We who were admitted past Gate A, herded through Tunnel 24 and directed to the subterranean Row M quickly perceived that our experience of Super Bowl XIV would be "something special. From our first-row seats—in the Southern California alphabet, it seems "M" has supplanted "A" as the opening letter—in the west corner of the Rose Bowl's south end zone, it seemed as if we were not so much $30 ticket-holders at the most serious football game in creation as passersby who happened on some activity or other at the corner park that arrested our interest sufficiently to cause us to plop down on the grass and watch for a bit. This sense of informality was enhanced by the number of people—cameramen, police officers, cheerleaders, halftime performers, stadium functionaries, even players—who passed before us in pursuit of their various official duties. Then, too, we could see only what occurred right in front of us, so whatever it was the Steelers and Rams were doing a mile or so up-field was hopelessly beyond our ken. It was possible at our remove from the proceedings to mistake a bird in flight for a forward pass—an interesting, not entirely unpleasant form of altered perception.
But any edge we might have had over more conventionally situated spectators in terms of pastoral detachment was more than counterbalanced by our proximity to the Rose Bowl loudspeakers. These gigantic black boxes stood not five feet distant and howled continually in our faces like some nightmare stereo system. Stadium Announcer John Ramsey, who, in happier circumstances, sounds like an agreeable, if slightly pretentious, basso profundo, came through to us as a hysterical drill sergeant. Ordinarily inoffensive declarations, such as "Harris tackled by Brudzinski," reached us with the shrill urgency of a command to man the barricades against foreign invasion. It was not fair to Ramsey's performance that on those merciful occasions when the sound system faltered, we in Gate-A-Tunnel-24-Row-M cheered the silence as lustily as touchdowns.
The din was at its worst during the pre-game and halftime entertainments, both of which, it seemed, lasted longer than the game itself. When the Up With People singers and dancers, an extraordinarily depressing collection of happiness zealots, essayed a tribute to the Big-Band Era, even those of us who regard that interlude in musical history as the apex of creation and all that has happened since as incontrovertible evidence of cultural depravity were forced to clap our hands over our ears for protection. Juke Box Saturday Night sounded as if it were being performed by a 500-piece Glenn Miller band. The incessant racket is undoubtedly what led one of the Gate-A-Tunnel-24-Row-M denizens, Don Kuehnert of San Dimas, Calif., to comment, "This has to be the worst seat I've ever had," a sentence, it should be noted, that he could not possibly have heard himself say, what with the toilet tissue packed in his ears.
But Ramsey did not shout at us all the time, and even the bands were sometimes silent, and it was then that we realized the specialness of our situation, the advantages with which a seemingly cruel fate had endowed us. Watching the offensive team move away from us to the mysterious northern end of the field was an experience fully as poignant as bidding farewell to dear friends embarking on a lengthy train journey. There was no telling when we might see them again.
Because we were seeing only a portion of the action, we found ourselves becoming far more observant spectators whenever the play moved south. We may not be able to see everything, we told ourselves, but, by heaven, what little we can see we will see truly and purely, like Hemingway characters examining a mountain stream or a frozen daiquiri. Since there were times when his posterior was practically in our faces, we could discern that the Rams' Wendell Tyler ran closer to the ground than any of the other ballcarriers. A man clutching a Terrible Towel once shouted out in anguish as Tyler tunneled under tacklers, "Get that little turkey!" It was a harsh order but an apt description. To us Tyler did look like a little turkey. And Jack Lambert. At eye level, he seems even more agitated than he does from above, stomping about behind the defensive line like some monstrous flamenco dancer. These are little things, perhaps, but when time is short, you can't afford to miss anything.
We are gone from each other now, we occupants of Gate-A-Tunnel-24-Row-M. And, God willing, we will never see each other again.