Super Bowl MVPs recall past glory on game's 20th anniversary

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

``Gee, it looks like Mt. Rushmore up there,'' exclaimed one sportswriter, awestruck by the collection of past Super Bowl greats assembled before him. Like the four presidents carved in stone, these players represented a span of time and the excellence contained within it. All were Most Valuable Players from previous Super Bowls, and were now gathered in New Orleans to help the National Football League celebrate the 20th anniversary of its showcase game.

Having just rehearsed their ``walk-on'' parts for Sunday's festivities, they now stood shoulder-to-shoulder at a press conference in the Superdome. Most needed no introduction. Joe Namath and Roger Staubach were instantly recognizable, while other past heroes like Bart Starr, Len Dawson, and Larry Csonka were also fairly easy to spot. And of course there could be little mistaking such still-active players as Jim Plunkett, Marcus Allen, and Joe Montana.

Even for the knowledgeable fan, however, a program may have been needed to identify a couple of members of this esteemed lineup. For example, who was the average-sized, balding guy with the alligator boots wedged in between Csonka and Staubach?

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Jake Scott, a Miami defensive back who intercepted two passes to become the MVP of Super Bowl VII, the game that completed the Dolphins' 17-0 season.

And what about the stringy-haired blond of comparable size only a few players away?

Fred Biletnikoff, the Oakland Raiders' wide receiver who collected the award in 1977 when he made three big receptions to set up touchdowns.

And perhaps most perplexing of all, who was the thick-shouldered fellow in the coat and tie right after Dawson? He looked like somebody you'd remember.

Actually, Chuck Howley may be the most easily forgotten of all the MVPs, because he is the only one to have played for a losing team. Dallas lost to Baltimore 16-13 in Super Bowl V, but through no fault of the sturdy Cowboy linebacker, who intercepted two passes and generally thwarted the Colt offense, which needed a 32-yard field goal with five seconds left to pull out victory in one of the most error-filled Super Bowls ever (the game produced 11 turnovers).

Today, Howley runs a successful industrial uniform business in Dallas that he began more than 18 years ago. He is a Dallas season ticketholder who says, ``I'm still a Cowboy.''

A native of West Virginia, Howley had been a first-round draft choice of the Chicago Bears in 1958, but returned home to pump gas when cut two years later. Dallas selected him in the 1960 expansion draft, and he went on to become a six-time Pro Bowl selection.

His wealth of NFL experience didn't relieve the pre-game jitters before Super Bowl V, though. ``I only got two or three hours' sleep the night before,'' he recalled. ``I spent most of the time walking the floors.''

Still, he managed to play what he believes was the greatest game of his life. Being named the MVP was some consolation, but there was still the sting of coming so close to a championship without achieving it. In 1967, he had played in the famous ``Ice Bowl'' NFL title game in Green Bay, in which the Packers beat Dallas on Starr's last-minute quarterback sneak, and the next two years the Cowboys lost to Cleveland in the division playoffs.

Howley did, however, have the satisfaction of playing for the Cowboys when they ended their post-season frustrations by beating Miami in Super Bowl VI.

This time, Staubach was the MVP, although the former star quarterback kids today that running back Duane Thomas might have won the award ``if he'd ever talked to you guys [reporters, who vote for the award].'' Thomas kept his lips sealed most all week leading up to the game, but did manage to utter one of the all-time great Super Bowl quotes: ``If this is the ultimate game, how come they're playing it again next year?''

Staubach, who only a few years earlier had belatedly begun his NFL career after serving a five-year Navy hitch, believes Dallas's initial Super Bowl win had a tremendous carryover impact on the Cowboy organization.

``We got rid of the rap that day that said we couldn't win the big ones,'' he explained. ``That win really made the Dallas franchise of the '70s. I still get chills thinking about the game and the circumstances surrounding it.''

In retrospect, Roger feels that the last 10 games of that season were his best ever, and in effect created a mental challenge for him. ``After that stretch, I said, ``Jiminy, my whole career is right here in these games. I kind of had to start over again.''

He did so impressively, too, guiding the Cowboys to three more Super Bowls, two of which they lost to Pittsburgh (X and XIII) and one in which they defeated Denver (XII) when defensive linemates Randy White and Harvey Martin became the game's only co-MVPs.

``Anybody who loses the Super Bowl is forgotten,'' said Staubach. ``It's like losing an election. Whatever happened to Walter Mondale anyhow? When we lost, I felt so bad I wished we hadn't even played the game.''

Howley, who attracted probably less attention at the Superdome press conference than any other former MVP, put the situation in a slightly different light. ``It's the last game of the year, and you don't want to have to say, `Wait 'til next year.' '' Super Bowl MVPs, 1967-1985 1967...................... Bart Starr, Green Bay 1968...................... Bart Starr, Green Bay 1969...................... Joe Namath, New York Jets 1970.......................Len Dawson, Kansas City 1971.......................Chuck Howley, Dallas 1972.......................Roger Staubach, Dallas 1973...................... Jack Scott, Miami 1974.......................Larry Csonka, Miami 1975...................... Franco Harris, Pittsburgh 1976...................... Lynn Swann, Pittsburgh 1977...................... Fred Biletnikoff, Oakland 1978...................... Randy white and Harvey Martin, Dallas 1979...................... Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh 1980...................... Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh 1981...................... Jim Plunkett, Oakland 1982...................... Joe Montana, San Francisco 1983...................... John Riggins, Washington 1984...................... Marcus Allen, Los Angeles Raiders 1985...................... Joe Montana, San Francisco

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