A report that club owners in Dallas have put out an urgent call for an additional 10,000 strippers struck a familiar chord with those who remember when players’ antics the week leading up to the Super Bowl made for bigger headlines than the game itself.
“I don’t know whether we had more fun in my day,” said Mike Ditka, Hall of Fame Class of 1988 and current TV analyst. “But at least we didn’t have cell phone cameras or Twitter, Twatter — whatever it’s called — to worry about.
“Guys are still guys. You can put in all the rules you want and it won’t make a difference to some. Anybody who won’t listen, or doesn’t understand it’s easier to get caught, deserves everything he gets.
“I just hope,” he added ruefully, “nobody is that stupid.”
Don’t bet on it.
Back in 1986, when Ditka took the Bears’ shuffling crew to New Orleans for the Super Bowl, what happened on Bourbon Street mostly stayed there and his instructions to the team would have fit in a text message: No curfew the first three days. No fooling around after that.
It’s a different world now. Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy hasn’t settled on everything he’ll tell the Packers when they land in Dallas. But he’s worried some of it will fall on deaf ears.
“We will take Monday and spend a lot of time and I’ll go through the whole week, day by day, hour by hour, so they know exactly what’s expected of them,” McCarthy said. “We’ll be as organized as we possibly can.”
But a moment later McCarthy added, “Something is going to be screwed up. I’ve been told that by a number of coaches.”
The player who figures to draw the most attention is Pittsburgh’s tough-guy quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger. Despite several off-the-field blemishes already on his resume — Roethlisberger was suspended the first four games this season after being accused, but not charged, in a sexual assault — his two previous trips to the big game were largely trouble-free. His teammates are certain Roethlisberger won’t need a refresher course this time around.
Then again, it’s not always the teetotalers who wind up leading the way.
In the very first Super Bowl, legendary Green Bay boss Vince Lombardi threatened a $10,000 fine — real money back in 1967 — for anybody who missed bed check the night before the game. After making sure his bed was in place — check — the late Max McGee, then 34 and a backup receiver near the end of his career, lit out for the Sunset Strip.
McGee was so certain he wouldn’t play the next day that he left his helmet in the locker room before the game. He was sitting on the bench, still shaking out cobwebs, when starter Boyd Dowler separated his shoulder and Lombardi turned up, barking at McGee to get in the game. A few plays later, wearing a borrowed helmet, McGee made a one-handed grab of Bart Starr’s pass for the game’s first touchdown.
By the time Green Bay locked up the win, McGee had caught six more throws and set a record unlikely to be broken.
“Most passes caught with a hangover,” he proudly bragged for the rest of his life.
Joe Namath topped that boast just two years later with the most famous guarantee in sports, and soon was followed onto the stage by an Oakland Raiders team that claimed to have bartenders on retainers in every NFL city.
Their carousing inspired a suggestion that the local cops keep media guides in the glovebox of their squad cars to speed the booking process along.
Ditka’s cast of characters in ’85 rarely lacked for late-night company. They generated so many tall tales of Bourbon Street escapades that if only half were true, Chicago’s 46-10 destruction of the Patriots on that Sunday was even more impressive than it seemed.
“Heck, I used to do the same stuff myself. But we had a veteran team. . . . All I really asked was for their full attention Thursday, Friday and Saturday. And we got that in spades.”
True — if you overlook Jim McMahon’s decision to moon a TV helicopter filming one of the Bears’ practices. He’d arrived with a sore hip, then added a grudge when a local TV reporter made up quotes in which the punky QB called the town’s women “prostitutes” and the men “stupid.”