Football As I Remember It


“Football is easy if you’re crazy as hell.” ~Bo Jackson

Matching legwarmers also available.

If you’ve been following P&Q for any length of time, you’ll know that I have a love-hate relationship with anything gridiron-related. Like Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain, I feel like saying “I just cain’t quit you” to the NFL. Every year it breaks my heart, and every year there’s something I indelibly remember. I’m no stranger to heartbreak: my team is the San Diego Chargers, who are only slightly above the Cleveland Browns or Detroit Lions on the Futility Meter. Even through those many dark years, there are things, and characters, I remember so well.

I’ve also been on an ’80s nostalgia kick as of late. Watching the Chicago Bears take on the Packers in yesterday’s NFC Championship, I was taken back to the 1985 Monsters of the Midway team and their “Super Bowl Shuffle.” This is the first big game I remember watching and really loving. And what wasn’t to like? You had Mike Ditka, who personified the toughness of Chicago, flamboyant Jim McMahon (a sort of poor man’s Joe Namath), and the then-considered-ginormous William “Refrigerator” Perry anchoring a powerful defense. I’m not a Bears fan per se, but I remember that team like it was yesterday and not 25 years ago.

Make fun of my sweater vest again and you get extra laps!

The NFL at that time was not the cultural and financial juggernaut that it is today, although it was getting there. Things were different, and not necessarily for the good. Remember the steroids running rampant? Like baseball? If you don’t, ask the late Lyle Alzado. I’m sure he could tell you plenty. And don’t even get me started on the old “Creamsicle” Tampa Bay Bucs uniforms. Talk about an abomination.

That being said, I thought I’d hop in the DeLorean of my mind for another trip back in time to the 1980s. Close your eyes, now, and try to remember some of these players, coaches, and moments:

Doug Flutie’s “Hail Mary” pass to beat Miami, then becoming the Little Quarterback that Could, first in the CFL, then later in the NFL. You have to hand it to Flutie, who was listed at 5’10” but maybe stood 5’8″. I think he deserves a spot in Canton just for being the only guy to stand up straight behind center. Even a lot of non-football fans know who he is.

Football games had beer commercials, and even cigarette commercials, but never ED medication commercials. I can understand they’re going for a specific demographic. But I can’t even begin to think of the awkward questions I might have asked while watching the game with my parents on a Sunday afternoon.

The NFL Electric Football game was just awesome. Back before there was Madden NFL, or even Tecmo Bowl, there was this singular piece of electronic magnificence. I remember asking for one from the Sears Christmas catalog. Getting the punter to kick that tiny little piece of foam rubber was an art form.

A crossroads between old and new was evident. There were still some magnificent coaches at work (Chuck Noll, Tom Landry) and some brilliant innovators (Bill Walsh, Don Coryell) together in the league. It was exciting to watch the birth of the West Coast offense.

 Some football players were celebrities, but there wasn’t a 24/7 TV cycle or the NFL Network.

Seems almost quaint now, doesn’t it? You had your players on the front cover of SI, or as the spokesmen for various companies, but you didn’t get the sense that they were everywhere. This was also largely before free agency and contracts not based on performance, but speculation, really started kicking in.

A host of icons, and iconic performances. If you’re an NFL fan, you know exactly what “The Drive,” “The Catch,” and “The Epic in Miami” are. You don’t need to be told. Jerry Rice, Lawrence Taylor, Dan Marino, and Rod Woodson were all at the top of their games. Every decade has its superstars, but there seemed to be an awful lot of them (and a lot more really likable ones) 25 years ago.

Arguably the greatest individual performance in an NFL game, and one of the greatest games ever. Speaking of “the Epic in Miami,” I don’t remember it myself, but I’ve seen the game on tape many, many times. Chargers vs. Dolphins, 1982. Tight end Kellen Winslow truly was Superman.

Football players were men, not whiny spoiled brats. Yeah, I’m sure the brats existed back then. Before the advent of sideline reporters, Twitter, and TMZ, we just heard a lot less about them. I can’t, for example, imagine the kind of spats we saw this year (Fisher vs. Young, Shanahan vs. Haynesworth) taking place back then. Ditka probably would have just told them to go jump in Lake Michigan.

Football was more fun. I go back to the love-hate thing when it comes to touchdown celebrations. It’s been said that NFL stands for No Fun League, but people do pay their hard-earned money to be entertained. I know I tried the Ickey Shuffle at least once when I was a kid, and promptly got hurt.

Because there were fewer media outlets, you really looked forward to the games. We hardly ever got to watch more than one game a week where we lived. I studied the box scores so carefully, read SI and the Sporting News, collected Topps cards. I think I really learned a lot by doing that.

So, as Super Bowl XLV approaches, I might just dig out some of my old Football Follies tapes and remember a time when men were men, when refs were just refs, and the Bucs still ran around in ridiculous cream-colored uniforms.

Captain Morgan wants his creamsicle rum back.

Got comments? Click the “like” button or write me anytime!

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~ by Howlin' Mad Heather on January 24, 2011.

2 Responses to “Football As I Remember It”

  1. I heard you say Captain Morgan, so I stopped by 🙂 Love the football talk. You know your stuff. So do I. We also come from the same era, so I’m sure we have similar memories. Now my Steelers are going for the unheard of 7th Super Bowl though, so don’t be sore at me.

  2. Thanks Muchacho!
    Yeah, I do love my football. Can’t begrudge you for being a Steelers fan…they’re a classy organization and they have a ton of great history. I’ll be pulling for them in two weeks.

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