HOUSTON — Surely you’ve heard the one about Joe Montana that truly confirms his uncanny cool under pressure. Not to mention that his field vision actually extended well beyond the end zone.
Scene and setting: Super Bowl XXIII, late fourth quarter, Montana and the 49ers are driving against the Bengals, who lead, 16-13. In the huddle, at the pinnacle of do-or-die tension, Montana turns to tackle Harris Barton and asks a crucial question: “Hey, in the stands, sitting next to the exit ramp — isn’t that John Candy?”
Moments after casually identifying the popular 1980s comedian and actor during a moment of supreme tension, Montana zipped the winning touchdown pass to John Taylor. Niners win, 20-16. Joe Cool, indeed.
You know that one, right? The Montana-Candy story is one of those enduring behind-the-scenes tales from the Super Bowl that remain anecdotal delights despite frequent retellings.
It’s hard to imagine there are many now-it-can-be-told stories that will ever top that one. But we’ve heard a few gems this week during the media invasion of Houston in the buildup to Super Bowl LI.
Michael Irvin revealed — in probably the tamest story ever told about the hard-partying ’90s Cowboys — that he slipped out of the locker room during halftime of Super Bowl XXVII against the Bills for entertainment purposes.
“[Coach] Jimmy Johnson was trying to talk about game planning and everything, and we’re sitting here like, ‘C’mon, coach!’ ” said Irvin. “And then half of us were sneaking out the back to go watch Michael Jackson.”
The Cowboys were leading, 28-10, at the time, he reasoned. Plus, “Michael Jackson is Michael Jackson.”
While Irvin refused to miss the halftime festivities in 1993, years earlier Marcus Allen had briefly worried that he would be tardy for the opening festivities.
“I’m a neophyte, right? My first Super Bowl,” Allen said. “I drive to the stadium in a rental car” — yes, players were responsible for getting themselves to the Super Bowl in those days — “and I pull up to the parking attendant and I say, ‘Where do the players park?’ And she says, ‘If you don’t have a parking pass, you can’t get in.’ ”
Allen, accompanied by teammate Odis McKinney, couldn’t charm the attendant into letting him in. So he did what many of us might do when desperate to make it to an important day at work. He panicked and booked it.
“We backed the car out,” Allen said. “I pulled it against the curb. We simultaneously looked at each other, not saying a word, we grabbed our bags and we got out and started running to the locker room.”
It was the first of many impressive runs for Allen that day, including a reverse-field 74-yard beauty that has to rank as one of NFL Films’s all-time most-aired highlights. He ran for 190 yards and two touchdowns and was named Super Bowl Most Valuable Player in the Raiders’ 38-9 rout of the Redskins.
Still, one question from that long-ago Sunday remains unanswered.
“Until this day,’’ he said, “I do not know what happened to that car.”
Terrell Davis, like Allen a Super Bowl champion running back, remembers the second of the Broncos’ two title victories in the ’90s not for his own adventures before the game, but for what a particular teammate had to endure.
Shannon Sharpe, who spent the brunt of his Hall of Fame career with the Broncos, found himself in a battle of insults before Super Bowl XXXIII. Normally Sharpe, who is now a paid caterwauler on a certain sporadically watched hot-take television show, would embrace debate, for better or worse. But following orders from coach Mike Shanahan, he was trying to be on his best behavior in the buildup to the Broncos’ showdown with the Falcons.
“You can’t hold Shannon back,’’ said Davis. “You can’t stop him from talking. But he’s trying. He’s trying. So all week long, he’s holding himself back, doing his best, trying to avoid the bulletin-board stuff. But him and Buchanan, well, they got to going at it a little bit.”
Buchanan would be Falcons cornerback Ray Buchanan, who showed up at media day that year wearing a dog collar to symbolize his underdog status. He reveled in the attention and quickly proved he could match the loquacious Sharpe word for word and insult for insult.
“You can’t tell me he doesn’t look like Mr. Ed,” Buchanan said of the rather long-faced Bronco at one point.
Sharpe went back at Buchanan, but he was clearly rattled, weakly accusing Buchanan of being a crossdresser.
“For the most part after that, Shannon was reined in,’’ said Davis, his idiom offering an accidental or perhaps subconscious connection to Buchanan’s insult. “But at the end of the week, he couldn’t do it anymore. He was like, ‘I am so tired of complimenting this [Falcons] team.’ But poor Shannon had to hold it in all week, even after, you know, being compared to a talking horse.”
Shaun O’Hara is considerably smaller now than when he weighed more than 300 pounds as a stalwart guard on the Giants’ Super Bowl XLII championship team. So perhaps it’s not a surprise that his untold story involves a satisfying meal.
“One day after practice, they brought one of those In-N-Out Burger trucks to practice,’’ he said. “A food truck full of burgers, which was really cool, kind of a dream come true, especially if you were a lineman. It felt like a big deal, like, ‘Here we are at the Super Bowl, everyone gets a cheeseburger, this is great.’
“And then we get on the bus with our burgers, and we look out and coach [Tom] Coughlin is standing there with a napkin tucked into his shirt, just going to town on a cheeseburger.
O’Hara reports that the notoriously rigid Coughlin did not eat his burger with a knife and fork.
“Nope, he went at it with two hands,’’ said O’Hara, “but he made sure to have the napkin so he wouldn’t get it all over himself. You could tell he was really enjoying that burger, but he was going to enjoy it by the rules.
“It was one of those funny moments that just cuts the tension. Because it can get stressful.”
Occasionally, that stress can cause teammate to turn on teammate. Michael Robinson, a veteran fullback on the Seahawks’ XLVIII-winning team, remembers teammates Percy Harvin and Golden Tate getting into a fistfight in the hours before the team photo was supposed to be taken.
“They fought all morning,’’ said Robinson. “The team picture was delayed, and Pete [Carroll, the Seahawks coach] was going all crazy, like, ‘What’s happening to my team? What’s happening here?’”
Carroll called in Robinson, a veteran leader on the young and brash Seahawks.
“We eventually reconciled it,’’ said Robinson, who declined to get into the specifics of why Harvin and Tate fought, though reports at the time said it was about a woman.
“That was my job. I used to call myself The Buffer. I was one of those guys who could make sure the problems got solved before the issues got to the coaches. I didn’t quite buffer that one in time, but it worked out in the end.”
With a laugh, Robinson said there is no evidence to be found of the fight in the team picture.
“No black eyes to be found on either of ’em,’’ he said. “We got ’em before they got bruised up.”
Drenched in glory
Sometimes it’s the weight of something else that can get to a team or a player. The Colts defeated the Bears in Super Bowl XLI by a fairly comfortable margin, 29-17. But at halftime, they led just 16-14, their potent offense sputtering in the rain in Miami.
But as coaches tried to implement adjustments to get the Colts going, some players were preoccupied by something else, receiver Reggie Wayne recalled.
“All we could talk about was whether we could change clothes,” said Wayne. “We were soaked. It was pouring down rain and all we could say was, ‘This stinks! This sucks!’
“Coach is trying to go over plays and stuff, all we could talk about was getting some new cleats. ‘You can’t play the Super Bowl waterlogged, Coach! I’ve got water everywhere!’
“But I’ll tell you, after the game was over, after we won? Might as well have been the sunniest day you’d ever seen. All sunshine out there, all happiness. We got dressed super-fast. We were in Miami, man. We were about to live it up.”
And what happened then?
“That’s a story that will remain untold,’’ said Wayne with a laugh. “Untold.”