps helped make this the Super Bowl with the largest TV audience -111.4 million (not to be confused with highest rating, which was in 1982).

 

Madonna_superbowl2

2013

The game's second half was delayed 34 minutes due to a partial power failure.  Nine years after she was tapped to sing the National Anthem, Beyonce provided the halftime entertainment in a fierce get up that was a cross between Victoria's Secret and dominatrix.  The Ravens' Super Bowl victory was the first for the city of Baltimore since 1971 - when its NFL team was the Colts.

 

Beyonce_superbowl

2014

This was the first Super Bowl played in an uncovered northern stadium, in northern New Jersey.  In the midst of a harsh/snowy winter the weather turned out not to be an issue as the temperature at game time was 49°.  (Eight inches of snow fell the following day.)  Renee Fleming was the first opera singer to sing the National Anthem.  As for the game, the Broncos gave up a safety on the opening play and it was downhill from there, with the Seattle Seahawks easily winning 44-8.  

2015

The Seahawks appeared in the game for the second year in a row and it appeared as if they were on their way to another victory, but then New England ended their scoring drive by intercepting a pass at the one-yard line with 24 seconds left to play.  Katy Perry  was the primary halftime entertainment which was marked by dancing sharks.  She ended by swinging across the field on a wire.  This was the first game to offer :15 commercials.  The game had the largest audience of any Super Bowl (but not the highest rating, which was posted in 1982), with peaks during halftime and in the game's closing minutes (121 million viewers).

 

Katyperry.sharks.superbowl 

2016

This was the Golden Anniversary of the Super Bowl (i.e., the 50th) and it was also the final game of Denver Bronco quarterback Peyton Manning's 17-year career, and he made it memorable with a victory - Denver's third Super Bowl championship.  This was the first Super Bowl to charge $5 million for a :30 commercial.  Carolina Panther QB, Cam Newton, came across as a sore loser when he walked out of the post-game news conference.

 

Payton manning super bowl 50

2017

This was the first Super Bowl that went into overtime.  Down 28-3 near the end of the Third Quarter, the Patriots made the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, beating the Atlanta Falcons, 34-28.  This was the Patriots' fifth Super Bowl victory (one behind the Steelers).  Country singer Luke Bryan was the first male singer to perform the National Anthem in ten years (when Billy Joel sang it).  Halftime entertainment was provided by Lady Gaga.  With the game coming just two weeks after Donald Trump's inauguration, there was speculation about whether she would make some sort of anti-Trump statement since she was known for making political statements.  And while there was nothing overt, it was felt that her choice of two patriotic songs at the beginning of her set, God Bless America and This Land is Your Land, was intended to suggest the need for prayer for the nation, and a reminder of the ideals that were the basis of the nation's founding.

 

Tom brady super bowl LI

2018

This year a comeback by the Patriots' (appearing in their tenth Super Bowl) was thwarted by a fumble in the closing minutes, enabling the Philadelphia Eagles to win their first Super Bowl.  A very small consolation for New England was the fact that the 33 points it scored was the most to be scored by a losing team.  Despite the game being an exciting one the average viewing audience was the smallest in nine years.  Halftime entertainment was provided by Justin Timberlake, 14 years after his and Janet Jackson's controversial 'Nipplegate' performance during that Super Bowl's halftime.

 

Philadelphia-eagles-victory-super-bowl-2018-billboard-1548

2019

For the first time in ten years the Super Bowl, which was the lowest scoring ever (Patriots 13 Rams 3), had an average-minute audience of less than 100 million. The halftime show featuring Maroon 5 and some rap stars from Atlanta (which hosted the game) paled in comparison to previous halftimes starring the likes of Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, Madonna and Katy Perry.  For me the most memorable part of the game was a commercial for Burger King that used footage from a 1960s documentary showing Andy Warhol unwrapping a BK hamburger and putting Heinz ketchup on it.  And although Burger King paid for the :45 ad (estimated cost of $7.8 million), Heinz had equally prominent placement.

