The marina is equipped in the uniform fashion of the region: air conditioner, bar, pool table, juke box. The bare essentials, in precisely that order. Tyndal and Holk order a bottle of Tickled Pink flavored wine while Stabler feeds the juke box and racks the balls. As Waylon Jennings extols the virtues of "Luckenbach, Texas," Stabler proceeds to whip his buddies in a game of 8-ball. He wins a free beer, of course, and thus must play them another game so they can get revenge. Before they chalk the cues for the last time, Stabler and his partner (a middling player at best) have won all five games. Stabler picks up a tab from a beer can on the way out and slips it over his finger. "Looky here, Bobby," he says to Holk. "This is a Auburn class ring. See, it's got a built-in nose picker."
Stabler is now dining at a Gulf Shores squat-'n'-gobble, Wanda at his side, before him his third Scotch of the meal and a heaping plate of scampi in garlic sauce. "Scotch and scampi," he crows between chomps, "I love 'em. Johnnie Walker Red. Namath drinks it. Sonny Jurgensen is a Scotch drinker, too. Maybe all the great quarterbacks drink Scotch. And I love seafood, particularly these babies." (Munch, crunch, gulp.) "I told Pete Banaszak last season, just after we beat Pittsburgh in the opening game, that I'd eat scampi for 14 weeks in a row if it would guarantee us winning all our games." Like Proust's madeleine, the jumbo shrimp provoke a remembrance of the season past.
"They were all tough games—that's true in any season—but the only one that was really bad was the Patriots. And that's the only one we lost. New England kicked our butts good and proper, 48-17. I guess we should have been wary when we went up against them again in the first playoff game. But I wasn't. That was stupid. They damn near ended our playoff bid right there. In fact, at the start of the fourth quarter, with them leading 21-10, I got to thinking that maybe they had us, maybe all that work earlier in the year was going down the tube. But then we put one on the board and it was 21-17. That's when the controversial stuff started.
"They got down to our 32 and then, thank God, missed that field goal. When we got the ball back, I told the guys that this was it, this might be the last time we'd have the ball until next season. I figured we had to throw on every down to do it, and I hit four out of five. That put us in good shape on their 18. But then one of their tackles—I think it was Mel Lunsford—nailed me good for a nine-yard loss, and I missed the next pass. So there we were, third and 18, and we could only win on a touchdown. And only a minute to go.
"I called a sideline pass to Carl Garrett, but they had him covered like gang-busters. I threw anyway. Just as I cut loose, Ray Hamilton smacked me across the chops with his forearm. He'd been going for the ball, but I'd got it past him and he hit me with the momentum. They called roughing the passer. Salvation! We had a first down on their 13. I hit Dave Casper for five and Clarence Davis picked up four more on a run. Then Banaszak got a yard. It was going to be a close measurement, but one of the Pats started yelling at the officials and they called unsportsmanlike conduct. We had first and goal from the one.
"Banaszak tried to poke it in but they stopped him. Fourteen seconds left. I called an option play that we'd worked on Cincinnati—a roll-out to the left. I either throw to Casper or run. Gene Upshaw was in front of me, and he flattened the only guy in my way, and there we were—24-21."
The waiter brings another plate of scampi, another drink.
"Then we give Pittsburgh a whuppin'—24-7. That felt good. Don't let no one tell you that the Pittsburgh- Oakland rivalry is a press hype. We hate them; they hate us. Beating them that bad in the playoffs was sweet indeed. People who'd been saying we couldn't win the big ones had to eat crow. And Pittsburgh couldn't say we'd been lucky—the way they were in '72 when Franco picked up that ricochet and won in the final seconds. No, we flat blew them away."
Wanda, bored, utters a pussycat yawn. Stabler chucks her under the chin.
"The thing is, we really didn't know what to expect from the Vikings in the Super Bowl. We knew they were an experienced team, disciplined, and well coached at all levels, a no-nonsense bunch of guys, straight up, older than us but not necessarily wiser. We didn't think they'd add any new wrinkles for the Super Bowl, and we didn't plan to, either. We'd stick with what had worked, what got us there. Some of our guys got up so high that they vomited before the game. I remember Freddie Biletnikoff was tying his shoes over and over again. He'll do it maybe 50 times before a regular-season game, but that day Freddie must have hit 1,000.