Wild Super Bowl stories from Steve Sabol: Handguns, Rolexes and a perfect season
Steve Sabol, who helped his father, Ed, found NFL Films in 1962, sat down with The Times’ Sam Farmer in 2010 and shared some of his behind-the-scenes Super Bowl stories. Sabol passed away in September 2012.
Some of the strangest and most memorable Super Bowl stories are the ones that happen just after the game has ended.
Think back to the Miami Dolphins’ “perfect” season in 1972. Remember when Don Shula was carried off the field after his team beat the Redskins? Well, most people have a very different memory about what happened than Shula does.
We showed the film of that game to Shula, and we were looking at that shot. He said, “You know, I never said anything to anybody, but when I was being lifted out, somebody stole my watch. I could feel somebody grabbed my hand, and I wasn’t sure why they were trying to grab my hand. When I got back to the locker room, I realized my watch was gone. Somebody ripped it off!”
We could see the watch on the film, but we couldn’t see who it was that took it. That shot of Shula is from a low angle, but you can see hands reaching up and a whole sequence of people grabbing at him and trying to shake his hand. We couldn’t pinpoint who it was.
That’s something that could show up on EBay someday: Don Shula’s perfect Rolex.
A few years earlier, Shula coached the Baltimore Colts against the New York Jets in Super Bowl III. At the end of that game, my job was to go in the locker room. The memory there I have is going into the locker room, and for some reason the Jets -- who had just pulled off this big upset -- had closed the locker room for about 10 minutes. Nobody could get in.
I was under the stands standing next to Pat Summerall and the commissioner, Pete Rozelle. This just shows you how PR-conscious Pete was: because he was caught off guard to the Jets had won. And he was quizzing Pat Summerall, “Who are the leading receivers for the Jets?”
And Pat would say, “Well it’s Don Maynard, and it’s George Sauer.” And Pete said, “Who are the names on the defense?” So Pete was getting like a prep from Pat, so when Pete went in to present and talk to the players he knew their numbers and everything. He wasn’t aware of that until the very end when he realized, “I’m going to have to present this trophy. I’m going to have to shake their hands.”
You could see Pete’s mind registering all these names so when he went in there he didn’t want to call the player by the wrong name, he wanted to seem gracious and knowledgeable. I always thought that showed a lot about Rozelle that he really cared, he really wanted to know everybody’s name, where they went to college.
Then, there was Super Bowl XXI at the Rose Bowl between Denver and the New York Giants. One of the guys we were profiling was Giants receiver Phil McConkey. He had a great story: coming from the Naval Academy, not being drafted, making the team, Bill Parcells cuts him and then he comes back. We isolated a camera on him throughout the game.
McConkey was the guy that Parcells told before the game to run out of the tunnel ahead of everybody and wave the towel when they were playing “New York, New York.” It was his job to get the crowd fired up. And he did.
He could have fired things up in a different way after the Giants won the game. We have a shot of him running off the field during the celebration and all of a sudden he stops, reaches down and picks up something. We weren’t sure what it was at first. Turns out, it was a gun!
It must have fallen out of policeman’s holster, and it was loaded. McConkey just picked it up and handed it to a security guy. Later, McConkey told us, “What a great night. If I’d have had more presence of mind, I would have started firing that gun into the air like one of those old Westerns.”
Good thing he didn’t think of that at the time.
Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesFarmer
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