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Ghosts of Super Bowl routs past

Super Bowl LI kicks off in six hours and 20 minutes in Houston.

Why do I have the feeling this Super Bowl will be just like two involving the 49ers? 

Super Bowl XXIV was the fourth played in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (then the Louisiana Superdome). The 49ers came in as the defending champions and had mauled most of their competition during the season. San Francisco lost only two games by a combined total of five points (13-12 to the Rams, 21-17 to the Packers, who had their best season in the 19-year period from 1973 through 1991, but did not qualify for the playoffs). The 49ers were 8-0 on the road. They won their playoff games vs. the Vikings and Rams by a combined score of 71-16. 

The Broncos were in the Super Bowl for the third time in four seasons. They were embarrassed by the Giants in XXI and the Redskins in XXII. They recovered from an 8-8 campaign in ’88 to go 11-5 in ’89, which got them home field advantage in a weak AFC. Denver’s defense was much improved from what it had been in 1986 and ’87, but it was still all about John Elway. 

Unlike the 49ers, the Broncos had a tough time in the playoffs. They barely survived the wild card Steelers 24-23 in the divisional round, then pulled away to defeat the Browns 37-21 for the AFC championship, the third time in four seasons Denver and Cleveland met with a trip to 

In the two weeks leading up to Super Bowl XXIV, there were only two players anyone cared about. One, Joe Montana, was going for his fourth Super Bowl ring in eight years. The other, John Elway, was on the verge of joining Fran Tarkenton as the only starting quarterbacks to go 0-3 in the Super Bowl. 

Nobody outside Colorado gave the Broncos a chance. I’m sure many in Colorado didn’t, either. 

Guess what? They were right. 

San Francisco 55, Denver 10.

The game got so bad I turned it off at halftime. Yes, I turned off a Super Bowl at halftime, something I had not done since I started watching football reglulary in 1983. 

Five years later, the 49ers were back in the Super Bowl. Steve Young, Montana’s backup for the 1988 and ’89 championships, was the NFL’s MVP, and he posted the highest quarterback rating in NFL history at that time. The 49ers went on a spending spree in the second year of free agency, and the first year of the salary cap, signing numerous high price veterans to rich contracts, including Deion Sanders, who played out his rookie contact with the Falcons and was looking desperately for a ring. 

The 49ers started the year 3-2, losing to the Chiefs–led by Joe Montana, who was traded to Kansas City in April 1993–and the Eagles. The latter was an embarrassment, as Young was pulled late with the 49ers hopelessly behind. Philadelphia left San Francisco with a 40-8 victory. 

After the loss to the Eagles, the 49ers won 10 straight before a meaningless loss in the regular season finale in Minnesota. In the playoffs, San Francisco destroyed Chicago 44-15, then took out two years of frustration against the Cowboys, spiking the Cowboys 38-28 for the NFC championship in a game which wasn’t that close.

San Francisco’s opponent in Super Bowl XXIX was another AFC West squad. 

Going into 1994, the San Diego Chargers had never been to the Super Bowl. The Chargers lost back-to-back AFC championship games in 1980 to the Raiders and 1981 to the Bengals, the latter in Cincinnati when the temperature was 9 below zero with a wind chill of 37 below (reported as 59 below under the wind chill chart in use at the time). 

The ’94 Chargers were a far cry of the Air Coryell days of the early 1980s, when Dan Fouts was throwing bombs all over the place to Kellen Winslow, Charlie Joiner, John Jefferson (early) and Wes Chandler (later). These Chargers preferred the ground game, led by Natrone Means, a bruising 240-pounder. 

San Diego’s defense was good enough to win the AFC West, but it was shredded very badly by the 49ers in December. San Francisco won 38-15 at San Diego, and football experts proclaimed they did not want to see a rematch in Miami.

If the Dolphins and Steelers could have held playoff leads, then the Chargers-49ers rematch would never have materialized. 

Miami held a 21-6 halftime lead in San Diego in the divisional round, only to fall 22-21. Less than one calendar year later, Don Shula was no longer coaching the Dolphins.

The Chargers then shocked the Steelers in Pittsburgh 17-13 for the AFC championship. 

If nobody gave Denver a chance to beat San Francisco in Super Bowl XXIV, then absolutely nobody gave San Diego a shot. 

It would have been better if the NFL had canceled the game and just given the 49ers the Vince Lombardi Trophy. It would have saved a lot of time and money.

The 49ers won 49-26, and it should have been far, far worse. 

Even worse than the game was the way Frank Gifford drooled all over the public address microphone when he announced his wife would sing the national anthem. 

1995 was a horrible year for me. Really horrible. That Super Bowl fit perfectly. 

Man, I hope this Super Bowl isn’t a rout. But something tells me Thomas John Brady is a man on a mission, and he will destroy the Falcons, much the way John Elway did to Atlanta in Super Bowl XXXIII. 

