Bill Murray once covered a Super Bowl. Back in January 1976, before he joined Saturday Night Live, Murray was on-site for Super Bowl X between the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers. It was one of Murray's first television appearances. Then just 25-years-old, he was there for TVTV: Super Bowl. The hour-long comedy / sports / documentary from the Top Value Television video collective also featured Christopher Guest and Brian Doyle Murray and provided a unique and brutally honest look at the Super Bowl and professional football in general.
If you're on this site, you will want to watch this entire special, which I had never once heard of until stumbling on it on IMDB yesterday. (There's a TVTV documentary.) Thanks to the magic of the Internet, it's been preserved so I can share it with you and we can marvel together at what a different time it was. Here's the full video. If you want to skip ahead to the pithy commentary, feel free.
There is just a lot going on from start to finish in this video. If they were hoping to capture a slice of life for NFL players at the Super Bowl in the mid-70's, they accomplished it. They got candid interviews from players. They got unbelievable access and great behind-the-scenes footage. They got an owner comparing the head of the players association to a dancing monkey. Seriously.
Robert Irsay on the Head of the NFLPA
If you skip to the 11:29 mark of that video you will see Baltimore Colts owner Robert Irsay (the father of Jim Irsay) comparing Ed Garvey, the head of the Players Association (and the union's first executive director), to a push button monkey who goes nuts for his players. According to the video - only 55% of the players even belonged to the NFLPA at this time. This is an owner, saying this in front of a camera crew.
See?! That's nuts. Not only did they get an Irsay insulting the head of the NFLPA, they also got a group of Steelers wives laying around the pool in bathing suits (around the nine-minute mark) to talk openly about whether or not their husbands are over- or underpaid. The wives involved were married to Terry Hanratty, Mike Wagner, Rockey Bleier and Jim Clack.
Super Bowl X 1/2
The TVTV crew was also there for a pickup football game featuring the CBS broadcast crew, which included Johnny Unitas (who cut all ties with the Colts after Robert Irsay moved the team to Indianapolis a few years later), Sonny Jurgensen, and Paul Hornung, who joked about John betting on the other team. Then Bill Murray joked that Hornung told them he bet $600 on his own team. Ha ha ha... hold on did you know that at one point during the 60'sPete Rozell suspended Hornung indefinitely for betting on NFL games?
Of course, this isn't all highlights for Murray. While working the sideline during the pickup game he spoke with broadcasting trailblazer Phyllis George. At the time the former Miss America was in her first year on The NFL Today with Brent Musburger, former NFL player Irv Cross, and Jimmy The Greek. Murray asks her which football player she would like to marry. George barely flinches as she calls it sexist and reveals that Musburger once asked her if she thought football or basketball players were sexier. Then George has to laugh her way through two co-workers "playfully" grabbing her and then forcing her to participate in the game. So much cringe.
There is no better way to share this. Super Bowl X (1976) was Up With People's first Super Bowl appearance according to Wikipedia. To this day I have no idea what Up With People is, even after reading their Wikipedia page. They performed at five (???) Super Bowl halftime shows and still exist, yet appear to hold no cultural significance besides being a punchline for... a reason that also remains unknown to me.
Pat Summerall - in shorts - shows up about 16 minutes into the video. This is one year after he switched from color commentary to play-by-play and five years before he'd work with John Madden for the first time (Madden had lost the AFC Championship to the Steelers two weeks earlier). Later in the video, you will learn that Tom Brookshier called the game with Summerall. They were apparently very popular together.
Lynn Swann was in his second year in the NFL and it's incredible to see how comfortable he already was in front of a camera. Did he win four Super Bowls (including MVP of this game) because of his swag or did he have all that swag because all he did was be awesome? Swann started working at ABC the next year.
Swann sings and shows off his football scars during the show. He also reveals later in the show that he suffered his third concussion (of his career? life?) two weeks earlier in the AFC Championship Game against the Oakland Raiders. To hear Swann's description of the play where he was concussed is another unbelievable thing that you would never hear today.
Then there's the footage from the Steelers hotel rooms. (19:20) As I mentioned, Swann holds court with a microphone and sings. Then he brings a (seemingly) drunk stewardess into the room and interviews her. This woman gets very cozy with Swann before eventually revealing she is rooting for Dallas so the Steelers don't tie the Packers or Dolphins for most Super Bowls won. This is when her friend shows up and literally says, "Who the hell are you?"
The Big Game
A guy looking to buy tickets outside the Super Bowl right before the game bought two tickets on the 40-yard line for $75 each. So that's how inflation works?
Once the Super Bowl actually starts, tight end Jean Fuggett gets injured on his first and only catch of the game. He is met on the sideline by a guy wearing a PROFESSIONAL OXYGEN shirt. He is there waiting to offer ... you guessed it! Oxygen! Can the medical care get any better? Just wait.
As Fuggett is looked at by the trainers, just pause for a moment to appreciate the fact that the Dallas Cowboys team doctor in the 1970's wore a cowboy hat and smoked a cigarette on the sideline during the Super Bowl. And yet, after seeing people smoking on the commercial airline flight earlier in the show, it's not that wild. What is wild is that Fuggett proceeds to explain everything that happened to the film crew while he sits on the bench.
Between this, Dallas center John Fitzgerald describing his various injuries (17:50), and what Lynn Swann shared about his scars and concussions, this is a pretty raw and honest look at what football players go through. Bill Murray and Christopher Guest are just a small part of this, but they're the reason people will probably end up seeing it.