Recollections: Covering Super Bowl XXXI
By Thom Gerretsen
One of the most memorable weeks of my life peaked on Jan. 26, 1997, when I saw Green Bay beat New England 35-21 in Super Bowl XXXI at New Orleans. As Super Bowl LIII approaches on Sunday, I cannot believe it’s been 22 years since the Packers won their only title under Coach Mike Holmgren.
I suggested that WDLB Radio’s former statewide news audio network send me to cover the game and its week-long lead-up. But, because we didn’t know all the logistics, it was not an easy sell. I drove to the Gulf Coast and covered a few days of suburban hotel expenses. But by mid-week, former WDLB owner Goetz Broadcasting moved me to the NFL’s media hotel in downtown New Orleans. I was later paid back for all of my investment, after almost 35 Wisconsin radio outlets bought and aired my reports.
My pass for Super Bowl Week got me into interview sessions, parties and more. Coaches and players were available each day between news briefings that featured everyone from then-NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue to the halftime performers – the Blues Brothers, ZZ Top and James Brown. I was on hand when the 1997 Hall of Fame inductees were announced. And, I just had to watch then-Governor Tommy Thompson make a bet on the game with his Massachusetts counterpart William Weld. Thompson put up bratwurst and cheese, and Weld put up turkey and Boston cream pies. Weld gave each reporter a pie – my breakfast on game day.
Marshfield made its presence known. A “good luck” fan banner from our community made it to the Packers’ hotel at the downtown Fairmont. And, I met Marshfield’s Ron Safford as I left a Packer media session. He told me about what was his sixth trip to a Super Bowl. Fans clad in green and gold arrived in droves on Tuesday and throughout the week. With Bourbon Street close by, some Packers reveled in their fan adoration at night after practice.
Tuesday was also the formal Super Bowl Media Day (now on Monday night) when celebrities joined the inquiring reporters. The head coaches and star players sat at their own raised platforms on the Superdome turf, while others walked on the field or sat in the stadium seats. As Green Bay kicker Chris Jacke walked toward me, he was taking his own videos. He told our listeners how much he wanted to remember this. National writers Dick Schaap and Peter King shared their thoughts with me, as did ex-Washington quarterback Joe Thiesmann. Actress Rebecca Romijn added to my account of Media Day’s traditional craziness.
See next week’s edition for the conclusion