The Super Bowl was still six days off when Overtown, a poor, predominantly black section of Miami, the Super Bowl's host city, erupted in rioting after an unarmed black motorcyclist was shot and killed by a Hispanic police officer during a chase through the neighborhood. A passenger on the motorcycle, also black, was critically injured when the cycle crashed. He died the next day. That set off a second night of looting, arson, gunfire and rock-and bottle-throwing, which spread to another black neighborhood, Liberty City, and left one person dead, 22 injured and many businesses destroyed.
The Cincinnati Bengals and many of the 2,000-plus members of the media were staying at hotels within several blocks of the violence. When Houston Post sportswriter Ray Buck drove into Overtown soon after the incident, his car windows were smashed by flying rocks. The night after the shooting the NBA's Miami Heat game at the Miami Arena against the Phoenix Suns was postponed, 15 minutes before starting time on the advice of city officials. While driving to the arena, the three refs scheduled to work that game, Gary Benson, Joe Crawford and Jack Nies, had their windshield smashed and suffered cuts. It is believed to be the first NBA game postponed for a reason other than inclement weather since Nov. 22, 1963, when many NBA teams canceled weekend games after the assassination of President Kennedy.
The NFL was criticized in 1963 for deciding to play its slate of games just two days after Kennedy's death. Last week commissioner Pete Rozelle chose to stay the course again. Team buses were given police escorts to practices, which were held as scheduled. So were the many extravagant, pre-Super Bowl social events. Miami business leaders had hoped the game would inject more than $100 million into the south Florida economy and improve their city's image. Regrettably, some of those leaders seemed more concerned with that image last week than with the human tragedy of Overtown.
The Super Bowl didn't cause the riots, something one might not have known from the way the two became juxtaposed in the public consciousness, a linkage encouraged by the contrast between game-related glitz and the poverty that fueled the outbreaks on Miami's streets. Still, Overtown had a bigger impact on the game than the game did on Overtown. To those assembled in Miami for the NFL doings, football seemed less important and the high jinks of Super Bowl week a little less fun than usual.
Bengal fullback Ickey Woods didn't get to do his Ickey Shuffle on Sunday, but during the week his terpsichorean creation was all the rage. In Cincinnati, Arthur Murray dance studios even added it to their curriculum.
Teammate Cris Collinsworth was puzzled by the phenomenon. "When we go out to a nightclub, we've got guys on the dance floor doing backflips and the most unbelievable disco—John Travolta moves you've ever seen," he said. "And here Ickey thinks up this thing—1-2, 1-2, 1-2-3—and he's making a million dollars off of it.
"I guess there's something to be said for simplicity and ponytails."