The Most Super of Super Bowl Memories
by Jeff Skinner
Super Sunday didn’t disappoint this year as Phil Mickelson started the day with his win at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Joe Flacco’s Ravens and the 49ers followed up with an exciting and somewhat bizarre Super Bowl.
Bizarre may be an understatement considering we saw a 108 yard kickoff return, Beyonce shaking it all over the field, the Brothers Harbaugh somewhat awkward post game handshake (no hugs at all) a game that went down to the final seconds and let’s not forget the infamous blackout.
I’ll say this, it was a memorable Super Bowl Sunday and that got me to thinking: what are my best Super Bowl memories? To tell you the truth I have a difficult time recalling scores and teams and all those stats the talking heads love to throw around. Of course the recent winners are fresh and plenty of the big plays but unlike my “Rain Man” son I can’t recall the teams, score and Roman Numerals of every Super Bowl.
But anyone who knows me has no problem naming my favorite Super Bowl memory. As a lifelong and hopeless Jets fan (yes they are indeed hopeless) Super Bowl III is my lone big game moment of pride. Joe Willie Namath and his crew took it to the Colts of Baltimore back then and changed the face of football in America.
As a twelve year old junior high student I took fifty cents off my English teacher who lost his shirt when the Jets rocked the football world. I have had to live with that single moment of joy for over forty years.
But I do have another wonderful Super Sunday memory but it had little to do with what happened on the field. It was January 25, 1981 when the Oakland Raiders were set to face the Philadelphia Eagles in the Superdome.
I wasn’t home for the pre-game hoopla but back then it was probably was just a few hours instead the requisite all day non-stop blabbering that marks today’s big game Sunday.
You see that day was the day that the 52 American hostages returned from their 444 day ordeal at the hands of Iranian captors. Unlike the six Americans that were snuck out of Iran by the CIA and brought back to life in Ben Affleck’s Argo, these Americans were held hostage in the American embassy after it was seized by militants protesting the fact that the United States had allowed the Shah of Iran to seek medical treatment in New York City.
The Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s political and religious leader refused to release 52 Americans and they were held for the next 14 months. Soon after their capture Americans started displaying yellow ribbons as a sign of remembrance and hope for the hostages return.
It was at this time that ABC news started a program each evening to update America on news of the hostage crisis. The show later grew into Nightline with Ted Koppel .
It was a tough time in America but when Iran finally released the hostages on January 20th the nation breathed a sigh of relief. It took a few days of travel and debriefing but the 52 Americans made it onto home soil on Super Sunday, January 25th with a plan to have the hostages meet their families at West Point.
And with that knowledge thousands of Americans that live near Stewart Air Force Base, where their plane was landing, and West Point decided they would spend their Super Sunday somewhere else instead of in front of the television.
I was one of those Americans who lined the route that their buses were to travel. Along with many of my family, I stood on the street outside the gates of West Point in a show of support for the American 52.
Young and old, men and women, conservative and liberal, Republican and Democrat, hippie and redneck we all were one that day. All we hoped to do was to show those unfortunate people that no one ever forgot them and they were in our thoughts and prayers.
So we waited in the cold and waited some more but spirits were high and the mood was joyful. Our group was made up of old and young alike. Parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews, husbands and wives all constituted a band of cold but happy citizens honoring the hostages.
The photo here shows the sentiments of the day. That young girl holding the sign is my niece Stacy, and that’s my sister, her mom, right in front of her. Her father is to her right and he can take credit for the sign but not for the correct spelling of America. You see he mistakenly spelled America wrong: Americia was his first attempt but after we all got a look at it we soon made a change, with a borrowed lipstick believe it or not, to the correct spelling. The fact that the sign’s author was an elementary school teacher makes retelling the story more hysterical every year. So we all stood there waiting and the national press mingled among us and this photo appeared in the New York Times the next day, Stacy’s fifteen minutes of fame I guess.
As the day grew longer and the temperature chilled us the buses started to roll in. We stood there cheering and waving as the buses drove by with faces pressed against the windows. We waved and they waved back. And flags fluttered in the breeze and tears flowed down chilled cheeks. And we cheered and clapped and smiled and waved and we just hoped that they got our message, our message of welcome home.
As it turns out we all made it back in time for the kickoff to watch the Raiders eventually defeat the Eagles. And that day, even though I knew it was special then, I didn’t truly appreciate it until years later. Now, I do, we all do. And every year around Super Bowl weekend I think of that day and how absolutely amazing it was.