Monday, February 1, 2010

On The Greatest Super Bowl Week of All-Time

They held a parade in New Orleans for Buddy Diliberto on Sunday. That name might mean nothing to you; it didn't mean much to me until I started researching this book.* In fact, I didn't know until I read this story that Diliberto, a local broadcaster, had a cult following in New Orleans, that he had once pledged to wear a dress and dance through the streets if the Saints went to the Super Bowl. I really only knew one thing about Buddy Diliberto, which hearkens back to the most interesting Super Bowl week in history. Never before--not even, I would argue, in the era of Namath--has one person so defiantly courted controversy on the biggest stage in sports, and it just so happens that Buddy Diliberto was one of those people swept up in the force of nature that was Jim McMahon.

If you weren't alive in 1986, it's kind of difficult to fathom a performance like McMahon's; in the matter of a few days, he started a controversy over Eastern medicine, mooned a helicopter, urinated on Bourbon Street, and then, thanks to Diliberto, dealt with death threats for the one insult he never actually uttered: Calling the women of New Orleans "sluts," something that Diliberto reported after hearing it had been uttered on a Chicago radio show, even thought McMahon had never appeared on said radio show. By the time the game arrived, McMahon told me, his greatest concern was not the Patriots' defense; no one on that Bears team ever believed New England had a chance, and they were right. And so by gametime, McMahon's primary concern was keeping an eye out for snipers.

Every day, one longtime Bears beat reporter told me, whether intentional or not, McMahon made himself the story. Never, I would argue, has there been a better match between a sports personality and the time in which he lived. In the years before he showed up in New Orleans, the game had become staid and uninteresting; in the years after, it became micro-managed and pre-packaged. McMahon and that Bears team fit into a narrow window of opportunity, when sports and celebrity were just beginning to merge, and when the very idea of sports marketing was in its infancy, as the gaudy and self-aggrandizing spirit of the '80's reached its peak. Those Bears were full of characters, but it was McMahon who set the tone, McMahon who pushed the boundaries, McMahon who made this the most interesting (if not the best) team in the history of the NFL.** We should get a better game this weekend (or at least, I hope we do), but there may never be a better Super Bowl week.

 *Available for pre-order!
**Are there any other teams with enough lasting popularity to reprise a 25-year old video clip for a company looking to "rebrand itself"?

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