Green: Super Bowl streak continues, but this decision wasn’t easy

Detroit News

By Jerry Green
 |  Special to The Detroit News

Detroit — One of my favorite Super Bowl characters these past 55 years was George Allen, the noted iconoclast. That means that he was anti-tradition, obstinate, and in George’s case quite peculiar and full of flimflam.

“The future is now.” It was George’s motto when he arrived as a head coach in the NFL back before there was a Super Bowl in the 1960s.

It’s an ideal motto for me, too, as now the only writer who covered all 54 Super Bowls. With wistful thoughts, I had been wavering for months about SB LV due to our current pandemic situations. I had decided to bench myself this time, break a wonderful streak as too risky to continue.

My inner philosophy, though, is that I’m entitled to change my mind as a Senior Super Citizen.   

Allen’s philosophy was to reverse the existing NFL culture. He would trade away raw highly valued draft choices for craggy veterans close to becoming senior citizens themselves.   

His Los Angeles Rams and then his Washington Football Team — it was nicknamed (naughty word) Redskins for decades — were known throughout the NFL as “The Over The Hill Gang.”

And for Allen, the future, indeed, was now.

His grizzled Rams and Washington teams made it into the NFL playoffs seven times in 12 seasons. His 1972 Washington team qualified for Super Bowl VII to oppose Don Shula’s undefeated Dolphins.

A prize example of Allen’s theory was Billy Kilmer, his Super Bowl quarterback. Kilmer was what then was considered ancient, 33 years old, a carouser and a roustabout who had played for the Saints and 49ers.

Certain elements for the pandemic-smothered Super Bowl LV in Tampa would have been to Allen’s liking. The prelude — normally a media-infested five days from Monday to Friday with lots of nonsense and mass in-person interviews — is not going to happen due to the risks of COVID-19. The Chiefs are not due into town Friday or Saturday before gameday, rather than the previous Monday. The Buccaneers just so happen to be home in the Tampa Bay area.         

“If I had my way, we’d have practiced in Washington until Friday,” Allen told We-The-Media the Monday before Super Bowl VII, grousing about Commissioner Pete Rozelle’s buildup plans. “We have fine facilities at home.

“All the fanfare and everything hinders the players in their preparations. When you take the players out of their environment, it hurts them .”

Allen groused all week about distractions.

Well, Super Bowl LV mostly is going to be a future-is-now football event.

Him again! Me again!

Tom Brady, at age 43, is destined to play quarterback in his 10th Super Bowl with the hometown Buccaneers. And I am destined to cover my 55th for The News at age 92.

A sort of Over The Hill Gang that would have had the late George Allen cheering. George would have been cheering, at least for Tom, because that’s what Michigan men do for one another. Tom had to learn to play quarterback, and win, for another team. For me, an occasional distraction, Allen would have asked a dozen questions, because that was his habit. And I’m going to have to qualify, quickly, in the intricacies of Zoom, the media’s remote access.

Brady, again fooling his critics, goes in with full knowledge of the Buccaneers’ offense after 20 seasons with Bill Belichick and the Patriots. I tend to believe that Brady, at 43, would have been perfect for George Allen.

But then again, Allen did tolerate the nocturnal escapades of Kilmer and his croaking signal calling and weakened passing/tippling right arm.

I encountered Kilmer once at a Super Bowl VII, face-to-face. Different than mass interview sessions at nine Super Bowls with Brady listening to a bunch of softball questions.

What I do not expect to be different in Tampa is the annual razzing from my colleagues around the country about the Lions. I’m prepared to respond to the turmoil about Matthew Stafford and his divorce proceedings from Detroit. A couple of times, I have already read that Stafford rules as the greatest quarterback in Lions’ history.

By most of the numbers, arguably. But not by these numbers: Bobby Layne, two NFL championships solo and a third as a sharing contributor in the 1957 (most recent) championship won by Tobin Rote.

“You remind me of Bobby Layne,” I said once in a conversation with Kilmer.

Kilmer, face florid, looked at me and grinned.

“Do I really?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “I mean that as a compliment. In Detroit, we gauge all quarterbacks against Bobby.”

“I know, thanks,” said Billy Kilmer.

He and Allen and the Washington Over-The-Hill Gang would lose that Super Bowl VII to the late Shula’s perfect Dolphins, 14-7. Kicker Garo Yepremian, an ex-Lion, would become something of a Super Bowl legend.

Now, all next week-long, with rigid coronavirus restrictions in place in accord with the NFL’s always extra-strict security measures, I’ll never get to query any legends live, in the flesh. I’ll flash back, in my memory at least, to Vince Lombardi and Joe Namath and Allen and Roger Staubach and Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana.

I’ve carried those memories with me, prominently, through the last 55 years.

But . . . truth is, my plan was to break my Super Bowl streak this time. Last year I had become the only writer who had gone 54-for-54, the singular newspaper guy who had covered all the Super Bowls. The dangers of the COVID-19 — I’ve already tested positive around Thanksgiving and survived, and I’ve had my first vaccination — kept me scared. My age and presumed frailty became factors.

But then the NFL playoffs started. The play of Brady and Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce got me wishing that I had delayed a decision.

Then some two weeks ago, the NFL called. The league persuaded me, really, that I ought not snap my streak. I asked for a week to decide.

I deliberated less than a day and called an audible. I said I’d go, believing Brady would not make it.

So, despite the pandemic — and Zoom — Super Bowl LV looms as pretty much the same challenge.

Him again! Me again!

Jerry Green is a former Detroit News sports reporter.

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