John Elway was seeking his first Super Bowl win, near the end of his career at age 37. Brett Favre had yet to retire, or un-retire. Terrell Davis was the league’s top running back.
Such was the scene for Super Bowl 32 in San Diego in early 1998. This weekend brings back those memories, and again shows how fast life moves.
That was the last time the Packers were in the Super Bowl, and they were defending champs at the time. Denver was something of a punch line, having made it three times previously under Elway, getting trounced each time. One of those, against Washington in 1988, also was in San Diego. That was the first time the city had hosted the big game, and I was a part of the editing staff at The San Diego Union at the time.
In ’98, things were different. I was a resident of Orange County, just up the road, and had to do much finagling with co-workers to obtain the days off necessary to spend time among the fans in San Diego. Once a San Diegan …
But also, there were fond memories. Though divorced for several years, I could not help but relate to my ex-wife’s family for this game. She was a Wisconsin native whose parents still lived near Madison and were constantly talking about “da Packers.” An honorary Cheesehead, her mother was fond of mailing us Merkts cheese from Wisconsin. However, they also had a daughter in sports-crazy Denver, and were always following “that John Elwood.” (Gotta love that one!)
I quartered myself at a discount motel for the weekend (Mr. Big Spender here) and spent most of the time on Mission and Pacific beaches (gorgeous) or in the Gaslamp District downtown. For a city that has a reputation as a laid-back Navy town, San Diego has quite an impressive downtown character. There’s also Little Italy, for instance, and Seaport Village nearby. Croce’s Restaurant, for instance, is downtown, run by the widow of late singer Jim Croce (“Operator,” “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim”).
But nothing beats watching a game at the Lahaina Beach House in San Diego. When Favre passed to Antonio Freeman for the first touchdown, two guys near me settled a bet as to who would score first.
Truly, anyone would have to love the back and forth nature of that game. Who can forget Elway’s helicopter/spin dive late in the game? Who can forget Packers coach Mike Holmgren ordering his defense to allow Denver to score what turned out to be the winning TD? That allowed Favre and the Packers offense one last chance to save the game.
I also visited San Diego in 2003 for the Super Bowl between Tampa Bay and Oakland, but it was not the same. Can’t say why. Perhaps I was much more the Orange County resident then. But for a guy who never has actually been inside a stadium for a Super Bowl, I’ve got some great memories from San Diego.