Rick Reilly | ESPN.com
I guess it was Tuesday when the madness began at The Super Bowl That Never Was.
It was media day. Somebody asked Brian Bosworth whether he really was crazy and Boz responded by biting the head off a chicken right there in the middle of Soldier Field and that pretty much kicked it off.
Well, who wasn’t geeked up for this game? Every single player, coach and owner in it had never been to a Super Bowl, and that included some great players. Gale Sayers. Tony Gonzalez. Adrian Peterson. Everybody was amazed that the league made it happen — in partnership with the official deity of the NFL, God — and to come back at their peaks? Whoa.
You should’ve seen Earl Campbell. He was so delighted to be up and off his walker that he knocked over The Bean just to hit something.
Nobody was more excited than O.J. Simpson, though. He hadn’t even been out of jail in six years, much less out on the town in Chicago. He kept running wide sweeps in practice just because he could.
“Love these gloves!” he kept saying.
He got taken down a peg, though, Tuesday night at a local steak house.
O.J.: Hey, my secretary called and asked you to make a reservation for me tonight. You did it, right?
Maitre d': I’m not saying whether I did it or not. But if I did do it, it would’ve been for the table over there in the corner.
Wednesday got even crazier. Conrad Dobler leg-whipped about seven of Bosworth’s PETA protesters, then Dan Dierdorf punched him and Deacon Jones broke it up by picking them both up and throwing them into the Chicago River.
The biggest crowd of media around any player had to be for Jim Thorpe, who had them spellbound. But then everybody had to rip up their stories and start over when Sammy Baugh got caught by the cops behind the wheel after too many refreshments. “I didn’t sideswipe them parked cars,” Sammy yelled. “They sideswiped me!”
Thursday, AFC coach Marty Schottenheimer just kept going around asking people, “You sure Elway’s not in this game?”
Then Dandy Don Meredith got in a fight with some columnist who’d told him “Howard Cosell was one of the worst people to ever live.” Meredith swole up his eye for him and said, “One of?”
On Friday, Honorary Commissioner George Halas said the helmet-to-helmet problem could be solved by everybody wearing leather helmets again, which caused Dick Butkus to pick up Doug Flutie and throw him at the podium, but he was intercepted by Darrelle Revis.
Saturday morning, they announced the starting lineups.
Frank Gifford, as usual, would play both ways and look better than anybody else in uniform.
In the locker room before the game, the NFC’s Tim Rossovich ate an entire four-pack of light bulbs and was a scratch — inside and out.
Barry Sanders retired Sunday morning, just before the kickoff, which Billy (White Shoes) Johnson returned 103 yards for a touchdown, then climbed up on the cross bar of the goal posts and Riverdanced. “Been working on that for 26 years,” he said.
The game had to be stopped in the first quarter when Michael Vick accidentally ran into Bronko Nagurski in the backfield, breaking two femurs and a collarbone.
After that, it was mostly just Jim Brown crushing people going one way for the AFC and Peterson crushing people the other for the NFC, which meant it was tied 21-21 after two quarters.
At halftime, the Beatles put on a great show, which caused Calvin Johnson to say, “Wait. Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings?”
Burma Shave put on the funniest ad. The AFC suspended Adam (Pacman) Jones, just out of habit.
It looked as if the NFC and coach Paul Brown were going to pull away in the second half with Tony Romo throwing over and over to Brandon Marshall . But then LaDainian Tomlinson got hot for the AFC, scoring two touchdowns by himself.
Finally, with the AFC down 42-36 with 3 seconds left, AFC offensive coordinator Don (Air) Coryell dialed up the Quadruple San Diego Special — Fouts handing off to Kellen Winslow Sr. who pitched to Charlie Joiner who pitched to Steve Largent, who stopped and threw to Lance Alworth for the tying TD.
Sebastian Janikowski kicked the PAT — the last one in NFL history — and The Super Bowl That Never Was was over.
Afterward, the team let Antonio Cromartie do the “I’m going to Disney World” spot because he had the most kids to take.
Why Tim Tebow was there nobody could really say at first. Then we found out. He left with God.
- 11-time National Sportswriter of the Year
- Author of “Sports from Hell: My Two-Year Search for the World’s Dumbest Competition”
- Finalist 2011 Thurber Prize for Humor