- Associated Press - Sunday, February 1, 2015

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (AP) - Believe it or not, there was a time before the Super Bowl became supreme overlord of the sporting universe.

Vicki Litzenfelner Abernathy remembers it fondly.

Back when the Super Bowl was merely the biggest football game of the year, she performed during the halftime show, the Southeast Missourian (https://bit.ly/1zsxR5W ) reports.

“Before Madonna and the Janet Jackson malfunction,” she said, “there was the Southeast Missouri State College (now University) marching band.”

In 1971, Abernathy was 21 years old, one of three majorettes in the marching band, and on her way to Miami for the big game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Baltimore Colts. It was Super Bowl V.

“I had a tendency to get excited about a lot of things,” she explained, laughing. “But when we heard the news and headed down there, it was like, ‘We’ve arrived,’ you know? ‘This is it. We’re here.’”

Being invited to perform would have been impressive enough. But Abernathy said the authority with which band director Leroy Mason negotiated the broadcast agreement was a testament to the band’s reputation.

“It wasn’t like they were going to pick some Podunk band from nowhere. We were really something,” she explained. “And a band director who goes to the network (which that year was NBC) and says, ‘When you all cut to commercial, we stop playing. When you come back, we start again?’ It was something that would be unheard of today. But he wouldn’t let a commercial pre-empt our performance.”

And the commercials NBC aired that year cost an average of $72,000. Even when adjusted for inflation, that’s still not a tenth of how much a 30-second spot will cost during the 2015 program ($4.5 million, according to Forbes magazine).

On Super Bowl Sunday, more than 79,000 fans packed into the Miami Orange Bowl, with more than 45 million more watching at home. It would be the biggest crowd for whom Abernathy would ever perform.

“We had brought Don McNeely with us to announce the whole thing; he had such a great voice. And I remember just how proud it made me to hear him say, ‘Southeast Missouri State College proudly presents …’” she said. “And Mr. Mason looked at us and said, ‘We’re not at Houck Stadium anymore. There’s millions of people watching this on television. Vicki, take ‘em out.’”

They hit the field at 150 steps per minute, executing their signature maneuver, the “floating marquee,” where the nearly 200 high-stepping band members would form words that scrolled across the field. Abernathy’s photo album has pictures of the words that scrolled that day: “Super” and “Bowl.”

“It went off without a hitch,” she said. “And it taught me something later in life, you know? Life is kind of like marching — you keep your lines straight and keep going, you’ll get through without a hitch.”

Forty-four years later, she’s not high-stepping anymore, but she hasn’t lost her moxie, either.

“You had to be 5-foot-7 1/2 before Mr. Mason would even look at you to be a majorette. So in the boots and the tall hat, I felt like an Amazon woman,” she said. She leaned in conspiratorially and added: “But I could twirl the hell out of that baton.”


Information from: Southeast Missourian, https://www.semissourian.com

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