“Look at them sideburns! He looks like a girl! Now, Johnny Unitas — there’s a haircut you can set your watch to!”
Twenty-seven years after Super Bowl III, the anthologic pop-culture encyclopedia provided by The Simpsons would offer its take on the game through the always-crochety Grampa Simpson, then just a middle-aged, beer-swilling layabout “stuck in his button-down, plastic-fantastic Madison Avenue scene.”
Behind many jokes there is an element of truth, and so it went with this one. Under center, Joe Namath was a Western-Pa. bred, Bear Bryant-molded, tough-guy quarterback who played through pain that would felled many a player. But his white shoes, Fu Manchu, sideburns, pantyhose commercicals and bar ownership spoke otherwise — especially when contrasted with Unitas, who was still a couple of years away from his ’70s-appropriate moptop. Namath was in equal coiffed contrast with the Colts’ starter that day, Earl Morrall, who would keep his crew cut right into the mid-1970s and beyond.
Which brings us to the highlight film itself, a fairly bold experiment as far as Super Bowl highlight films go that is a tad curious for a game that turned out to be a crucial turning point in pro football’s annals. It takes five minutes and 29 seconds in the 23-minute film until we are actually taken to game day; we are treated to a build-up that underscores the contrast between the quarterbacks and teams, with a song called Broadway Joe by a group called the “Super Chicks,” who sound like high-school cheerleaders.
(Someone who was supposedly a countercultural hero probably should have been feted with a song that sounded less like the Dixie Cups and more like Jefferson Airplane. Although, at first, I thought the song closed with “No one else can score like Broadway Joe,” which could be interpreted in multiple manners, and fit in with a verse earlier in the song that called him a “swinging ladies man.” Alas for the lecherous among us, the song closed with “No one else can throw like Broadway Joe.” But I digress.)
In a word, this highlight film is “different.” At the least, it’s a film of its age — daring and presented in a manner that seeks not only to break the mold, but shatter it. I’m sure that this probably falls into a the love-it-or-hate-it pile for most; I can’t be so decisive because while this has never been one that I would repeatedly watch after taping it off of ESPN as a kid, I admire the effort and the filmmaking risks that Steve Sabol takes here, especially considering the weight of the game and the fact that the championship-game highlight film was still a fairly nascent concept, with NFL Films just a few short years removed from Ed Sabol’s original Blair Motion Pictures incarnation.
It was a chance worth taking … although it falls short of representing the game’s place in history.
BEST NARRATION: “Two champions on a Sunday afternoon. A new one as a quarterback. An old one as a man.”
Perhaps a scosh too much is made of the quarterback storyline at the expense of the efforts of Matt Snell and George Sauer, who were probably at least as responsible for the Jets’ win than the Hall of Fame quarterback himself, but whose efforts have been relegated to the ashbin of history because of the overarching storyline of Namath’s “guarantee.”