Super Sunday: A personal history

There were super Sundays long before there ever was a Super Bowl for this columnist. In fact, the first such Sunday in my memory that deserved to be called "super" didn’t even involve the Eagles.

It was 1958, a time before the American Football League would challenge the existing pro football establishment, a time before they moved the championship game to a warm-weather site, a time when nobody thought to call the big game anything but the NFL Championship.

One of our gang’s family owned a paint store in Southwest Philly. For some reason that I still can’t explain, we spent our football Sundays sitting on folding chairs in the paint store, eating hoagies and watching the game on a small black and white TV.

It was the year that the Colts beat the Giants in the League’s first sudden-death overtime game and became part of American sports legend. It was also the day when one of the guys lost a bundle because he had the Giants with the points and Unitas blew off the field goal and sent Alan "The Horse" Ameche crashing into the end zone. There went the point spread amid a burp and a gasp of despair.

There would be lots more Pepto-Bismol Sundays for those among us who liked to wager because, alas, gambling on football is as American as apple pie.

I was out at Franklin Field on that glorious Sunday in 1960 when Chuck Bednarik sat on Jim Taylor as the clock ran out and the Eagles beat Lombardi’s Packers to become world champions. Crowds surged on to the field and it was impossible to get through the narrow aisles down to the playing area. I jumped and wound up with a bruised wrist and a broken watchband for my effort.

We were so certain back then that there would be an Eagles dynasty that we ran out and purchased season tickets for the 1961 season. There was a dynasty born that day at Franklin Field in 1960, but it belonged to Vince Lombardi, the gap-toothed legend and the team that lost that day — the Green Bay Packers.

Beginning in 1964, still three years before the Super Bowl was born and 12 years before he became the voice of the Eagles, my buddy Merrill Reese and I started a tradition of watching the title games together on TV. In those glorious days before cholesterol became a watchword, my wife would bake delicious pepperoni stromboli and about 6 pounds of sausage, which Merrill and I would gobble up during the game.

The tradition continued as the title game morphed into the Super Bowl and Merrill became the play-by-play voice of the Eagles. It was easy to continue our tradition each year because Merrill and the Eagles were always off when Super Sunday rolled around.

In January 1981, Dick Vermeil led the Eagles into the Super Bowl at New Orleans and I remember my ambiguous feelings — joy at the Eagles finally making it and emptiness that Merrill’s chair next to my TV was vacant on that day. The stromboli just didn’t taste the same, and the Eagles lost as well.

Merrill had done a three-hour interview and talk show the night before the game. His first call was a cheerful voice that said, "Merrill, this is your mother." Merrill gracefully got his mother off the phone and got on to the second call only to hear the voice of my 10-year-old son say, "Uncle Merrill, this is Craig."

I began a long run as the host of the pre- and post-game shows on the Eagles radio network beginning in 1985 and running through 2003. They were years of varying degrees of success, but with one constant: The Eagles always wound up on a golf course on Super Sunday.

In my early years working both shows on WIP, I worked with a former Eagles player who turned out to be an unusual analyst. We watched the road games from a TV in the radio station’s conference room back when WIP was on Rittenhouse Square, and he would fall sound asleep as soon as the game started. The only time he would wake up was when he reached for a slice of pizza, and then he would fall promptly back to sleep. His analysis of the game consisted of telling the callers, "Let’s all root for the Eagles."

During the first Buddy Ryan season, I worked without a co-host and featured guest co-hosts. The guest who riled up the fans the most and disliked Buddy with a passion was the beat writer for the Inquirer, a guy named Angelo Cataldi.

Eventually the broadcasts migrated over to WYSP and so did I for 12 more frustrating seasons. And so, as the Eagles finally reached the promised land with a win at the frigid Linc, I had come full circle as I now watched the game from the warmth of my living room. I am not close to the coach or the organization and I long ago lost my little-boy wonder for athletes.

But I am happy that an Eagles Sunday will finally turn super on Feb. 6; happy for Merrill to see him finally get back to a Super Bowl; happy for Dave Spadaro, my Monday night broadcasting sidekick on WBCB who works so hard during football season; and happy for the warriors of that 1980 team — Jaworski, Walters and particularly my old broadcast partner Bill Bergey, the guys whose memories will be revitalized by the new glory of this Eagles team.

Pass the stromboli.