Super Bowls inevitably summon memories, not only of previous games but of the circumstances surrounding them. The only Super Bowl I didn’t watch was in 1991, when the Giants edged the Bills 20-19 in Super Bowl XXV. I was dug in on the Saudi-Kuwait border with U.S. Marines during Operation Desert Storm preparing to assault Saddam Hussein’s occupying Iraqi forces to the north. But updates were passed by word of mouth.
(We later heard that Whitney Houston offered a wonderful rendition of our national anthem.)
The presence of the San Francisco 49ers in last Sunday’s SB LVIII in Las Vegas summoned memories of Super XIX in 1985—featuring the Niners and the Miami Dolphins.
Joe Montana vs. Dan Marino.
At the time I was in the snowy High Sierra Mountains in northern California, at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center. I’d been sent to a winter mountain leader school, probably because I was from New Hampshire, and the assigning officers likely assumed I knew about snow and was presumably a skier.
The reality was I’d never ever skied. I was a basketball player.
Still, I eventually became marginally proficient on snowshoes and on cross country/mountaineering skis, as most time was spent traversing uphill with a big pack and a rifle. Being 6-feet-4, all the gear made me top-heavy, and I became very adept at wiping out without getting hurt or damaging my rifle.
“Damn it, Jim, I’m a basketball player, not a skier!”
The school was truly a tough character-builder. A night ski march on a cold, windy, moonless night at 9000-feet elevation offered us marvelous views of starlit heavens—before we dug snow caves to seek a couple hours rest out of the big winds. The paralyzing cold prompted ponderings of the incalculable misery that must have afflicted so many on various Russian fronts during winters past.
But I digress.
The school granted liberty for Super Bowl weekend and eight of us got into two vehicles and drove north to Squaw Valley, site of the 1960 Winter Olympics. We’d ski at the Olympic Mountain on Saturday and then watch the Super Bowl at Lake Tahoe on Sunday, where we could bet on the game. And sleep in a beautiful bed as opposed to a snow cave!
Seven of us were proficient downhill skiers. One (me) was not.
We were fitted for skis and headed right to a chairlift which took us way up the mountain. We got off and the gung-ho Marines headed for another chairlift that would take us to the very top. An ominous sign stated, “Expert skiers only.”
We got off at the top and seven Marines quickly headed down the mountain. I stood at the top in a 50-mph wind looking down at what seemed like a vertical slope. I had never downhill skied. I figured I was going to die.
I traversed a few feet and fell and then repeated the process numerous times, gradually increasing the length of each traverse before wiping out. Fortunately, I was an athlete adept at falling and didn’t have a pack or rifle to contend with.
By the end of the day, I was an actual skier. Euphoria.
The next day saw us in Lake Tahoe, on the Nevada side. We talked about our Super Bowl bets, and we all agreed to bet on Miami. After all, Marino had just smashed most of the single season NFL passing records.
We got a table in a vast hall—Harrah’s or Harvey’s, I can’t remember which. There were maybe 2,000 people jammed in there, almost all wearing red 49er swag. We realized San Francisco was just a short drive to the west.
A nice Dolphin play early on brought cheers and whoops from our table, which invited hooting and catcalls from the hundreds of Niner fans surrounding us.
“I think we’re outnumbered,” said a lieutenant.
“Yeah, it looks like we’ve got about 2,000 Californians against eight Marines,” replied a gunnery sergeant. “Even odds.”
But the only ass-kicking took place at Stanford Stadium—almost a home game for San Francisco—as Montana’s 49ers triumphed, 38-16.
During the second half of the blowout, a Marine Corps recruiting commercial came up on all the giant screens in the giant room. We eight Marines leapt to attention, as 4,000 or so eyes looked at us. And at the end of the commercial, the happy 49er fans—enjoying their big lead—gave us mucho applause and soon rounds of beers were coming to our table.
“These California hippies ain’t all that bad, I reckon,” said the gunny.
Ah yes. Got to love Super Bowl memories.
State Representative Mike Moffett was a Sports Management Professor for Plymouth State University and NHTI-Concord. He co-authored the award-winning “FAHIM SPEAKS: A Warrior-Actor’s Odyssey from Afghanistan to Hollywood and Back.” His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.