Friday, July 16, 2010

Part Eight: Super Bowl XLV Comes to Big D

Part Eight: Super Bowl XLV Comes to Big D

While riding the Union Pacific Metra commuter train to work this morning I yanked a copy of D Magazine—the official periodical about all things Dallasout of my briefcase to kill time while passing through various north-side Chicago neighborhoods. Somewhere around Andersonville, a trendy, gentrified neighborhood through which the train passes that features at least two gastronomic landmarks—Hopleaf, which features Chicagoland’s best beer selection (at least in this humble Texpatriate’s view), and Hamburger Mary’s, a quirky burger joint where at Sunday brunch you can order a traditional eggs-n-bacon breakfast replete a huge, greasy, mouth-watering hamburger (yum)—I stumbled across an article about Bill Lively, my dad, that would make any son swell with pride. This is especially so for a kid from Dallas, home of America’s Team. There were no tears running down my cheeks—at least not that I’m willing to share in this piece—but I did experience a palpable sense of astonishment and wonder as my train sped down the tracks toward the Loop.

The article in question was featured in a special edition of D Magazine dedicated entirely to Super Bowl XLV, which lands in North Texas in February 2011. Near the bottom of the article were two quotes from Texas legends Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach. The article explains, “Both Aikman and Staubach go out of their way to heap praise on [Bill] Lively. Aikman says, ‘I would find it very difficult to believe that any effort had been headed up by a more organized, finer human being than he is.’ And Staubach says, ‘I thank God every day that Bill Lively is Bill Lively.’”

Hail Mary, and Amen!

As I think about that quote, it’s actually rather difficult to formulate a response. Quite frankly, I’m speechless. (And that is rare.) Perhaps my feelings may best be expressed by the immortal words of Smokey Robinson, who sang, “I second that emotion.”

For any son to read such a quote from Roger Staubach about his father would fill him with pride. For a Texan—especially a kid from Dallas—such a quote is frankly overwhelming. As I think about how to express my feelings to friends in Chicago I realize I’m ill equipped to find a comparable figure other than Walter Payton, who is deceased. (Some would say Ditka, but he’s hawking cheesy time shares on cable TV and isn’t even close to Staubach. Perhaps Michael Jordan, but his status seems to have faded some lately.) But to truly understand how I feel upon reading this extraordinary quote, I must first take you back 31 years to the penultimate year of the disco era, at the end of the decade when the Dallas Cowboys became “America’s Team.”

January 21, 1979

On a cold morning in January 1979, my family boarded a plane to Miami. It was my first time to visit Florida, and I’m fairly certain it was my first time to miss school for a reason other than illness, which felt both exotic and mischievous. More importantly, I was in town to see the Dallas Cowboys—America’s Team, my team—play the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XIII. The Cowboys easily beat the Broncos in Super Bowl XII the year before, and they were in Miami to defend their title. I had just turned eight earlier in the month, and I don’t remember much before the day of the game, January 21, 1979. But the events of that Super Bowl Sunday—from morning to night—are etched in my brain.

You see, by January 1979 I had already attended several dozen Cowboys home games in spite of my youth. From 1973 until 1989, when Jerry Jones bought the team, my dad was the director of the Dallas Cowboys band. Beginning with Super Bowl XII in January 1978, Tex Schramm, the Cowboy’s larger-than-life general manager, invited the band to travel with the cheerleaders to support the team.

Early on Super Bowl Sunday, my mom, dad, sister, brother and I left the Bahia Mar Hotel in Fort Lauderdale—our home during this epic football sojourn in south Florida—and joined the band on a chartered bus, which had a sign in the front window that read, “Cowboys Players.” Rather than park in the lot near the masses of drunken tailgaters, our bus drove us through hordes of screaming fans past the stadium gates and into the Orange Bowl tunnel down toward the field.

Steelers fans had initiated the “terrible towel” tradition several years prior, and it seemed to me that they significantly outnumbered Cowboys fans based on the enormous volume of stupid yellow dish towels waved by moronic Pittsburghers wearing black and gold. They looked like a bunch of fat, drunk bumblebees with bad facial hair and hillbilly haircuts straight out of Deliverance. Let’s face it: I hate the Steelers and their obnoxious fans. Apparently, the “Cowboys Players” sign in our bus window caused fans of both teams to think—quite erroneously—that Roger Staubach, Tony Dorsett, Drew Pearson, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Harvey Martin, Randy White, Billy Joe Dupree, Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson,” Tom Landry, and the rest of America’s Team were on board. It was rather amusing, actually.