KC finale (for now)

Less than 24 hours from now, I will be back in Russell and resuming my life as a small-town sportswriter, which is very good news.

My father just got released from KU Medical Center, a day earlier than planned. He and my mother are relaxing at the hotel near the hospital. My father needs the rest, because as is usual when you’re in a hospital, he got awakened at all hours of the night. I’ll never forget that happening to me when I was in the hospital in 2004 for pneumonia.

The trip to Overland Park last night was much needed. I stopped at The Cheesecake Factory for two slices of Kahlua cheesecake. I ate one last night and I’ll eat the other tonight, or I’ll take it back to Russell and refrigerate it for when I get back to Oberlin. I don’t think it would keep long enough for the drive to Norton tomorrow evening.

I got lost this morning leaving KU Med. I went east on 39th Street and ended up in Westport, the historic district on the Missouri side south of downtown. I finally made my way to Main Street, then to Ward Parkway. I got lost trying to find Shawnee Mission Parkway to return to Kansas, but fortunately, I ran into State Line Road, which took me to SMP. From there, I found Metcalf and went south to Bed Bath and Beyond, where I picked up another Tervis glass (Arizona Cardinals), plus some New Orleans food and drink I haven’t found in ages. I got some more Abita beer at Lukas Liquor for Liz, since she enjoyed it so much when I boutht it for her birthday.

I had to take a nap this afternoon in my hotel room. I was dead tired. I’m now back at Buffalo Wild Wings in Zona Rosa with Tori at the bar. Brittany is supposed to work tonight, so I’m waiting for her.

Super Bowl factoid: Today is the 20th anniversary of the only Super Bowl to be contested on January 29. It may be the worst Super Bowl ever. If not, it is second or third worst.

It was bad. Beyond bad. The Chargers, the AFC champion, got damn lucky to make it. They rallied from 21-6 down to beat Miami in the divisional round, then going to Pittsburgh and defeating a Steelers team which looked totally disinterested. It seems as if the Steelers felt they had done all they needed to do by crushing Cleveland (coached by Bill Belichick) the previous week.

The 49ers were back to being a juggernaut after failing to make the Super Bowl for four consecutive seasons, an eternity for the franchise in those days. Joe Montana was gone, and Steve Young finally had the starting quarterback job all to himself. He responded by posting the highest passer rating ever for a quarterback in a single season and winning the Most Valuable Player awards unanimously. Jerry Rice was still catching everything in sight. The defense was vastly improved, thanks to the free agent addition of Deion Sanders, who had labored for five seasons only mostly pitiful teams in Atlanta.

The 49ers didn’t look like world beaters in the first five weeks. They lost in week two at Kansas City, where Joe Montana quarterbacked the Chiefs to victory, and three weeks later, were eviscerated 40-8 at home by the Eagles. It got so bad for the 49ers that coach George Seifert pulled Young.

Instead of the season going south, the 49ers zoomed straight to the top.

They would not lose again until the regular season’s final week, when Seifert rested the starters in a meaningless game at Minnesota. The 49ers were unstoppable in the playoffs, routing a grossly outclassed Bears unit in the divisional round before releasing two years of pent-up frustration on the Cowboys, winning the NFC championship 38-28 in a game nowhere near as close as the final score.

Just hours after the Super Bowl matchup was set, the Las Vegas sports books made the 49ers anywhere from 13- to 18-point favorites. It should have been more. Way more. In fact, the Chargers should have been a larger underdog than Joe Namath’s Jets in Super Bowl III.

I knew the game would be awful before kickoff. Kathie Lee Gifford sang the national anthem. She was introduced by her husband, ABC Sports announcer Frank Gifford, and you could practically hear him drooling on the microphone as he introduced “my wife”.

Come to think of it, Kathie Lee was nowhere near the worst singer of the anthem at a Super Bowl. Not in the bottom 10. Christina Aguilera, of course, holds the bottom spot for botching the words before Super Bowl XLV, but I thought Alicia Keys’ version two years ago in New Orleans was pretty pitiful, too. And don’t get me started on Whitney Houston before Super Bowl XXV. I know so many people say it’s the greatest rendition of the national anthem ever, but I hate it. Just hate it. Every time someone plays it, I run to the restroom or otherwise cover my ears.

My favorite national anthem at a Super Bowl (at least those I watched)? Herb Alpert, Super Bowl XXII. Just a trumpet, no words. As for singers, Neil Diamond’s before Super Bowl XXI was great. Short and to the point.

As for the game, the Chargers should have called in a forfeit. It was butt ugly. The 49ers scored on a long touchdown pass from Young to Rice on the game’s third play, and the massacre in Miami was in full gear. FINAL: 49ers 49, Chargers 26.

I watched Super Bowl XXIX from my dilapidated dorm room at LSU. Fitting.

If I never see any highlights from Super Bowl XXIX again, it will be too soon. I try not to remember that game, or anything from 1995, which may have been the single worst year of my life.