The morning after watching the error-filled Super Bowl V between the Baltimore Colts and Dallas Cowboys, which featured six interceptions, five fumbles and tipped passes that led to touchdowns, President Richard Nixon said, "I sure hope I don't make that many mistakes."
Actually, the Colts' 16-13 victory over the Cowboys in the closing seconds at the Orange Bowl in Miami 20 years ago was the first officially christened "Super Bowl" by commissioner Pete Rozelle. The previous four had been known as the AFL-NFL world championship game.
Football purists insist Super Bowl V was anything but super however. It was so bizarre that linebacker Chuck Howley, who played for the losing team, received the Most Valuable Player award for intercepting two passes.
Tex Maule of Sports Illustrated dubbed it the "Blunder Bowl" an wrote: "And to think television was worried that situation comedy was dead. The teams bumbled through a laugher of the Super Bowl, but in the end the joke was on the Cowboys, who made the biggest mistake of all -- losing."
On the game's 20th anniversary, Colts players who performe that day remember it in a much different light. They brought Baltimore its only Super Bowl victory and erased some of the stigma of losing as 18-point favorites to boastful Joe Namath and the New York Jets in Super Bowl III.
"For a while, I wondered if anyone remembered that we wo Super Bowl V," said Mike Curtis, the fiery middle linebacker whose interception of a Craig Morton pass set up Jim O'Brien's )) game-winning, 32-yard field goal.
"When no one bothered to call or write anything, we decided t hold our own anniversary party. We felt it was worth celebrating," said Curtis, who shared his memories with wide receiver Sam Havrilak, quarterback Johnny Unitas and safety Rick Volk at Havrilak's home in Phoenix, Md., last month.
Now a real-estate developer in the Washington area, Curtis was
a Colt for 11 seasons, but said he is remembered only for that interception and one other incident.
"I guess the one fans in Baltimore remember most was in 1971 when I decked that fan who ran on the field at Memorial Stadium and tried to grab the ball," he said, laughing.
"Personally, I prefer the Super Bowl victory. I played footbal because I loved it, not that I got paid.
"We had a better team in 1968, but we didn't do the job againsthe Jets. We were much better prepared for the Cowboys. The wives and girlfriends were left at home. We were all business."
Curtis' key interception was just the last of a number o deflected passes. This one bounced off the hands of halfback Dan Reeves, now coach of the Denver Broncos. As Reeves recalled: "Any back fresh out of college could have caught it, but it just went through my hands."
Curtis, who had doubled as a fullback at Duke, said: "When caught it, I almost squeezed the air out of it. I just said to myself, 'Don't fumble.' And now I've got that ball sitting on my mantel."
Said Havrilak, now a dentist: "They can deride the game, but istill stands as the closest Super Bowl ever, and the only one decided in the final seconds. It was certainly the most exciting game I ever played in. Whenever I watch the tapes, I find another unusual play."
Havrilak was involved in a failed flea-flicker -- a trick play th Colts had featured throughout their 11-2-1 regular reason.
"The Cowboys had us well-scouted," he said. "They knew I wa an ex-quarterback. As soon as I came in the game, they smelled something. When [quarterback] Earl Morrall flipped the ball to me, I was supposed to flip it back, but Jethro Pugh was in the way.
"I managed to hit [Eddie] Hinton over the middle. It looked like touchdown, but he got hit from behind, and the ball rolled through the end zone for a touchback."
Ultimately, the Colts veterans would be vindicated for thei embarrassment in Super Bowl III, particularly Morrall, who had guided Baltimore to the 1968 NFL title after Unitas suffered an elbow injury.
Morrall, however, could not generate an offense against the Jets, and Unitas would lead an aborted fourth-quarter rally.
It was Morrall, at 36, a year younger than Unitas, who had to bai out the Colts in Super Bowl V after Unitas suffered a torn rib cartilage on a hit with the helmet of Cowboys defensive end George Andrie late in the second quarter.
"Yes, it was a chance for redemption," said Morrall, wh manages a Florida golf club. "I had a lot of bad memories of that Jet game. I still see Jimmy Orr wide open in the end zone on the flea-flicker and that pass that bounced off Tom Mitchell into [defensive back] Randy Beverly's hands."
Things were even more curious against the Cowboys.
"People called Super Bowl V a sloppy game because of all th turnovers, but both teams had great defenses," said Morrall.
"Dallas still had its Doomsday Defense with Pugh, Bob Lilly LeRoy Jordan and Howley. And we had heavy hitters like Billy Ray Smith, Curtis, Ted Hendricks and Jerry Logan. It was rock-'em, sock-'em football, and a lot of bodies were flying out there."
The Colts' only touchdown in the first half was the result of a Unitas pass that bounced off Hinton, then was touched by Cowboys cornerback Mel Renfro and wound up in the hands of Baltimore tight end John Mackey, who raced 75 yards for the score.
At halftime, Unitas and the team doctor told coach Don
McCafferty that the quarterback was capable of playing the second half if needed. Despite trailing, 13-6, McCafferty opted to stick with Morrall.
"I don't think I would have been that effective if I'd gone back in,"
said Unitas, now the national sales manager for Atlantic Electronics. "Watching Earl pull us through gave me complete satisfaction.
"We had great respect for each other, maybe because we wer both about the same age and been around so long. There were no petty jealousies you see on other teams with two proven quarterbacks. But that's usually caused by the head coach. We knew that if one of us was hurt, the other guy could do the job."
Unitas does not give special importance to winning Super BowV.
"I was never much for looking back," he said. "I always looked to
the future. I'm sure I took part in more exciting games for the Colts. But the Super Bowl became important because of all the bull connected with it."
The game hero was O'Brien, a rookie from the University oCincinnati who doubled as a wide receiver and was called "Lassie" because of his long hair.
"I had a dream all week before the game that a field goal woul win it," said O'Brien, who works for a land-development company north of Los Angeles. "I didn't know if it would be me or [Dallas place-kicker] Mike Clark.
"But my mom, who was into astrology, had called to tell me th stars were in the right order, and the Colts would win because this was the Age of Aquarius and I'm an Aquarius."
O'Brien, who had won the Colts preseason kicking contest wit 13-year veteran Lou Michaels, missed a 52-yard attempt in the third quarter. Before trotting out on the field for his game-winning attempt, Billy Ray Smith spelled it out for him.
"He told me: 'Kid, this kick is worth 300 grand to us [$7,500 man]. Don't mess up.' But my mind was kind of blank. Think of options, and you consider the chance of failure as well of success."
Morrall said O'Brien tried to test the wind by plucking at the
ground. "I had to remind him we were playing on AstroTurf," Morrall said.
"That makes a good story," said O'Brien, "but I just picked up
some lint off the carpet. Just wanted to make sure. Once I kicked it, I knew it was good. Now, every year a Super Bowl is played, I'll see tapes of it sailing over the bar, or someone will call to remind me."
Havrilak, who heads the Colts alumni organization, said: "We ha a good team, and I thought we'd go to two or three more Super Bowls. We didn't go back. That's why I'll always savor this one."