 

Andy warhol
   

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"Nipplegate" - A Split Second of Titillation at the Super Bowl (February 1, 2004)

Nipplegate For the most part I watch the Super Bowl for its commercials and the game but I usually don't stick around for the halftime show.  However, I have seen a few of them, e.g. Diana Ross leaving by helicopter after her performance in 1996; U2 performing in 2002 as the names of 9-11 victims were displayed on an electronic banner; Prince stoically prancing around in the rain in Super Bowl XXXI.  But halftime is usually when I'm in the kitchen preparing dinner or washing pots and pans.  And that's where l was when halftime festivities of Super Bowl XXXVIII began (Feb. 1, 2004).  Although I could hear Justin Timberlake singing his hit song Rock Your Body, I missed "the incident" when he aggressively exposed Janet Jackson's right breast to the night air - and to 90 million viewers nationwide.  In fact, I wasn't even aware of it happening until the next day when I went into the office and overheard the water cooler chatter.

 

 

 

Tom_brady_super_bowlAlthough Janet Jackson's career went into somewhat of tailspin after her "wardrobe malfunction" Timberlake's wasn't hurt one bit.  By the way, there was a football game played that evening as well, one with a thrilling ending.  After the Carolina Panthers tied the game with one minute left to play the New England Patriots won the game on a field goal with four seconds remaining. 

 

  


The Highest Rated Super Bowl of All Time (January 24, 1982)

Superbowl_XVI Perhaps helped by a weekend snowstorm and cold wave over the Midwest and Northeast, Super Bowl XVI between the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals (played on Jan. 24, 1982) has the distinction of being the highest rated Super Bowl of them all.  The game, which the 49ers won by a score of 26-21, posted a 49.1 household rating/73 share.  It still ranks as the 4th highest rated telecast of all time (behind the final episode of M*A*S*H in 1983; the "Who Shot J.R?" episode of Dallas in 1980; and the final episode of Roots in 1977).  There have been Super Bowls with larger audiences (due to population increase) but no game since has pulled a higher rating. 

 

This game also had the distinction of being the first Super Bowl played in a northern city - Detroit.  Luckily for fans and players it was played in a domed stadium (the Silverdome) since the outside temperature was 20 degrees.  (44 years later the first Super Bowl to be played in an uncovered stadium in the northern US took place in northern New Jersey.)  To read about other fun facts about other Super Bowls, double click here.

 

Joe_montana_superbowl I didn't see the big game.  That weekend found me in Connecticut visiting my boyfriend Rick who lived in Middletown (the following year he'd move into Manhattan with me).  That Sunday afternoon we drove up to the hamlet of Norfolk in snowy Litchfield County (in the northwestern corner of the state) to visit his friends Debbie and Mort (a burly forest ranger).  We had a brief delay on the drive there when our car was hit by a pile of snow and ice that crashed down upon us from a snowplow working on a highway overpass.  And later that evening my trip back to Manhattan would be delayed because Rick's car became stuck in the driveway, frozen in place.   

 

(Although no books/DVDs for this particular game are available the newly published book The Ultimate Super Bowl Book offers stats & stories about all 43 match-ups while the DVD NFL Films Super Bowl Collection XI-XX recaps highlights of the games played between 1977-1986.)

 


The "Immaculate Reception" of Franco Harris (December 23, 1972)

Until 1972 my hometown Pittsburgh Steelers had a long history of losing.  This season, however, they finished with a solid winning record (11-3) and made it to the playoffs.  On Saturday, Dec. 23 the Oakland Raiders were in Pittsburgh playing the Steelers in the AFC Divisional Playoffs.  That afternoon, while the game was being played, I was out collecting payment from customers of my morning paper route (the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).  Since it was Christmas, instead of the usual 25 or 50 cent tips, I was collecting tips in the stratospheric $2 to $5 range.

 

Franco_harris_immaculate_reception 

 

When I returned home the game was on the radio, and it didn't look good as the Raiders had a 7-6 lead very late in the game.  Then in a flash the tables were turned as a pass by Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw bounced off the intended receiver and landed in the hands of Steelers rookie (and NFL Rookie of the Year) Franco Harris just before it reached the ground.  He scooped it up and scooted 60 yards for the game winning touchdown with less than 20 seconds remaining.  However, it took five minutes before Harris' catch was confirmed by officials as a legitimate reception.  It was even more confusing if you weren't watching on TV as was our case since the game was blacked out in Pittsburgh. 

