The Super Bowl of all Super Bowls

January 26, 2020

 Portland, Maine— Congrats to Kansas City Chief and San Francisco 49er fans. Your teams have had a phenomenal year and this will be an exciting Super Bowl LIV on Feb. 2 no matter the outcome.

 

Some of my friends here in the northeast, who are New England Patriot fans, are dealing with depression as they are so used to winning or at least being in the big game. I try to empathize and console them by letting them know that things could be worse, much worse in fact.

 

I am a die-hard Detroit Lions fan! Sadly though, the Lions have the distinction of being No. 1 as it relates to the Super Bowl. We are at the top of the "Club Of Woe" list (only four of the 32 teams who have never participated in a Super Bowl). We have never had the opportunity to become part of this popular American culture.  The closest we've come, on two occasions, is when the NFL awarded the Detroit Lions home stadium as host to the game.

 

The first of these, Super Bowl XVI, was held at the Pontiac Silverdome on Jan. 24, 1982. This story is about my attendance at that game when San Francisco won their first Super Bowl.

 

The Pontiac Silverdome was an architectural and development dream. Costing only $57 million, being built on time, and within budget, the 80,000 seat stadium had a unique roof made of teflon coated fiberglass fabric panels affixed to cables that was inflatable and supported by air pressure.

 

The stadium was built about 20 miles from where I grew up in Holly, Michigan, and I was fascinated by the construction. Within a couple years of the opening in 1975, it was announced that the NFL had awarded Super Bowl XVI to the new stadium. This would be the first time the Super Bowl would be held in a cold weather site.

 

From the moment I heard that Super Bowl XVI would be held at the Silverdome, I knew I had to attend.

 

The two finalists for Super Bowl XVI were determined on Jan 10, 1982 and were San Francisco and Cincinnati. 

 

Having recently moved to Dayton (an hour north of Cincinnati), I quickly became familiar with the exponential increase in demand for Super Bowl tickets there.

 

The Cincinnati Bengals share of tickets from the NFL was about 16,000 and the team distributed these through a lottery to their season ticket holders.

 

A mere 16,000 was a drop in the bucket compared to the number of tickets Bengal fans within driving distance to Pontiac were willing to purchase.

 

The face value of  Super Bowl tickets that year started at $40, compared to prices this year starting at more than $4,000. The overwhelming demand for Super Bowl tickets in Ohio resulted in an explosion of ticket sellers with some tickets changing hands several times. Prices being charged by sellers (scalpers) for tickets ranged from $200-$500.

 

After many attempts to find a reasonably priced ticket with a budget of $100 by Jan. 22, I had failed. I was ready to capitulate and discontinue the quest for my dream.

 

Then, I read a story in the Dayton Daily News and learned that in some past years, ticket resellers with unsold SB inventory would take the tickets to the stadium prior to the game. Any tickets by kickoff that were still unsold would see large price reductions with some being sold at face value.

 

Here was my chance! So, I decided to head north on a three-hour drive to my old stomping grounds in Michigan.

 

The weather on Jan. 24 in Southeast Michigan was a nightmare for those commuting to the game. Freezing rain, followed by several inches of blowing snow and a 13 degree temperature created many challenges.

                                                                                                             Photo courtesy of 49er.com

 

I parked my trusty 240D in downtown Pontiac and boarded a commuter bus that would take me to the Stadium. I'll never forget one bus passenger only had a thin San Francisco 49's jacket on, no hat, no gloves, no boots. Looking like he had just come from the airport, it was evident he had never seen a midwestern winter storm before.

 

My plan was quite simple.  Arrive at the stadium an hour before game time and begin circling the stadium until I found a ticket for sale that was within my price range, the $110 cash in my pocket.  Surely by kickoff time or shortly thereafter, I would be able to find a ticket. 

 

Growing up in this neck of the woods, I was prepared for this January winter storm. Long johns to start. A long sleeve flannel shirt, high boots, and a heavy duty winter coat that had a connected hood.  Also, as part of my preparatory arsenal, I had very warm gloves, a wool scarf, and my pair of trusty binoculars, which demonstrated my optimism at meeting my goal.

 

I arrived at the Silverdome precisely 1 hour before kickoff at 3 p.m. according to plan.

 

I spent the next hour walking around the Silverdome to no avail.

