To be played at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Sunday’s Super Bowl is the 50th anniversary of the event, which is now essentially a national holiday. I attended Super Bowl I in January, 1967 at the L.A. Coliseum and, trust me, it was hardly super. There were 30,000 empty seats and the average ticket price was $8. For Super Bowl 50 there will be no empty seats and the average ticket price is $5,178.
The game in 1967 was NOT actually called the “Super Bowl,” but rather, the “AFL–NFL World Championship Game.” (Not exactly a catchy title.) It featured the Green Bay Packers against the Kansas City Chiefs, with the Packers winning easily, 35-14. It was more like a Super Bore.
This year’s game has a compelling story line, which, as I’m wont to do, I’m comparing to the movie “High Noon.” I shall explain. Hopefully.
A classic western, “High Noon” was released in 1952. It was about an aging town marshal forced to face a gang of killers due to arrive on the train at high noon. It’s considered among the top 100 movies of all-time.
“High Noon” won 4 Academy Awards, including Best Actor, Gary Cooper, Best Supporting Actress, Katy Jurado and Best Musical Score Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling. (Google “Tex Ritter Do Not Forsake Me but I warn you, you’ll be humming it all day.)
Cooper played Marshall Will Kane, who faces an almost certain death with no one to help him. At the Super Bowl, Peyton Manning (whose nickname ironically, is “the sheriff”) is an aging quarterback. In fact, at 39 he’s the oldest starting QB in Super Bowl history. He’ll be facing Cam Newton, the young, cocky and controversial QB for the Carolina Panthers.
Back at the ranch (so to speak), Kane has on his side his young, beautiful pacifist Quaker wife, Amy Fowler Kane, played by Grace Kelly. But but even she leaves him. (Spoiler alert: she changes her mind at the last moment, duh.) Manning, on the other hand, has on his side the vaunted Denver defense, perhaps the best in the NFL.
“High Noon” was made at the height of the “Red Scare” witch hunts led by the infamous Joe McCarthy. The screenwriter, Carl Foreman, fled to England before the movie was released, having been accused of being a Communist.
John Wayne was offered the role of Marshall Kane but claimed the script was un-American. Gregory Peck, a vigorous opponent of blacklisting, also turned the part down.
Cooper not only took the role but won an Oscar in so doing. He was dubbed “the strong, silent type.” Interestly, Manning is also the strong silent type. (And with that, thankfully, I’m almost done with my comparison of “High Noon” and Super Bowl 50.)
The budget for “High Noon” was $730,000 but the movie grossed $12,000,000. TV commercials for last year’s Super Bowl grossed $332,000,000. (This year’s ads are going for a mere $4.2 million for 30 seconds.)
While he hasn’t said so officially the Super Bowl is likely Manning’s last game. By most accounts, the only 5-time NFL Most Valuable Player, has lost both speed and accuracy on his passes.
But Manning’s isn’t the only sentimental story line in this year’s Super Bowl. For Demaryius Thomas, a 3-time All-Pro for the Broncos, this game is extremely special. For the last fifteen years, his mother, Katina Smith, has been in prison on drug charges. But last year, as one of 46 non-violent offenders, President Obama commuted her sentence.
So it was, on January 17th, when the Broncos played the Steelers in the AFC Divisional Round, Thomas had someone very important to him in the stands watching. After the final seconds ticked off, Manning handed Thomas the game ball and told him to give it to his mother.
Thomas carried that ball out of the locker room and reunited with his mom in a hallway. Thomas and his mother were swarmed by teammates and their families. Lots of hugs and pictures. She grasped his arm as they left the stadium.
The Super Bowl is now only hours away. Over 100 million people will watch and over $10 billion will be wagered. Win or lose Cam Newton, at 26, has a bright future. Win or lose, Peyton Manning will likely ride off into the sunset.
In one of the largest spreads in years, the Panthers are favored by 5 to 6 points over the underdog Broncos. That said, I remind you that Marshal Will Kane was an underdog, too.
The Super Bowl starts at 3:30 pm on Channel 2. Jack also writes “Laughing Matters,” which appears every Friday. He’s at firstname.lastname@example.org.