Column by BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
— Finally, let the hype end and the game begin.
Super Bowl XLVII kicks off tonight in New Orleans, and for four hours — the halftime show and commercials have become nearly as big as the game itself — most fans will feel forced to choose a team (or brother) to cheer for.
In this case, it is the 49ers or the Ravens. Who will you choose?
Apparently, millions will watch the game, no matter whether you have an allegiance to a team or not. The NFL would have you believe that the whole world tunes in, but Hall of Fame kicker Jan Stenerud once told me during an interview that the Super Bowl really isn’t that big a deal in other parts of the world.
What is? What else, the World Cup.
Back to the subject, picking a team for me in this Super Bowl is similar to what many folks felt about Alabama and Notre Dame in the BCS national championship game.
That choice was easy for me, but not so for many college football fans who didn’t care for either team. That is just part of sports. The TV networks would like to be able to pick the participants — and ESPN tries — but fortunately they have to take what they can get.
So do we.
It just makes it more fun to cheer for a team or against the other team. I ran into an issue last year when I didn’t care for either team — the Patriots or Giants. I saw about five plays of the game, but was happy to see Ahmad Bradshaw score the winning touchdown, although he didn’t mean to do it.
On the videos of memorable plays in Super Bowl history, that touchdown won’t quite compare to catches by David Tyree or Santonio Holmes, that tackle by Mike Jones for the Rams against the Titans or poor Scott Norwood, who will never live down his missed field goal in the Bills’ loss to the Giants in 1991.
The answer for many in choosing a team is to place a wager or bet on the game. That is something I don’t indulge in. Betting on sports is a sure way to have an empty wallet, and mine is empty enough as it is.
When it comes time for Super Bowl Sunday each year, I have to pick a team since my team never makes it this far. Well, once, but that was a forgettable experience.
This is the 47th Super Bowl and the Chargers have been left out of 46 of them. In all honesty, San Diego should be an imperfect 47 for 47.
What Steelers’ fans in the area will ever forget the Chargers coming into Three Rivers Stadium and pulling off the shocking 17-13 upset of Pittsburgh to advance to the Super Bowl in 1995 for the first and only time.
No one was more shocked than me, but I knew it was a fluke.
Quarterbacks have become all the rage in football now. It is almost like they do it themselves to listen to the national media, but I have yet to see a signal-caller play defense.
Stan Humphries was the quarterback of those Chargers, but much like Trent Dilfer, who just happened to be the signal-caller for the Ravens in their lone Super Bowl win, it was really all about the defense.
It wasn’t Humphries who led the Chargers to the Super Bowl. It was the Junior Seau-led Boltergeist defense, but they had no answers — the Steelers may have put up a better fight — against the powerful 49ers.
Many folks go to Super Bowl parties or go to sports bars, but I always just like watching at home. That is what I did in ‘95, in my apartment in Johnson City, ready with food, drink and a notepad to keep up with the stats.
However, this wasn’t pleasant. Three plays into the game, it was Steve Young to Jerry Rice — who, contrary to what Randy Moss might think — is actually the greatest receiver in NFL history, and the rout was on.
San Francisco won 49-26, and it wasn’t that close.
It hasn’t been easy being a Chargers fan. In fact, many folks actually change teams, depending on how they are doing at that particular time. When so-called fans tell me they are Redskins and Cowboys fans, then you know something just isn’t right.
My heart has been broken by the Chargers more than that guy who apparently was in love with Manti Te’o.
San Diego has reached the AFC championship game four times, and lost three of them. They lost 34-27 in 1981 to the Raiders, continuing a trend of troubles with Oakland in the postseason.
I can still remember Ken “Snake” Stabler and the “Holy Roller” in a playoff loss to the hated Raiders in 1978. Stabler told me years later during a “Souper Bowl” function in Johnson City that he had, indeed, fumbled the ball forward on purpose toward the goal line in the final seconds, and Dave Casper recovered for the score.
That was an illegal play, but “Snake” got away with it. At least he was an Alabama quarterback so I have forgiven him.
That was followed the next season when the Chargers survived what may have been the greatest game ever played, a 41-38 overtime thriller in the heat of Miami.
One week later, the Chargers went to Cincinnati to face the Bengals in temperatures with a wind chill factor of -59 degrees below zero. They never had a chance.
That was in 1982. It took the Chargers 26 more years to get back to the AFC championship game. Dan Fouts had been replaced by Phillip Rivers, Don Coryell was long gone, replaced by Marty Schottenheimer, and LaDainian Tomlinson became my new favorite Charger, but it didn’t matter.
The Chargers, as has often been the case in the postseason, picked the worst time to play their worst game and were beaten by the Patriots.
Who knows when the Chargers will get back?
As for today’s game, I will be cheering for ... the 49ers.
Why, you might ask?
There are many reasons why I chose the Chargers all those years ago, but tops on the list is the fact that the Ravens wouldn’t even exist if not for ... the Colts. If they had stayed put, Art Modell would have had to find some other city to take the Browns away from Cleveland.
Growing up, I was all about the Baltimore Colts, with Johnny Unitas, Bert Jones, Lydell Mitchell, Roger Carr, John Dutton and the list goes on and on.
Then, on a snowy night in 1984, on what happened to be my 20th birthday, Robert Irsay packed up all that history and moved it to Indianapolis.
My allegiance to the Colts, which had continued even as I began my flirtation for the Chargers, was over the next day.
I have been a one-team NFL man ever since. There are rumors that the Chargers — who used to play in Los Angeles — could be heading back there in the near future. As hard as cheering for a team from L.A. would be, I will stick with them ... they are my pro football team.
Until the Chargers do get back to the Super Bowl, I will keep picking teams to follow or pick against teams that I don’t care for.
In this case, go 49ers.
Like those ever-loyal Cubs’ fans who have suffered through 104 years without a World Series championship, but will always think that next year will be their year, I will always believe that the Chargers’ seemingly never-ending title drought has to end eventually.
Brian Woodson is the sports editor at the Daily Telegraph. He encourages feedback at email@example.com.