 

Franco_harris_playingcard

 

 

 

Pittsburghsteelers_book Even today it seems unbelievable that this catch happened.  And although the Steelers season ended the following week, when they lost to the undefeated Miami Dolphins, it was the beginning of the Steelers becoming one of the most successful and widely followed teams in the nation.  (To immerse yourself fully in "Steelers Nation" lore the book The Good, The Bad & The Ugly Pittsburgh Steelers is a good starting point.)  


The Hijacker Vanishes: The Legend of DB Cooper (November 24, 1971)

Pittsburgh_penguins The day before Thanksgiving 1971 was a snowy one in the hills of Western Pennsylvania (about 4" fell).  I was in the 9th grade at the time and my dad had gotten four tickets at work to tonight's Penguins hockey game at Pittsburgh's Civic Arena.  I went with my older sister Linda, older brother Darrell (home for the holiday during his freshman year at Indiana University of PA) and a neighbor from down the street.  The Penguins lost to Toronto 2-1 but it was an enjoyable outing nonetheless. 

 

 

Snow_covered_street Walking home after getting off the bus we were playing around in the snow and throwing an occasional snowball.  At one point I jerked my head to avoid one being thrown and my glasses flew off.  After looking for them for some time with no luck I ran home to get a flashlight (Mom joined us).  Finally, in the midst of our search a neighbor approached in his car and stopped when he saw our search party in the middle of the street.  He stayed so we could look in the light cast by his high beams and shortly thereafter we found my glasses.  We had been out in the cold for close to an hour.

 

Db_cooper Meanwhile, while we conducted our search another was about to unfold in the Pacific Northwest.  A passenger named DB Cooper had hijacked a plane, demanded parachutes and $200,000 (about $1 million in today's $) and then jumped from the plane during a rainstorm into the wilderness north of Portland, Oregon.  Although hijackings had become a hazard of air travel since the late 60's, the way this one was carried out made it unique.  And although a bundle of deteriorated twenty-dollar bills was discovered in 1980, and traced back to those given him, Cooper himself was never found. 

 

 

(The book D.B. Cooper: Dead or Alive? provides the full story of this mysterious man and his curious caper.)  The following clip goes into greater detail about Cooper.

 

 

 

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Bill Buckner's Error Gives Mets Incredible World Series Win (October 25, 1986)

Game6 October 25 was a Saturday evening and I had gone to the commitment ceremony for two lesbian friends, Helena and Diana, who lived on Manhattan's Upper East Side.  After the ceremony our party of fifteen hopped into taxis and went down to the Chinese restaurant Marvelous Mandarin in the East Village.  The entire night we followed Game 6 of the World Series between the Red Sox and Mets.  (By coincidence I had gone to the Mets' last game of the regular season with Helena and Diana.)  After dinner the gang was going to continue celebrating this happy occasion and go to a dance club, but I had a touch of a cold and was low on energy and decided to go home instead. 

 

 

Buckner When I left the restaurant shortly after midnight the Mets, who had come back twice to tie the game, had once again fallen behind.  It was now the bottom of the 10th inning, Boston was ahead 5-3 and there were two outs and the bases were empty.  I reconciled myself to the reality that the World Series was over and the Red Sox had finally broken their "curse".  Of course it was a disappointment, especially since the Mets had a 108-54 record during the regular season.  However, a few minutes after I began walking across town to my apartment in the West Village the streets exploded as if it was New Year's Eve.  Curious, I popped my head into a nearby bar and heard the unbelievable news that the Mets had come back to win the game after an easy ground ball hit by Mookie Wilson went through the legs of Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner!

 

 

Worldseriespin The Mets went on to win Game 7 two days later, making them World Series champions, but after Game 6's amazing finish it was almost anti-climatic.  It was somewhat similar to the 1975 Series in which the Red Sox's Carlton Fisk's memorable home run in Game 6 is remembered more than the fact that Boston lost the Series the next day. 