Our bus parked and we walked toward the bandstand, which was placed on the field near the end zone painted Steelers' gold at the open end of the horseshoe in Miami’s old Orange Bowl. My brother Bill and I were seated near our dad’s podium on the field. We effectively had front row seats, albeit with poor visibility past the twenty yardline nearest us. Each of us had red Super Bowl credentials tied to strings around our necks, which made us feel official, and which indicated—at least to these two young, impressionable kids—that we belonged there, in front of all the action.

Our end zone saw most of the action, including highlight reel favorites of Steelers’ fans for the past 30 years, such as the John Stallworth catch in the second quarter and the unbelievable Lynn Swann catch in the fourth quarter, not to mention the dreaded Jackie Smith drop in the third quarter. (Damn you, Jackie Smith!) In the end, Dallas lost the game, and my brother and I were heartbroken. But the game was arguably one of the most competitive and exciting Super Bowls in history.

In addition to the game, I distinctly remember watching the halftime show performers, which consisted of hundreds of dancers in colorful Caribbean outfits lined up at the fence adjacent to our seats near the end of the second quarter. Eight year-olds are easily distracted, and I remember peering all around at the Super Bowl spectacle as much as I remember watching the game. The game was amazing, but the crowd, the colors, the noise and the energy—especially since we were seated on the field—were truly unforgettable. To an eight year-old, Super Bowl XIII was a blizzard of yellow and blue; 1970s haircuts and bell bottomed pants; profane, rowdy Steelers fans mixing with cool, sedate Cowboys supporters; and Tom Landry in his fedora stoically looking toward the field trying to conjure another extraordinary comeback. I remember the roar of the crowd and the terrible towels waving frantically. I recall the final seconds when the Cowboys almost recovered a second on-side kick before the ball was smothered by the Steelers, who ran the clock out to win by four points, 35 to 31. And I remember the heartbreak of defeat, especially since I truly believed America’s Team would prevail.

But my team played with intensity that day and I was proud. Most of all, I remember seeing my heroes, Staubach, Dorsett and Pearson up close—much closer than our seats allowed at Texas Stadium. As a small kid, they were truly larger than life, especially Staubach.

Following the game, (players) Bob Breunig and Herbert Scott joined us on the bus to the hotel, and they graciously gave my brother Bill and me autographs in our Super Bowl Gameday programs. Later that night, following a late dinner at a Miami restaurant with a big-screen TV—the first I had ever seen—that was airing the Burt Reynolds classic The Longest Yard, my Mom, sister, brother, and I ate a quiet dinner and relived favorite moments from the game. We had lost the game, but we had also just seen our Cowboys play in a Super Bowl from seats located right on the field, and we were sky high with emotions.

After dinner we returned to the hotel and we made our way to a large ballroom where dozens of empty cots lay in neat rows. A few curtains here and there attempted to separate sections of the ballroom, presumably to help segregate men and women. However, the four of us were alone at the moment in this spacious, empty room. My Dad was with the Cowboys Band playing a set at the Super Bowl party, which was much more subdued relative to the year before following the victory over the Broncos (see Part Three: Coming Home with Country Music).

My mom tucked Billy, Debbie and me into bed and we fell asleep on three cots in the middle of the enormous ballroom. We awoke the next morning to find the entire Cowboys Band as well as the famed Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders sleeping in cots all around us. The once empty room was now packed with eccentric North Texas State University jazz musicians who comprised the majority of the talented Cowboys Band and dozens of bleach-blonde cheerleaders, and I was frankly stunned. Apparently, the Cowboys of the 70s traveled on a tight budget. To this day I wonder what the band members and cheerleaders thought when they returned sometime near dawn to find three kids, plus my mom, sleeping in four cots in the middle of a massive ballroom lined with rows of beds. I’m sure my brother, who was 12 at the time, was much more curious how the Cheerleaders found their way to the ballroom during the night while he slept. By 1979 the Cowboys Cheerleaders had achieved rock star status everywhere, and here they were sleeping all around us. Unfortunately, as an eight-year-old, I didn’t quite appreciate this fact at the time. Timing is everything.

We left on Monday morning and returned to Big D. Back at school I briefly had superstar status as the only kid anyone knew—except Major and Delon Greene, Mean Joe Greene's sons, who also attended my school—who had ever attended a Super Bowl. (Ironically, Delon and Major Greene, who were a few years older than I, lived near us in Duncanville. Every kid at school loved their dad's Coke commercial, even though he was a Steeler.)

I wouldn’t trade my Super Bowl experience with any other in my life except perhaps the birth of my daughters and my wedding day. (I'm sure my wife could easily think of several others.) Watching Roger Staubach, Tony Dorsett and Drew Pearson in the Super Bowl during the Cowboys’ heyday left an indelible impression on this eight-year-old. To me, Staubach was the captain of America’s Team, and anyone who played against him was simply the enemy on par with the Soviets. It was good versus evil. Period.

