The National Football League is celebrating the Golden Anniversary of it's biggest event on Sunday, February 7th as Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers take on Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
Over the next two weeks, The Shadow League will be sharing some of our most memorable reflections from the game that has become much bigger than football, morphing into an essential piece of the tapestry that defines who we are as an American society.
Today, as part of our ongoing series taking a look back at Super Bowl memories of yesteryear, I had to break out something on Franco Harris-the first Super Bowl MVP of African descent. Whiile Harris was proud of his Italian heritage by way of his mother, he was equally proud of his African-American heritage as well.
The Super Bowl is two weeks away and thanks to the herculean efforts of Cam Newton throughout the regular season, as well as the false narrative about whether young Black males are appropriate role models and leaders, we find ourselves locked in an old discussion regarding antiquated viewpoints that are older than professional football itself.
To be certain, there has never been a time in American history where society at large felt obligated to give a Black person anything. At no time was this more apparent than in 1975, the year in which Super Bowl IX took place.
In order to get a full scope of the enormity of Harris’ accomplishment, we must first look at the socio-political climate of the time. In 1975, much of the country was still reeling from the assassinations, violence and riots that proliferated the '60s. Additionally, many corporations, plants and warehouses that allowed middle class families to spring up in America’s Midwest were starting to pack up and leave for more cost effective confines overseas.
Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Toledo and Detroit were deep in recession and suffering from inflation like the rest of the country. New York City was deep in similar ills as well and only two years away from a catastrophic blackout.
United States soldiers were still trickling back into society after the Vietnam conflict and the cold war with the Soviet Union was in full swing as well.
Sports aren’t just sports. They can inspire and galvanize a community outside of the context of its ongoing daily struggles and tribulations. No sport is more capable of this in the United States than the game of football.
In Super Bowl IX the Steelers would face the vaunted Purple People Eaters defense of the Minnesota Vikings and their scrambling quarterback Fran Tarkenton.
Pittsburgh relied on its vaunted Steel Curtain defense and the wile leadership of Terry Bradshaw at quarterback to make it to the big game. The first two qaurters was a defensive slug fest with Pittsburgh scoring the only points in the half on a safety when Fran Tarkenton was tackled in the end zone. Both quarterbacks had subpar games due to constant defensive pressure.
Perhaps using the “Tribute to Duke Ellington” halftime performance by the Grambling State University Marching Band as an omen, Franco Harris would contribute 154 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries on his way to winning Super Bowl IX MVP honors, becoming the first person of African descent to win the award, but the entire Steelers rushing attack could have easily received the award with Rocky Bleier rushing for 65 yards and Bradshaw running for 33 yards himself.
Tarkenton had the worst game of his career to date with 102 yards, 3 interceptions and no TDs.
For Pittsburgh, the victory was the first of four to take place in the '70s, helping to galvanize and inspire a struggling community while lifting the spirits of many in the process.