Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

Sports

February 13, 2008

Super Blog

After the Super Bowl, Gelf revisits some memorable and overlooked storylines, including the parade metaphors that Giuliani would have liked, a stupid hoax about a stupid question, the strange stadium name, and more.

Michael Gluckstadt

With two weeks of build-up and at least one week of follow-up coverage, the Super Bowl is the most discussed single-day event every year. Now that the media storm has settled (because no one cares about the Pro Bowl), Gelf is rounding up some of the stories and angles from Super Bowl month that caught our attention.

The Giants' Super Bowl parade, which was not like 9/11. Photo by Michael Gluckstadt.
"I hate to call 9/11 a cliché, but after six years is it possible to have an event in Lower Manhattan that isn't about the World Trade Center attacks?"

The Giants' Super Bowl parade, which was not like 9/11. Photo by Michael Gluckstadt.

Super 9/11 Echoes

There were many people on the streets for the Giants ticker-tape parade. You know what that means. Large crowds + Lower Manhattans = bountiful 9/11 references. Mike Lupica and George Vecsey, two of New York’s most prominent sportswriters, both felt compelled to compare the Giants victory parade to September 11th—or as Vecsey calls it, "that other gruesome parade up Broadway on Sept. 11, 2001, when people ran past City Hall with terror on their faces and toxic ash in their hair." At least he only mentions it in passing. Lupica devotes an entire column to the idea that "Joy Now Reigns Where Tears Once Fell." I hate to call 9/11 a cliché, but after six years is it possible to have an event in Lower Manhattan that isn't about the World Trade Center attacks?

Super Hoax

In the week leading up to Super Bowl XXII in 1988, the big story was Washington Redskins quarterback Doug Williams becoming the first black quarterback to play in the Super Bowl. The press was so caught up in it that one sportswriter reportedly asked Williams, "How long have you been a black quarterback?" Williams responded with varying degrees of grace and humor, depending on which version you hear. It's a great one-liner that sportswriters are quick to throw out when they're at the "writing so much coverage that they write about how much coverage they've been writing" stage of Super Bowl week. And why not? It's a funny story that allows journalists to easily communicate that they're in on the joke.

There's only one problem with the oft-repeated Doug Williams story: It isn't true. According to Snopes.com, Williams misheard Jackson Clarion-Ledger reporter Butch John asking, "Doug, obviously, you've been a black quarterback your whole life. When did race begin to matter to people?" This version has been corroborated by Bob Kravitz, then of the Rocky Mountain News, and the Washington Post's Michael Wilbon.

Doug Williams

Guess which one is the black quarterback?

So with the facts laid out on the internet for anyone to see, shouldn't we expect journalists to have given up quoting this apocryphal story? Hardly. It seems that old clichés—especially ones about journalism—die hard. Gelf found several instances where the Williams story was repeated as fact, and that's just for this season. One had the question happening in 1987; another called it a postgame query rather than a Media Day feature. One can only imagine how many times and in how many places Doug Williams gets asked how long he's been a black quarterback every time Super Bowl week comes around. Here are this year's culprits on our radar.

Associated Press (via ESPN):
That followed a week in which he was asked question after question about his role as the first black quarterback to play in the NFL's championship game, including the now-storied query: "How long have you been a black quarterback?"
Newark Star-Ledger:
And afterward, there was an instant when a reporter asked him one of the dumbest questions in postgame history anywhere:

"How long have you been a black quarterback?"

That's not unlike asking Eli Manning, "How long have you been Peyton's younger brother."

But Doug Williams reached back and smiled and put it all in perspective.

"I didn't come here as a black quarterback," he said "I came here as the quarterback of the Washington Redskins."

Times-Herald (Georgia):
There will be questions directed about the game by a few reporters, but there will be quite a few that will have nothing to do with 1)the game itself, 2)the game of football or 3)anything that would be logical.
For example, Washington Redskins quarterback Doug Williams was asked during Media Day of Super Bowl XXII in 1987, "how long have you been a black quarterback"?

Wall Street Journal:
One of the less chronicled but endlessly intriguing aspects of Super Bowl week is the battle for the most memorable/inane question. Twenty years ago, as the legend goes, the Washington Redskins quarterback Doug Williams, who is black, was asked before Super Bowl XXII how long he’d been an African-American quarterback.

New York Times:
The world did not stop spinning when Doug Williams (“How long have you been a black quarterback?” a reporter blurted) won Super Bowl XXII in 1988.

Press-Telegram (California):
And then there was the one addressed to the Washington Redskins' Doug Williams before Super Bowl XXII between the Redskins and Denver Broncos in San Diego.
"How long have you been a black quarterback?" someone asked Williams, set to be the first African-American quarterback to start in the Super Bowl.
"I've been a quarterback since high school," he replied coolly.
"And I've always been black."

