Super Bowl I: First Touchdown—New Meaning to “Playing Hurt”
Retirement was staring down Max McGee, of the Green Bay Packers, like an oncoming train. The 11-year veteran, 34 years old, came to the first ever Super Bowl in 1967 fully expecting to ride the pine, as he had done most of the regular season, and not see a nano-second of playing time.
McGee, renowned for his joie de vive, did what any self-respecting bon vivant would do: Break team curfew and party for the ages. Feeling a little worse for the wear after his night on the town, McGee arrived at the stadium and kidded starter, Boyd Dowler, to not get hurt. Precisely three plays into the game, Dowler injured his shoulder and McGee rallied to take the field and claim his spot in sports history.
McGee once said: “When it's third-and-10, you can take the milk-drinkers and I'll take the whiskey-drinkers every time.” The journeyman benchwarmer’s historic first TD was a jaw-dropping one-hander for 37 yards. McGee caught six more passes that game for a total of 138 yards and a second touchdown to secure the Packer’s 35-10 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.
Super Bowl X: First Wide Receiver MVP—“Baryshnikov in Cleats”
These days, even Sir Mick Jagger does ballet at age 73 to keep in shape for his grueling concert tours. Back in the 70s, however, real men didn’t do ballet... until Pittsburgh wide receiver Lynn Swann snagged the Super Bowl MVP trophy and the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Swann’s graceful leaps and impossible catches defined the Steeler’s 21-17 win over the Dallas Cowboys in 1976, earning him the title “Baryshnikov in Cleats.” Through grade school to high school, Swann studied dance—ballet, tap and jazz—instilling in him body control, explosiveness, speed, grace and vertical leap. As a football player at USC, he also worked out with the gymnastics team, focusing on the trampoline.
Levitating over his opponents, seemingly unfettered by gravity, Swann’s perfect catches accounted for a record 161 yards, including an impossible pirouette for a 53-yard catch. A New York reporter wrote of Swann: “Put in classical music, watch (Swann) in slow motion, and you’ve got football as art.” Bravo.
Super Bowl XX: “Super Bowl Shuffle”—First Sports Music Video
“The Super Bowl Shuffle,” a kitschy foray into sports 80’s rap starring the Chicago Bears, made it to number 41 on the Billboard Chart and was even nominated for a Grammy. The song didn’t win but what the video lacked in artistry, it more than compensated with audacity.
Players in uniform rapped in the video released a month before the playoffs and before the Bears could possibly know they would even play in the Big Game. Now that’s cockiness. In fairness, the Bears bulldozed through the 1985 regular season with an astounding record of 15-1 and ultimately did make it to the Big Game. They staged a blow-out of historic proportions, beating the New England Patriots 46-10, the largest margin of victory at the time. The Bears defense held New England to a total of seven yards rushing for the entire game.
The Bears were led by their swaggering punk QB, Jim McMahon, famous for the black sunglasses seemingly grafted to his face; “Sweetness,” aka Walter Payton, soft-voiced off the field but a battering ram on and still the NFL’s second leading rusher of all time, and “The Fridge,” who once tipped the scales at 350-plus pounds to become arguably the largest human to ever score a Super Bowl touchdown.
Super Bowl XXII: Breaking the QB Race Barrier—Doug Williams
Doug Williams didn’t even start at quarterback for the Washington Redskins until midway through the regular season when the team’s young hotshot, Jay Schroeder, was injured. Williams was given no chance to defeat MVP heir apparent John Elway, of the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl XXII match up.
It gets worse. The day before the game, Williams woke with a throbbing toothache and endured four hours in a dentist’s chair for a root canal procedure. Next, the heavily favored Broncos blew out of the gate to claim a 10-0 lead. And then Williams slipped hyperextended his knee. Writhing in pain, he was carried off the field.
Two plays later, he limped back onto the field like a peg-legged pirate to start the second quarter and launched an eighty-yard heat seeking missile to make the score 10-7. The Denver bloodbath continued that quarter with three more Washington TDs—two passes and one rushing—to put Washington ahead 35-10 at half time. The offensive line—determined to see their friend and colleague prevail—didn’t let a single Bronco player get anywhere near their injured leader. The game would end in a score of 42-10. Williams set four Super Bowl records that magical night: passing yards in a game (340), passing yards in a quarter (228), touchdown passes (four), and longest completion (80 yards).
It has been called the greatest Super Bowl performance by any quarterback—black or white.
Super Bowl LI: Give Back—Walter Payton Man of the Year Award
Super Bowl chatter typically spotlights heroics on the field but the real heroism occurs off the field. The NFL Man of the Year, awarded since 1970, was renamed in 1999 to honor the late Hall of Fame Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton, a pioneering advocate of organ donation.
This year’s finalists are Eli Manning of the New York Giants, for his work on behalf of children and access to health care; Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals for his “First Down Fund” supporting positive summer activities for kids and also his work to battle breast cancer, and Greg Olsen of the Carolina Panthers whose Receptions for Research helps families of children with heart disease and supports hospitals with resources to better the lives of cancer patients.
The winner will be announced on February 4 and receive a $500,000 donation to the charity of their choice. The two runner-ups receive a $125,000 charitable donation. These are football’s true MVPs.