Carson and Lady Mary versus Brady and Richard Sherman

by Jeff Sykes

It’s hard to believe that this will be the third year in a row that I’ve DVR’d the second half of the Super Bowl in order that the love of my life can watch “Downton Abbey” in real time.

The first year was a sacrifice, I’m telling ya’ what, because the Giants were playing the Patriots in a rematch. I’d DVR’d the NFC Championship the week before when the Giants played the San Francisco 49ers. I hadn’t expected the Giants to win, so it was no big deal to flip back and forth during the conversational lull before Ladies Mary and Edith “go through,” whatever that means in Edwardian parlance, or while Mr. Bates was fidgeting with his leg brace for the umpteenth time.

That show has become a lame sex drama, according to critics, with series writers reduced to the same sexual tension and curiosity American audiences could just as easily get on “Two Broke Girls,” but I’ll DVR the Super Bowl nonetheless and hope that Violet at least makes a few good entrances.

I had a few minutes before leaving for Charlotte on Saturday for my nephew’s sixth birthday party, and I was scrolling through the list of NFL Film’s Super Bowl highlight shows I’d recorded the previous week. As a kid growing up in the late 1970s the Super Bowl was still in its first and second decades and each game was like an epic Greek myth unfolding before my eyes.

Personal pride dictates that I claim to remember Super Bowl X in 1976, but I would have only been five years old. I grew up rooting for the Pittsburgh Steelers mostly because so many guys I knew liked the Cowboys, and I always had an independent streak.

I recall seeing the Cowboys-Broncos Super Bowl XII matchup on the television two years later in 1978, but we were living in a small apartment in northern Winston-Salem while my dad built our house down Shattalon Drive. I had a baby brother and sister by then, and I don’t think I won the argument over what to watch on the single television in the cramped living room that evening.

But the next year was when it became a passion for me. By then we were living in our new ranch home at the end of a dead end suburban street.

We had a full, carpeted basement with a fireplace, and I watched the game with my dad and my Dalmatian puppy, whom I’d named Caesar after my favorite historical figure.

I was wild about the Steelers then and when Lynn Swann caught that first graceful pass in the end zone I was ecstatic. I was nervous, for certain, when the Cowboys tight end, Jackie Smith, was wide open in the end zone in the third quarter.

When the ball bounced off his chest and harmlessly to the painted grass below, I had a feeling the game was in hand.

The Steelers repeated next year, of course, besting a tough LA Rams team. Swann was knocked out of the game early, and it fell to his running mate, John Stallworth, to save the game with two incredible Hail Mary catches, the second of which led to an important touchdown.

By then football had begun to encompass my world. I picked up a fever for UNC football in the late 1970s, just in time for Lawrence Taylor and Amos Lawrence to lead me to the second set of NFL teams I would root for.

It was a fortunate turn of events, but as both teams were rivals to the hated Cowboys, it worked out well for me. LT of course went to the New York Giants, while Famous Amos was drafted by the 49ers. It just so happened to take place in 1981, the year my Steelers began a long, slow decline.

I had followed Taylor and Lawrence closely for a couple of seasons and so it was no big thing when I saw Lawrence running back a kick early in the season in a game against the Cowboys and decided to pull for San Francisco. When they later that season competed in one of the most incredible football games, the 1982 NFC Championship against those same Cowboys, which culminated in the Joe Montana to Dwight Clark epic known as “The Catch,” I was hooked.

Pulling for the 49ers was good for a few Super Bowl thrills, broken once by a Washington victory over Miami and a glorious Raiders trouncing of those same Redskins (much to the chagrin of my drunken neighbors at the time). But it was pulling for the New York Giants against Dallas for so many years that was truly wonderful.

When the Giants finally broke through in 1987 to win the Super Bowl I was thrilled.

By that point my mother would sigh each weekend when I tuned on the TV. She would say “Football! I hate football!” but sit and watch it with me anyway. She passed away about six years ago now, but early in the season, when I turn on that first game, I can hear her voice in my head, and I chuckle a bit at the sacrifices she made, what with the TV on for 10 to 12 hours each Saturday and Sunday with men pounding into each other all over an oblong shaped piece of leather.

I guess one hour of “Downton Abbey” isn’t’ too much to ask. !