Super Super

Super Sunday. Super Tuesday. Super Sunday. Super Tuesday. Wouldn't it be interesting if someone wrote about the conflation of the two Super days as a perfect metaphor for the elements of sporting in politics or politicking in sports? New York Times media columnist David Carr thinks so. His column on Fox's Super Sunday programming contained over 20 sports/politics metaphors. While the overabundance of these comparisons was sort of his point, Carr still goes a little overboard, for example:

"Say what you like about Fox, they really know how to make a handoff. Just as "American Idol" ran interference for the startup of "The Moment of Truth," so the Super Bowl will serve as a vigorous lead-in to Super Tuesday. Touch that dial and you might get tackled.

The Super Bowl is one of the last bastions of mass media in a fractured universe, and trust the News Corporation to make the most of it. After starting from scratch in 1986, the Fox network took off in 1993 after intercepting the rights to broadcast N.F.L. games from CBS. Ridiculed at the time as an expensive overreach, the grab has since been returned for many a touchdown.

Armani, the monkey

To his credit, Armani wasn't the only forecaster to predict a Patriots win.

But Fox wasn't the only one dealing with the opportunities and challenges presented by the Super week. According to the Boston Globe, there was the issue of planning the parade route commemorating the Patriots historically perfect season around polling places so the police aren't spread too thin. Oh, wait, never mind. While the parade and balloting conflict never materialized, there was still a chance for one Massachusetts voting official to wonder, "The Pats have been able to take down everyone else, but can they knock down Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama? Can they handle the Mitt-mentum?" In more Super Duper news, Lohud.com, serving New York's Lower Hudson Valley, was shocked that people in New York seem to care so much more about Super Sunday than Tuesday. And lastly, Washington D.C. radio station WTOP asked a monkey to pick winners for both Supers Sunday and Tuesday. Armani, the capuchin monkey with a strange affinity for Tony Kornheiser, picked the Patriots, Mike Huckabee and Hillary Clinton as the week's big winners. Oops.

Super Stadium

During the Super Bowl, a friend of mine asked a perfectly understandable question about the dome it was being played in. She wanted to know if the University of Phoenix had a really good football team that would play in such a nice arena. Millions of other people watching the game probably wondered the same thing. Of course, the University of Phoenix does not have a football team, because it is a for-profit, online university with no central campus. In 2006, U of P paid $154.5 million dollars for the naming rights to the stadium for the next 20 years, and has reportedly been happy with the return on its investment.

University of Phoenix Stadium

That rare NFL stadium named after a university. Photo courtesy Wikimedia.

While many actual university stadiums are named for corporate sponsors, this has to be the only case of a corporate sponsor being mistaken for a university. U of P. has dealt with lots of criticism for, well, not being a real university. Unsatisfied students have taken to the web to complain about their disappointing educational experience, and the university has been hit with a lawsuit (currently pending in the Supreme Court) alleging that it defrauded the US government out of hundreds of millions of dollars of student aid money.

There is one place where the university remains unchallenged: After the Super Bowl, the University of Phoenix was the only undefeated football team in the country.

Super Play

Eli-to-Tyree

Eli-to-Tyree, still Super.

Last week, Gelf reported on the search for a name for the Tyree catch. While we didn't ask for suggestions, it's always nice to hear from you. Robert Jackson's suggestion "The Immaculate Connection" has a nice ring, but, like "The Catch II," lacks originality. Jason Wooten and Sloth, who suggested "Shake and Take" and "The Giant Miracle," respectively, prove that Gelf readers are more creative than Canadian bloggers and commenters. Tyree himself suggested "The Mother's Touch" in honor of his recently deceased mother—a kind gesture, but, ultimately, a crappy nickname. Bill Simmons finally chimed in with "The Helmet Catch," which works fine, though I would have preferred "The Helmet Grab" since it's at least a play on something football related. Still, after a week of searching, nothing sounds better to our ears than the simple and elegant "Eli-to-Tyree." You heard it here first.

Michael Gluckstadt

Michael Gluckstadt is an editor at Gelf and host of the Varsity Letters speaking series.







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Comments

- Sports
- posted on Feb 28, 08
Maurice

entertaining, good read

- Sports
- posted on Nov 15, 11
Butch John

Thanks for clearing up the Doug Williams fiasco. There were so many versions out there, I was beginning to wonder exactly how many times and in how many ways I supposedly asked the 'black quarterback' question. It's November 2011 as I write this, and as best I can remember only one Super Bowl has passed without someone calling to ask about the question. Sure would be nice, just once, if someone apologized.

- Sports
- posted on Nov 15, 11
Butch John

Thanks for clearing up the Doug Williams fiasco. There were so many versions out there, I was beginning to wonder exactly how many times and in how many ways I supposedly asked the 'black quarterback' question. It's November 2011 as I write this, and as best I can remember only one Super Bowl has passed without someone calling to ask about the question. Sure would be nice, just once, if someone apologized.


Article by Michael Gluckstadt

Michael Gluckstadt is an editor at Gelf and host of the Varsity Letters speaking series.

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