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SELDOM CAN I COMPARE MYSELF WITH CARY Grant, but the move I made to get down onto the sideline with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the final minutes of Super Bowl IX was sort of like one old Cary makes in Suspicion.¶ I had spent the '73 season embedded with the Steelers, on assignment from SI to write a book. I'd hung out with the players (not to mention a wonderful array of auxiliary figures) in all sorts of contexts, but nothing was quite like being in their midst right by the gridiron during the games, as they groaned and joked and steam rose off of them. They gave me one of Mel Blount's game jerseys, which will not show up on eBay in my lifetime or those of my heirs.
My book About Three Bricks Shy of a Load came out as the Steelers advanced to their first Super Bowl. It went over well in Pittsburgh. "People in Pittsburgh are loyal," a local guy told me. "You could write horse----now, and we'd read it." I was all over New Orleans with Steelers during Super Week, but on game day I was in the stands. Late in the fourth quarter it was clear that they were about to win their first championship in more than 40 years. I had to get down there.
I knew the Steelers' security guys, legendary Irish street fighters who would occasionally drag an interloper away by the corner of the mouth, forefinger buried deeply in the chastened rowdy's cheek. But Super Bowl sideline access was controlled by anonymous strangers. In Suspicion, Cary Grant shows up uninvited, bit of a bounder really, at an elegant mansion party. The butler confronts him in the foyer and summons the head of the household, who huffs, "Well, I don't know what to say." And Cary looks right past them into the ballroom to catch the eye of Joan Fontaine, the daughter of the house, whom he knows, who beams at him. The next moment he's dancing with her, calling her "monkey face." He's connected where it counts.
I found a gate in the fence on the Steelers' side of the field and nipped through it as if entitled. Just as an NFL security guy stepped up to intercede, the eye I caught was that of Jackie Hart, the Steelers' field manager, who had once had a fistfight with Art Rooney Jr., a team vice president, when Artie brought someone Hart didn't know into the dressing room. This, Pittsburgh being the kind of town it was, had only strengthened Hart's long association with the Steelers.
I'm not saying Jackie beamed at me, or that his glance at the NFL guy was exactly threatening, but Jackie did look the guy off long enough for me to get a step on him and lose myself in the team. The players had started jumping up and down and whacking one another in appreciation of the moment. My story in SI began, "I backed off, took a little run and butted Mean Joe Greene right in the numbers."
So don't talk to me about the Super Bowl.
ROSES AND GUNS
IT WAS ALL THEATER, ONE SPECTACLE AFTER another, a weird human carnival with acts that ranged from the memorable to the macabre—from a neatly executed game plan in football to the execution of a folk-hero killer by firing squad, with a stop along the way in the land of the Big Pinkie Ring.¶ The memories of those nine days in 1977 begin to run together, but I see them now as a journalistic trifecta. It began on Jan, 9 at the Rose Bowl, and from there it gradually spiraled down the great American rabbit hole. In Pasadena the Oakland Raiders of Fred Biletnikoff chain-sawed the Minnesota Vikings of Fran Tarkenton in Super Bowl XI 32-14, as Raiders coach John Madden lumbered up and down the sideline, his hands flying as he frantically scribbled X's and O's on the Telestrator of his mind. Like so many Super Bowls this one was barely a contest, and it was left to the smoke-and-mirrors pageantry of halftime-with tiny green people swarming the field, with helium balloons and flocks of pigeons rising skyward—to sustain the illusion of the game as spectacle.
No matter. My traveling circus had only just begun. Six days later I was ensconced at ringside in Las Vegas, where two young gold medal winners from the '76 Olympics in Montreal, a pair of coiled springs named Leon Spinks and Howard Davis, were making their pro boxing debuts at the Aladdin. Davis decisioned a rented pug named Jose Resto, and Spinks stopped Lightning Bob Smith in five, basking in the neon as he flashed his famously gap-toothed grin.
I was a sports columnist at Newsday, but at the urging of the paper's national desk, I next winged off to Salt Lake City to cover the execution of Gary Gilmore. On a Sunday afternoon I drove to Draper and into the very belly of the beast, the yard of the Utah State Prison, where Gilmore was calling a local radio station and asking it to play Walking in the Footsteps of Your Mind, a song about him and Nicole Barrett, his girlfriend.