Super Bowl memories never fade. A triumph means you’ve achieved the ultimate milestone, a loss feels like an epitaph on your tombstone.
Unless you’re Rich Gannon, who sloughed off his epic five-interception meltdown in Super Bowl XXXVII with a matter-of-fact “just had a bad game” following Tampa Bay’s 48-21 pummeling of Oakland. After the Pirate Bowl, what an eerie scene at Qualcomm Stadium watching dejected Raiders fans in all their costumed glory mingle with swashbuckling Buccaneers fans as Bon Jovi took the stage for a postgame concert nobody seemed to care about.
At the 49ers’ last Super Bowl, XXIX in South Florida, I was the first radio sideline reporter the NFL ever allowed for its title game. At kickoff, smoke from the pregame fireworks hovered over the field like a foggy night at Candlestick. I guess that made the Niners feel right at home as they wound up blowing out the Chargers 49-26.
As Steve Young left the game in the final minutes following his record setting six-touchdown performance, he reached through a pack of photographers to shake my hand and thank me for all my support. The monkey was off Steve’s back. The smile never left my face. I’ll also never forget Ricky Watters coming off the field after a Jerry Rice touchdown catch complaining to anyone within earshot, “I was open, man.” Not coincidentally that was Watters’ final game as a 49er.
At Super Bowl XXIII, also in South Florida, I was in the KGO (810 AM) radio broadcast booth listening to Lon Simmons’ anguishing off-the-air remarks about the bad feeling he had as the 49ers struggled against the Bengals. “It reminds me of the Raiders game,” said Lon, referring to the Niners’ 9-3 loss to the Silver and Black earlier that season at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Joe Montana put all that talk to rest with a brilliant final drive lifting San Francisco to its third championship.
The following season, in Super Bowl XXIV at New Orleans, the 49ers didn’t need any last-minute Montana magic, blasting John Elway and the Broncos 55-10. That was obviously well before Elway learned how to read defenses. Afterwards, cornerbacks Don Griffin and Tim McKyer, aka the “Cover Brothers,” posed for pictures at the Superdome’s 50-yard line sitting back to back as repeat champions for the “Team of the ’80s.”
The other most unforgettable moments came in Arizona at Super Bowl XLII. Female visitors to the Giants locker room were blushing and giggling as a jubilant Eli Manning paraded around in his birthday suit after New York’s stunning 17-14 upset of the Patriots.
Meanwhile, in the morguelike New England locker room, tears filled the eyes of corner back Ellis Hobbs III as he said he let his team down when Plaxico Burress beat him for the game-winning touchdown, spoiling the Pats’ bid for a perfect season. On the game’s biggest stage, the most painful and joyous of times were separated by one play. Who would want it any other way?
KGO (810 AM) Sports Director Rich Walcoff can be heard weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on the KGO morning news and is also the co-host of “Raiders Gameday” and “Recap” talk shows on KSFO (560 AM). He can be reached at RichWalcoff@gmail.com.