 

 

(To further immerse yourself in the '86 World Series the 1986 Mets World Series Collector's Edition DVD is worth considering.) 

 

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Post-Season Baseball: The Agony & the Ecstasy

A few weeks ago I wrote about ten hurricanes and the memories I associated with each of them.  In this post I've chosen to write of memories I connect with ten post-season baseball games over the past 45 years (not including the 1986 World Series, which I've written about in a previous post).

 

1969 World Series

Game 5/Mets vs. Baltimore (Oct. 16)

I was home from school (7th Grade) with a cold so I was able to watch the entire game.  I wasn't rooting for the Mets because, despite winning 100 games in the regular season, in my eyes their rise was a fluke.  (I felt the same when expansion teams like Florida, Arizona and Tampa Bay played in the World Series.)  And I certainly didn't think they'd be able to prevail over the mighty Orioles (who had won 109 games), but not only did the Mets do it - but in just five games.  

 

Mets_win_1969_WS 

 

1971 World Series

Game 7/Pittsburgh vs. Baltimore (Oct. 17)

It was a Sunday afternoon when the Pirates won a 2-1 nail-biter over the Orioles to win the World Series.  My mother and I waited for the game to end before we drove my grandmother home, honking the car horn the entire way.  (My dad, never a big Pirates fan watched the day's football games on our other TV.)  We also put a big "Bucs Fever" sign in the living room window.  Since I was too young to celebrate the Pirates' 1960 World Series victory over the Yankees this one was very sweet.  The '71 Series was the first to have a game played at night, a novelty that eventually became the norm by the mid-1980s.

 

1971_WorldSeries 

 

1972 National League Playoffs

Game 5/Pittsburgh vs. Cincinnati (Oct. 11)

The game was still being played when I headed out to my weekly Junior Achievement meeting in downtown Pittsburgh, so I brought my transistor radio with me to listen to the closing innings.  As the bus I was riding approached the City on the Ft. Pitt Bridge I heard the Reds score the winning run in the bottom of the 9th inning on a wild pitch to advance to the World Series.  A similar crushing loss in the bottom of the 9th happened to the Pirates 20 years later when they lost Game 7 of the NL Championship Series to Atlanta.  (Then they went 21 years before their next winning season.)

 

1972nlchampionship

 

1973 National League Playoffs

Game 3/Mets vs. Cincinnati (Oct. 8)

I had just come home from school and turned on the game.  As I was changing clothes Pete Rose and Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson got into a scuffle after Rose slid hard into Harrelson at 2nd base.  However, the Mets got the last laugh by advancing to the World Series.  Like 1969, I wasn't a Mets fan, especially since they barely had a winning record (82-79) and had passed my Pirates in the final week of the season to win the NL East.  Two big news events occurred during that post-season: 1) VP Spiro Agnew resigned due to tax problems and 2) Egypt attacked Israel on the eve of Yom Kippur during the weekend the World Series began.    

 

 

Peterose_budharrelson_1973

 

1975 World Series

Game 6/Cincinnati vs. Boston (Oct. 21)

I was in my freshman year at Penn State and watched the game in a friend's dorm room when it went into extra innings, so I saw the Red Sox' Carlton Fisk hit his famous game-winning home run in the bottom of the 12th inning.  This game was such a good one that almost forgotten is the fact that Cincinnati won the next day to win the World Series.  

 

FiskHR_1975worldseries 

 

1978 AL Tie-Breaker

Yankees vs. Red Sox (Oct. 2)

The Yankees had stormed back in August and September to tie the Red Sox for the AL East crown and played a one-game tie-breaker.   I watched the first seven innings in my dorm's TV room.  I left for dinner after seeing the Yankees' Bucky Dent (pictured with Reggie Jackson) hit his memorable 3-run homer over the Green Monster at Fenway to erase Boston's 2-0 lead.  The Yankees won the game and went to the World Series - which they won over the Dodgers for the second year in a row. 

