Super memories|Local fans recall good games, good times

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Some longtime football fans don’t have to watch an NFL Films documentary or endless hours of the NFL Network to reminisce about pro football’s legendary names.

For Dr. W. Briggs Hopson Jr. and his wife, Pat, it just takes a little digging in the treasure trove of Super Bowl memorabilia collected over four decades of periodic visits to football’s prime spectacle.

The Hopsons are some of the handful of Vicksburgers who have attended a Super Bowl. Their nearly pristine collection of official game programs and pennants depicting some of the sport’s legendary teams is like thumbing through a family photo album, complete with some finishing touches of scrawled artwork from sons Jay, linebackers coach for the University of Michigan, and Briggs III, who represents Vicksburg and Warren County in the state Senate.

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“We went to all of the ones in New Orleans, up through Super Bowl XX (in 1986),” Dr. Hopson said. “We had a great time being there.”

Trips to big games usually came courtesy of ticket lotteries held for Saints season ticket holders, such as Hopson’s father, or through connections to NFL players from the region, such as north Louisiana’s Terry Bradshaw or James Jones, who prepped at Vicksburg High School and played for the Dallas Cowboys in the early 1980s.

Many firsts, lasts and, well, “onlys” in the history of the game marked their visits.

Super Bowl VII in 1973 in Los Angeles was won by the Miami Dolphins, so far the only modern-era NFL team to run the table for an entire season. Super Bowl IX in 1975 was the final football game played in Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, while Super Bowl XII in 1978 was the first Super Sunday staged indoors, at the newly built Louisiana Superdome.

Their first trip to the Super Bowl in 1970 was the last big game before the NFL officially merged with the American Football League and the first to be played in the Crescent City.

“I was pulling for Minnesota that day,” Dr. Hopson said of their first Super Bowl, one that ended in Kansas City’s 23-7 win over the favored Vikings in Super Bowl IV. “But, (Hank) Stram came in there and beat ’em.”

They once collected and framed autographs Jay had gathered over the years, many of them from his favorite team growing up, the Miami Dolphins. Some of the prized possessions are lost to the nooks and crannies of their Indiana Avenue home — a poster signed by Pittsburgh Steelers great Mean Joe Greene, another by onetime Dallas Cowboy wide receiver Golden Richards that Briggs III knows “is somewhere.”

The 1975 game wasn’t memorable so much for the record-cold temperatures or for Pittsburgh’s “Steel Curtain” defense outshining Minnesota’s Purple People Eaters as it was for what was, well, “lost” on the field by a Bourbon Street icon.

“Chris Owens (a longtime New Orleans strip club owner) was on for pregame,” Mrs. Hopson remembers. “It was cold — freezing cold! Well, she dropped that mink coat and was standing there with nothing on. The police ran and grabbed the coat and hauled her off. I don’t know why she was on the field — but she was out there!”

Allegiances to the Saints — understandably hit-or-miss in the team’s early days — have grown stronger with its recent success. It’s been a surreal experience following them in 2009-10, the Hopsons said, when set against the backdrop of the rest of their collection: Unearthed along with the Super Bowl stuff are several Saints game programs from the 1970s and ’80s, including one from the franchise’s first playoff game in 1987 versus the Vikings — the same team they vanquished to reach Super Bowl XLIV on Sunday.

“To see them win after so many years of not winning, it’s just amazing,” Pat said.

Other locals who went to the early Super Bowls have memories of it being simply the biggest contest of the year, not the advertising and entertainment extravaganza it became over time.

Steven Mantz, then a sales rep with Pennsylvania-based 84 Lumber Company, won tickets with other co-workers to Super Bowl X in 1976 in a contest after meeting a sales quota. Unseasonably winter winds whipping through the Orange Bowl didn’t stop him from enjoying the most exciting final game up to then.

“I was a Dallas fan at the time,” said Mantz, who had to check his feelings at the gate when Pittsburgh partisans around him cheered Glen Edwards’ interception of Roger Staubach’s desperate heave on the game’s final play that clinched a 21-17 victory.

“I really couldn’t voice my opinion on the outcome,” said Mantz, who later met Steeler greats Lynn Swann and Franco Harris while working near the Steel City.

“I’m very glad I went and wouldn’t mind going again,” Mantz said.

“Tickets were about $20, $25 then,” said Ed Canizaro, who saw the Cowboys snap a string of postseason losses in January 1972 with a win over the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VI at Tulane Stadium.

Canizaro, first cousin to developer Joe Canizaro, owner of the USFL’s Breakers franchise that played in New Orleans in 1984, remembers meeting an A-list of celebrities at the Royal Sonesta Hotel and at after-parties — among them Archie Manning and his wife, Olivia, and the “Monday Night Football” announcer crew of Howard Cosell, Don Meredith and Frank Gifford. 

Amid the star-gazing, Canizaro said the experience was more about the game itself. “It wasn’t the big deal it is now,” Canizaro said.

Contact Danny Barrett Jr. at dbarrett@vicksburgp