How ‘Bout Those Cowboys

Like every good Cowboy fan, I watched in awe as the Cowboys won three Super Bowls in four years during the 1990s. Indeed, those were great victories and wonderful times. But for a kid born in that weird period between the 60s and 70s known as the Nixon era, Staubach was near superhero status compared with just about any other football star.

Don't get me wrong—Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin, and all the Cowboys of the 1990s have a special place in that part of my heart reserved for football, which as a Texan is decidedly oversized. They won three Super Bowls, and more importantly they beat the Steelers, which made all us kids from the 70s very happy. Simply said, they returned the glory back to Big D. But the experiences from one's childhood leave a stronger impression than those from adulthood. And as a kid “Roger the Dodger”—or “Captain Comeback,” as he was also known—was my hero.

You see, over time professional sports were demystified by my overexposure to them. In high school I began working for my dad as the band’s equipment manager, and during college I worked both in the press box and on the field during the game. Actually, it was rather extraordinary to watch games from the field as a college student. The game was so fast and the players so big: nothing on TV or in the stands even comes close. But having seen more than a couple hundred live Cowboys games by 1993, the year I left Dallas, I was simply spoiled. I had seen so many games from such unbelievable vantage points that the excitement and drama of the game began to wane in spite of the remarkable success the Cowboys had begun to enjoy under Jerry Jones’s leadership.

Over time I became more interested in the game as entertainment rather than sport. Each game I would ride to Texas Stadium with my dad several hours before kickoff and watch the stadium and all its myriad workers prepare for the game. The concessionaires cooked hot dogs and popcorn, security guards moved into place, ticket takers opened their booths, photographers reviewed notes and stats while chomping on cheap hot dogs in a small room up the ramp across from the Cowboy’s locker room, and the news media—composed of radio, TV and print journalists—gathered in the press box adjacent to the luxury boxes to grab a quick bite and take a restroom break before the coin toss. In fact, two years in a row—in 1991 and 1992—I ate Thanksgiving dinner at Texas Stadium with football legends John Madden and Pat Summerall alone in the media dining room before the rest of the media descended on the press box. Mine was a surreal existence during my 20s.

All of it—the build-up, the preparation, the execution, and the artifice—was a fascinating and complicated production made possible by thousands of people each Sunday. In reality, the game was actually rather boring compared to the complicated machinations required to prepare for taking tickets, selling food and clothes, cleaning the men’s rooms, preparing for halftime, reporting on the game, and managing tens of thousands of fans coming and going peacefully. The game, which comprises only one hour of play split into four quarters, is in reality, the simple part.

As I explained, the NFL experience had become demystified to me. However, I still love the Dallas Cowboys. I still love watching them play every Sunday in the fall. And every summer in late-August my spirits begin to lift as football season approaches. However, in spite of the nearly unlimited access to players, coaches, and media, the experiences of an eight-year-old child will always create a substantially more magical and exotic memory than anything experienced in one’s teens or twenties.

Super Bowl XLV

On February 6, 2011 Super Bowl XLV will be played at Cowboys Stadium, the shiny new billion-dollar stadium—dubbed JerryWorld by the press—that is rivaled in scale and grandeur only by the coliseum in Rome. And it just so happens that my Dad is the President and CEO of the Super Bowl XLV Host Committee. Roger Staubach is the Chairman and Troy Aikman is Vice Chair. Members of the Executive Committee include Emmitt Smith and Ross Perot, Jr., among others. It’s a who’s who of Dallas.

Obviously, my dad’s position and subsequent interaction with Staubach and Aikman provides him access for which most Dallasites—or Texans for that matter—would sell their soul. And I am keenly aware of my dad’s friendship and working relationship with Staubach. I also know that my dad has a special talent for building and managing complex organizations and at crafting and staging big events. Let’s face it: in the U.S. there is no event bigger than the Super Bowl. So Roger’s quote shouldn’t be all that surprising to me knowing my dad’s working relationship with Staubach. Yet, in spite of all that, the eight-year-old deep down inside couldn’t help but swell with pride.

As my train approaches the Ogilvie Transportation Center in downtown Chicago I find myself stuck emotionally in 1979 reliving my Super Bowl Experience. Quite frankly, I don’t want to go back to 2010 for a few minutes so I close my eyes as my fellow commuters exit the train, and I try and remember the sights and sounds and smells of Super Bowl XIII. As the train empties I say a quiet, personal thank you to my dad for providing such extraordinary experiences and memories over the years. Most would say it was just football, but I know it was much more—it was an opportunity to witness a uniquely American cultural experience in the glory days of America’s Team.

Roger, I thank God (and Sam Houston) my dad is my dad every day, too.

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