 

Bucky_dent

 

1979 World Series

Game 7/Pittsburgh vs. Baltimore (Oct. 17)

The "We Are Family" Pirates defeated the Orioles in a carbon copy of their 1971 World Series championship over them, i.e. after falling behind 3 games to 1, they swept the next three games.  But it was a bittersweet victory for me because I was living in northern New Jersey and there was no celebrating crowd.  I called my brother who lived down the street and then my parents back in Pittsburgh to share the good news.

 

1979Game7_linescore 

 

1989 World Series

Game 3/Oakland vs San Francisco (Oct. 17)

This World Series is forever known for the earthquake that struck minutes before Game 3 was about to start - and captured on live TV.  I had turned on the game about five minutes after the quake hit.  Since the Series involved two teams from the Bay Area it was delayed for 10 days.

 

 

 

 

 

2003 NL Championship Series

Game 6/Marlins vs. Cubs/Oct. 14

As was my usual habit I went to the gym late after taking a nap (around 9:30).  The game was on one of the TV monitors above the treadmills and Stairmasters, and when I left it appeared the game was in hand with the Cubs leading 3-0 in the top of the 8th inning.  If they won they'd advance to the World Series and get a chance to break their 95-year streak without a World Series championship.  However, between the time I left and got back to my apartment, about 10 minutes, the game had turned around completely and the Marlins had taken an 8-3 lead!  It turned out that an overzealous fan (the infamous Steve Bartman) had leaned over and deflected a fly ball that the Cubs outfielder was about to catch.  After that the floodgates opened.  (This was was somewhat similar to what happened in the 1996 AL League Championship between the Orioles and Yankees when 12-year old Jeffrey Maier reached out to grab a fly ball hit by Derek Jeter that was about to be caught.  It was called a home run and the Yankees won the game because of it.)   

 

Cubs_2003   

 

2009 World Series

Philadelphia vs. Yankees

A novel experience was having someone to watch the games with as my boyfriend David was also a baseball fan.  However, we had different ways of enjoying the games.  For instance, David was more a student of pitching while I liked high-scoring games.  Furthermore, he found it peculiar that I often commented about the appearance of each player as they came to bat (which I thought was normal, especially for a gay man).  Lastly, I found it nerve wracking to sit through an entire game, especially if the Yankees had a lead, while David enjoyed watching the entire nine innings.  However, one thing we had in common was rooting for the Yankees, who beat the Phillies in six games.

 

2009worldseries_Yankees 

 

 


The Pirates' Bill Mazeroski Hits a World Series Home Run for the Ages (October 13, 1960)

Maz_rounding_bases_1960 Growing up in Pittsburgh, one of the proudest moments in the city's history, a story passed down through the generations, was the Pirates' World Series championship in 1960 over the mighty New York Yankees.  In the most dramatic ending in World Series history, Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski hit a home run in the bottom of the 9th inning to win Game 7.  It seemed fitting that the title came to Pittsburgh because the "Steel City" was going through its "Renaissance" at the time, a massive civic campaign to clean the air/water, create parks and rebuild parts of downtown. 

 

DSCN1091 In the first six games of the Series the Yankees had scored twice as many runs as Pittsburgh, yet the Pirates managed to win three games.  In the games won by the Yanks, they crushed the Pirates (by scores of 16-3, 10-0, 12-0) while the Pirates wins were games in which its pitchers shined (6-4, 3-2, 5-2).  Then in Game 7 the Pirates ramped up its offense.  It was a see-saw game and after the Yankees scored two runes in the top of the 9th the game was tied 9-9.

 

Images "Maz" was the first batter in the bottom of the 9th and he hit his famous home run a little past 3:30.  My mother was watching the game with my older brother and sister who were already home from school (2nd and 5th Grades, respectively).  As for me, I was just 3 years old so I have no recollection.  Since my father had bet against the Pirates, when he came home from work at 4:30 Mom and my brother Darrell met him on the sidewalk waving a "crying towel".  His bet was with a neighbor from across the street for a case of beer (Iron City, of course).  Mr. Zamanski magnanimously didn't want Dad to pay-up but Dad insisted and they drank a bottle together.

