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Tales of Super Bowl week: To party or not?
A report that club owners in Dallas have put out an urgent call for an additional 10,000 strippers struck a familiar chord with those who remember when players' antics the week leading up to the Super Bowl made for bigger headlines than the game itself.
"I don't know whether we had more fun in my day," said Mike Ditka, Hall of Fame Class of 1988 and current TV analyst. "But at least we didn't have cell phone cameras or Twitter, Twatter _ whatever it's called _ to worry about.
"Guys are still guys. You can put in all the rules you want and it won't make a difference to some. Anybody who won't listen, or doesn't understand it's easier to get caught, deserves everything he gets.
"I just hope," he added ruefully, "nobody is that stupid."
Don't bet on it.
Back in 1986, when Ditka took the Bears' shuffling crew to New Orleans for the Super Bowl, what happened on Bourbon Street mostly stayed there and his instructions to the team would have fit in a text message: No curfew the first three days. No fooling around after that.
It's a different world now. Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy hasn't settled on everything he'll tell the Packers when they land in Dallas. But he's worried some of it will fall on deaf ears.
"We will take Monday and spend a lot of time and I'll go through the whole week, day by day, hour by hour, so they know exactly what's expected of them," McCarthy said. "We'll be as organized as we possibly can."
But a moment later McCarthy added, "Something is going to be screwed up. I've been told that by a number of coaches."
The player who figures to draw the most attention is Pittsburgh's tough-guy quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger. Despite several off-the-field blemishes already on his resume _ Roethlisberger was suspended for the first four games this season after being accused, but not charged, in a sexual assault _ his two previous trips to the big game were largely trouble-free. His teammates are certain Roethlisberger won't need a refresher course this time around.
"When he came back, there were no words that needed to be said, no apologies," tight end Heath Miller said. "We knew he was ready to lead us to the Super Bowl."
Then again, it's not always the teetotalers who wind up leading the way.
In the very first Super Bowl, legendary Green Bay boss Vince Lombardi threatened a $10,000 fine _ real money back in 1967 _ for anybody who missed bed check the night before the game. After making sure his bed was in place _ check _ the late Max McGee, then 34 and a backup receiver near the end of his career, lit out for the Sunset Strip.
McGee was so certain he wouldn't play the next day that he left his helmet in the locker room before the game. He was sitting on the bench, still shaking out cobwebs, when starter Boyd Dowler separated his shoulder and Lombardi turned up, barking at McGee to get in the game. A few plays later, wearing a borrowed helmet, McGee made a one-handed grab of Bart Starr's pass for the game's first touchdown.
By the time Green Bay locked up the win, McGee had caught six more throws and set a record unlikely to be broken.
"Most passes caught with a hangover," he proudly bragged for the rest of his life.
Joe Namath topped that boast just two years later with the most famous guarantee in sports, and soon was followed onto the stage by an Oakland Raiders team that claimed to have bartenders on retainers in every NFL city.
Their carousing inspired a suggestion that the local cops keep media guides in the glovebox of their squad cars to speed the booking process along. After several years of relentlessly bad press, defensive tackle and certified party animal John Matuszak issued an ultimatum: Anybody caught breaking curfew during the week would have to answer to him.
Naturally, the Tooz was found partying late into the morning soon after. But at least he had an explanation.
"That's why I was out in the streets," he said. "To make sure no one else was."
Ditka's cast of characters, on the other hand, rarely lacked for late-night company. They generated so many tall tales of Bourbon Street escapades that if only half were true, Chicago's 46-10 destruction of the Patriots on that Sunday was even more impressive than it seemed.
"Look, I'd been to a few Super Bowls by then, including with coach (Tom) Landry, and nobody was more buttoned-down than that. But you can't treat every team, or even every player, the same," Ditka said. "I knew what they were doing. Heck, I used to do the same stuff myself. But we had a veteran team. ... All I really asked was for their full attention Thursday, Friday and Saturday. And we got that in spades."
True _ if you overlook Jim McMahon's decision to moon a TV helicopter filming one of the Bears' practices. He'd arrived with a sore hip, then added a grudge when a local TV reporter made up quotes in which the punky QB called the town's women "prostitutes" and the men "stupid."
McMahon brought along an acupuncturist, who was working on his hip when several players noticed the helicopter hovering above. According to the official version of the story, McMahon's pants were just a few inches off his hip.
"OK," teammate William "The Refrigerator" Perry conceded many years later, "maybe once Jim realized the 'copter wasn't going away, he pulled his pants the rest of the way down."
Sadly, not all stories of Super Bowl prep week ended so harmlessly.
Three years later, the big game in Miami was preceded by riots and Cincinnati running back Stanley Wilson didn't play after a cocaine binge. A decade later, Falcons safety Eugene Robinson was arrested for soliciting a prostitute the day before the game and just hours after receiving the Bart Starr Award for "high moral character" with his family in attendance.
The next year, Baltimore's Ray Lewis was entangled in a double murder that took place at an Atlanta nightclub in the wee hours after the game. He was found guilty of misdemeanor obstruction of justice, but has since rehabilitated his image.
In 2003, Raiders center Barret Robbins disappeared Saturday from the team's San Diego hotel and headed to Tijuana, Mexico. He returned that night disoriented, missed the game the next day and spiraled downward into substance-abuse clinics and jail time.
"The world is a lot closer than it used to be, but the image these guys are supposed to keep up hasn't changed," Ditka said. "You're supposed to be a warrior, on and off the field _ train hard, play hard, the whole nine yards.
"But that balance isn't easy to come by, believe me," he said finally. "And if you can't separate one from the other, you won't last long either way."
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org
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