Remember the catch that David Tyree made with his helmet to help the New York Giants stop the perfection-bound New England Patriots in 2008?
What about Malcolm Butler’s game-winning interception last season, when the Patriots upended the defending-champion Seattle Seahawks?
The Super Bowl is the biggest event in American sports, and iconic moments and the players who created them reinforce its stature.
Arriving ahead of the 50th edition of the National Football League’s annual championship game in February is a book by local author Randy O. Williams that ranks the top 50 moments in Super Bowl history.
“50 Years, 50 Moments: The Most Unforgettable Plays in Super Bowl History,” which Williams co-wrote with NFL legend Jerry Rice, was released this month.
“A lot of people know the big plays, but Jerry and I wanted to peel away the layers,” Williams said. “It’s a well-known moment, but what happened behind it? Was it planned? Was it supposed to happen? What do people not know? What’s fresh? What’s little known? That was an important part of it. What we wanted to get at here was, we wanted to get inside the game, inside the moment.”
The book is the latest project for Williams, a longtime Santa Monica resident who has penned stories for Sports Illustrated, ESPN.com, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post, among other outlets.
The idea for the Super Bowl book came to Williams as he worked as a volunteer documentarian for the Library of Congress, interviewing veterans who served in World War II to record their experiences for posterity.
While taking a break from that project, Williams found himself in front of a television watching footage from old Super Bowl games.
“The light bulb went on,” he said. “How cool would it be to get 50 years of stories into one book? How many of these guys are still with us? Wouldn’t it be great to get their stories?”
Williams found a willing partner in Rice, who is widely considered to be one of the best pro football players of all time. A Hall of Famer who won three championship rings as a wide receiver with the San Francisco 49ers, Rice was named the most valuable player of Super Bowl XXIII.
But, Williams said, Rice complemented his firsthand experience with a broad curiosity that guided the daunting endeavor.
“He appreciated other people’s stories,” Williams said. “What was it like to play for Vince Lombardi? How did Joe Namath get that swagger? He had a genuine in interest, and he was all over it when we presented it to him. He’s really appreciative of the history of the sport, and there were things he wanted to know. It was a golden opportunity to hear the inside stories from the early days.”
Compiling the chronicle came with substantial challenges for Williams, who was under pressure to complete it before Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
The journalist was also racing against time to track down aging athletes in varying degrees of health.
Six months into the project, Williams was diagnosed with cancer. The melanoma found in his back and behind his knee required surgery and extensive rehab.
“It was a bit of a juggle,” he said.
Williams, who originally came to Southern California to attend UCLA, spent time in the Bay Area this past week to promote the book. And although his career has taken him to 10 Olympic Games and six World Cup tournaments, he always looks forward to returning to Santa Monica.
“I tell people I’m in Santa Monica and they say, ‘Ah, the garden spot,’” he said. “I’ve heard that in a couple languages. I’ve traveled the world, but I always come back because I like it here.”