 

 

 

Bucs_are_champs_headline Fast forward 50 years.  As the anniversary of Game 7 approached word came that a kinescope of the game had been found in the wine cellar of Bing Crosby's home outside of San Francisco.  Crosby had been a partial owner of the Pirates back in 1960 and was too nervous to watch the game so he arranged to have a tape made of the game being shown on the TV screen that he could watch later.  It's the only recording of the entire that exists.   

 

Maz_and_statue The Pirates also had dramatic World Series triumphs in 1971 and 1979, both times coming from 3-games-to-1 deficits to prevail (defeating Baltimore each time).  However, neither matched the adrenaline rush of that late afternoon home run over the scoreboard in beloved Forbes Field.  (The book The Best Game Ever: Pirates 10 Yankees 9 offers an in-depth, inning-by-inning account of Game 7.)  Happily, "Maz" is still with us (at age 77) and to honor him a statue outside Heinz Field was unveiled three summers ago.

 


Marveling at History Through the Covers of TIME Magazine

Newsstand2When I was growing up magazines were always found in our house.  We had subscriptions to Time, Sports Illustrated, Good Housekeeping, Look, Money and Consumer Reports.  Thrown into the mix were subscriptions my older sister had to Cosmo, People and Rolling Stone.  And I had my own subcriptions to Jack & Jill (when I was in grade school), Weatherwise and Baseball Digest.  And I've always been drawn to magazine covers. During my sophomore and junior years at Penn State I stapled covers from various magazines to the ceiling of my dorm room to give it a unique look.  (I still collect covers that catch my eye and I've amassed a nice collection.)

 

Until this decade, when newsweeklies began struggling mightily for relevance due to the draw of the Internet, there was a certain cachet attached to appearing on the cover of TIME Magazine (however, unlike Rolling Stone, a song was never written about it).  Since it began publishing in March 1923 approximately 4,600 covers have been published.  I recently surveyed these covers and was mesmerized by the wonderful review of US and world history they provided.  

 

TIME_Magazine_MarilynMonroe 

 

In Times's first few decades covers were relatively uninspired B/W portraits but they slowly evolved and became more eye-catching, incorporating a mix of styles, e.g., photographs, collages or illustrations.  (Covers of the past decade feature noticeably more white space.)  Some were created by well-known artists of the day such as Andy Warhol (first cover, below), Peter Max (middle cover) and Robert Rauschenberg.  Many covers around Christmastime had a religious theme depicted by beautiful paintings.  Covers can be purchased through Time's website; those featuring the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Leonard Bernstein or Jackie Kennedy, for example, are great conversation pieces and make great wall decorations.

 

Time_Magazine_AndyWarhol

  Time_magazine_rfk

  Time.mag.leonardbernstein

 

As the 1950s progressed cover subjects began to touch upon societal trends and issues.  Many were topics that would have never been discussed in polite company in the first 40 years of Time's existence, e.g., homosexuality, date rape, domestic violence, herpes.  Surprisingly, some social issues of current concern, e.g,. suburban sprawl, salt intake, women's changing roles, obesity, were featured as cover stories 15-25 years ago.

 

Time_mag_highoncocaine 

 

Time_Magazine_Herpes

 

Of course "anyone who was anybody" in the fields of politics, culture and entertainment, religion and sports graced the covers over the years.  However, some personalities slipped through the cracks.  For instance, Judy Garland, Truman Capote, Hank Aaron and Coco Chanel are some of the "movers and shakers" of their time not to get a cover.  And it wasn't until 30 years after his death that Babe Ruth appeared on the cover. (Determining those who haven't been on the cover can be a great parlor game.)

 

Time_Magazine_CharlesandDiana

 

A number of handsome coffee table books are also available including 75 Years of TIME Magazine Cover Portraits and TIME: The Illustrated History of the World's Most Influential Magazine.  In closing, here are a handful of other classic covers:

 Time_magazine_brucespringsteen  

 Time_juan_eva_peron

 Time.ellen.yep.im.gay    

Time_Magazine_IsGodDead

Time_magazine_ ojsimpson

 Time_how_gay_is_gay