 

After 2 times completely around the stadium, I did not find any ticket for sale at any price.  I found out later that hundreds of Bengal fans had driven to Pontiac without tickets, hoping to find some, so it was a scalper’s dream.

 

What to do? I figured I was there, so why not give it one more walk around before giving up.

 

By this time, the sky was starting to darken and the snow started picking up. After starting at the South entrance and passing by the East entrance where there were only a handful of latecomers scurrying in, I started to jog up toward the North entrance as time was against me.  

 

The Silverdome had a unique design feature where the ticket check/security entrances were a hundred feet or more away from the building. Inside the fence/barriers the ground was graded so that you walked down toward the lower level door entrances or up toward the club and upper level revolving doors. This way once you went through ticket check/security, you didn't have to traverse stairs to the upper or lower level. 

 

The only break in the 20 foot Security fence surrounding the stadium was at the four public turnstile entrances (North, East, South, West), a staff and loading dock entrance on the NE side, and a small tunnel entrance for the media on the SW side.

 

I continued to jog past the North entrance as there were only a couple of stragglers hurrying in through the security checkpoint. By this time I have missed the Star Spangled Banner by Diana Ross and have almost given up hope of finding a ticket which dashed my dream of attending this once in a lifetime opportunity.

 

Winded by my dashing about, I paused at the SW Media entrance to catch my breath and observed the CBS control trailer outside of the fence just to the side of the Press entrance tunnel with a Security Guard seated at the entrance to the tunnel.  Right on the other side of the trailer was a ladder propped up against the fence very close to a small antenna affixed to the top of the fence.

 

Having caught my breath, I was ready to resume my journey back to the shuttle bus, when I couldn't believe what I was seeing.  A teenager was climbing the ladder.  I stood transfixed as I was sure the Security Guard would see him.  However, I realized the Security Guard's view of the ladder was blocked and he couldn't see the ladder.  

 

While I was watching this kid climb each step of the ladder the snow really picked up.  Would he make it over the fence and how would he get down the other side?  Once he got to the top he just jumped over into the snow bank on the other side.  The more than a foot of snow there cushioned his fall.  He quickly ran up the small incline and entered the upper level entrance.  There was a bus parked at the top of the hill near the revolving entrance doors, but it appeared the bus was empty.

 

Ted, this may be your only chance ever to see a Super Bowl at the Silverdome.

 

I made a split second decision: Go For It! Trying to disguise my intent, I walked nonchalantly to the other side of the CBS trailer.

 

Slowly starting up the ladder initially, I increased my ascent noting that my heart was pounding harder and harder with each step trying to appear authorized being there. Mercy! I had forgotten about my binoculars hanging around my neck. This increased my anxiety that they would be a dead giveaway that I wasn’t an authorized antenna technician.

 

Reaching the top, I was a nervous wreck with a racing heart beat. What if I were caught? Only one thing to do now. I swung my right leg over the top and jumped. Landing off balance, I had fallen on my posterior, yet with the the heavy snow as my landing pad, no harm was done.

 

I got up, brushed myself off, and hustled up the hill. As I got close to the top where the entrance was, I saw more clearly the bus that had been parked by the entrance. There was a person in the drivers seat. Red alert:  the driver was a Michigan state trooper.  

 

Oh no, I'm now dead meat.  Will I be sent to the Oakland County jail, or will it be the State Penitentiary in Jackson?

 

I sheepishly made my way toward the bus to beg for his mercy. As I got within a few feet of him, I could see he was laughing his head off at me.  He motioned with his arm to go on in the entrance. I found out later this was the bus that had transported Vice President George Bush to the game.

 

Although I missed part of the first quarter I saw the rest of the game from a standing spot on the 50 yard line. It was a very exciting game with San Francisco winning 26-21.

 

At half time during the show by "Up With People,” I purchased a box of my favorite candy, Peanut M&M's. Much to my dismay they tasted really stale, and I saw the expiration date on the box was January 1980, two years old.  

 

After returning home I wrote a letter to the Mars Candy Company with the box top of my date expired M&M's. Much to my surprise/delight, they sent me a nice letter and a case of complementary Peanut M&M's.

 

While writing this story, I looked up the official recap of the game and learned that Super Bowl XVI is one of the most watched broadcasts in American history with 85.24 million viewers and a Nielson rating of 49.1 which was a 73 share.

 

I also noted that the attendance was listed as 81,270.  I chuckled to myself as I knew that it was at least 81,272.

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