January 2012 Archives

Super Bowl and the Super Quarterbacks

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  On February 5th, the 46th Edition of the Super Bowl will take place.  They call it in Roman Numerals, SUPER BOWL XVLI... and it is properly named.

In the playoffs leading up the big game, there will be quarterbacks, quarterbacks, and quarterbacks galore. This year, the names are Rodgers, Brees, Rivers, Brady, Smith, Flacco, Manning and Yates. Oops! I almost forgot Tim Tebow.  How could I? Yet, to me, even with all the great ones over the years, only one stands out ... Broadway Joe Namath.

There will be glitz and bands, more bands and dancers and then again, more dancers and again more bands.  It has come a long way.  All of this Showbiz involvement truly starts with one man ... "Sonny" Werblin.

At this point, I am sure my younger readers are saying "WHO?"  Stay with me and I'll soon let you know.

So, let's take a walk down memory lane and learn about the Genesis of the SUPER BOWL. A game that over the years, I have had an opportunity to be a part of.  From this point on we'll share a small slice of NFL history.

Years ago, I worked with a man named Lamar Hunt.  MR. Hunt was a sports visionary. He promoted at the major league level many sports... among them: football, soccer, basketball, tennis and ice hockey. Today, he has been enshrined three Halls of fame... Pro Football, and  (1972), the National Soccer Hall of Fame,  (1982) and the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1993.

He had inherited great wealth from his family's oil fortune.  He desired to bring an NFL expansion team to Texas, but was turned down.  At the time (1959) professional football was a distant second to Major league baseball in popularity. The NFL executives were of the opinion they shouldn't over saturate the market by expanding too quickly. 

He then tried to buy the NFL's Chicago Cardinals (now Arizona, by way of St. Louis). He intended to move them to Dallas, but again he was rejected. As a result, Hunt approached several other businessmen who had also unsuccessfully tried to get NFL franchises including K.S. Bud Adams of Houston and in 1959 they formed the AFL. These men were called "The Foolish Club." 

Hunt's goal was to bring professional football to Texas and to acquire an NFL team for the Hunt family. Hunt became the owner of the AFL Dallas Texan's and hired future hall-of-fame coach Hank Stram to run the team.

In the early days of the AFL, the Texans were one of the most successful teams, but failed to draw crowds because of their cross-town rivals of the NFL's Cowboys.  He decided to move the team.  Many cities contended, but Kansas City won out in 1963 when the Dallas Texans became the Kansas City Chiefs. The big inducement was that the mayor promised to fill the stands with 25,000 fans.

In 1966, the NFL and AFL agreed to merge with a Championship game to be played after the season.  In a July 25, 1966 letter to then NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, Hunt wrote, "I have kiddingly called it the SUPER BOWL which obviously can be improved upon."  Hunt later would tell everyone the name was likely in his head because his children had been playing with a Super ball toy.

Although the owners decided on the name the AFL-NFL Championship, however, the media immediately picked up on Hunt's "SUPER BOWL" name.  It became the official name beginning with the 3rd Annual Game.

The NFL dominated the game for years.  The Green bay Packers under the great Vince Lombardi owned victory lane.  So much so, the SUPER BOWL Trophy today bear the name, The Lombardi trophy.

Another powerhouse at the time was the Baltimore Colts.  Led by the likes of Johnny Unitis and my friend the late John Mackey. They seemed invincible until they met the New York Jets led by a wild-man quarterback named Joe Willy Namath.

Joe was a wild man and earned the nickname Broadway Joe because of his gallivanting ways and hard nightlife along the Big Apple's great white way.  A legend was building.

However, the sports world would never have heard of Joe Namath if a man I worked with for many years at MCA (The Music Corporation of America) had not left the organized world of entertainment to buy the New York Titans with his two long-time friends and neighbors Leon Hess, the oil man and Phil Iselin of New York's garment District from the then great Sportscaster at the time Harry Wismer.

The Titans were a miserable failure at the gate and with the fans.  They had no P-zazz... something Sonny new extremely well.  After all, he without doubt was the quintessential "star maker; who had handled the careers of such stars as Alfred Hitchcock, Eddie Fisher, Abbot and Costello, Joan Crawford, Ozzie and Harriet, Ray Milland, Fred Mac Murray, Gracie Allen and George Burns, as well as jack Benny and too many stars of that era to name in this column.  Considered America's Greatest Agent working for the world's greatest Talent Agent MCA, he was widely recognized as the star maker.

The day he resigned from MCA, he threw a luncheon for about 20 of us in an empty office in a building across the street on Madison Avenue, N.Y. fro m MCA headquarters.  He announced he and his pals had bought the Titans and he planned immediately top build an entertainment giant directly in the face of New York's NFL Giants.

After the luncheon, he immediately took a private plane to Tuscaloosa, Alabama where he signed a brilliant quarterback with bad knees to the then unheard of sum of  $427,000 beating out the NFL.  He also signed at the same time, Notre Dames John Huart for $200,000.  The Jets took the field in 1965 with a total payroll of $1,100, 000 including the salaries of Namath and Huart.

Sonny nicknamed "Show Biz" Sonny was proven right once again. He even convinced coach Weeb Ewbanks, a man known for his strictness to look he other way when Joe's wild antics constantly made headlines in the media of the day.

Sonny's vision and he dedication paid off big time for the fledgling AFL in SUPER BOWL III when Joe who was named MVP of the game and he lived up to his braggadocio that the Jets would beat the vaunted Colt machine which under his superb leadership did just that.





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Shelly Saltman has been in the sports world as an executive, TV producer, broadcaster and event creator for more than 50 years. Among his credentials are his work with Muhammad Ali and Evel Knievel, the numerous network TV shows he produced and created, NBA/NHL management roles, co-creator of the Amgen Tour of California and as the first president of Fox Sports. He lives in Ventura County.