Irv's toenails, cruisin' with the Tooz and other Super Bowl memories
Published: Monday, January 28, 2013 at 8:12 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 28, 2013 at 8:12 p.m.
NEW ORLEANS -- Now covering my 22nd Super Bowl, what do I remember about the 21 others?
I suppose I should start with my favorite moment. The one I'll remember long after I forget how to spell “Colin Kaepernick.”
That would be the toenails.
Yeah, I know, a little disgusting. I get it. Hang in there with me.
It was Jan. 23, 1997, and I was in Kiln, Miss., sitting at the kitchen table with Irv Favre, Brett's father. The Packers-Patriots Super Bowl was a few days away. I was able to wangle an interview with Irv, at the Favre family home in Kiln (pronounced “KILL”), 54 miles from New Orleans.
“We don't try to impress anybody,” Irv said.
Irv then kicked up his feet on a kitchen chair and proceeded to demonstrate that very thought.
Irv started clipping his toenails. I'm serious. Without an “excuse me” or “I gotta take care of this right now” or “I hope you don't mind,” Irv started snipping. I kept interviewing, he kept talking and I watched Irv clip all 10 toes. Stuff was flying off the man but he never paused giving an answer. And he never stopped to pick any of it up. None of it. My, Irv had big toes.
Irv threw a sideways glance at me in the middle of clipping, just to see my reaction. I concealed my initial shock with a smile, and then gave in to the moment, the moment that didn't belong during Super Bowl week. Irv was spontaneous, real, without guile or any hidden agenda. There was a freshness, a uniqueness about him.
You cannot say any of those things about Super Bowl week, a tightly-controlled seven-day march. The chance to experience spontaneity, to feel the very vibe of the event without getting liquored up (especially here), is more rare than Jim Harbaugh revealing what he had for lunch. You have to look hard for it or just get lucky as I did after the 49ers beat the Broncos, 55-10.
Myself and a few other writers were at Bailey's, this late-night spot in New Orleans. We sat down, ordered food we didn't need and then scanned the place for celebrities (it's what everyone does during a Super Bowl). On the other side of the room, a good 50 feet away, sat Broncos coach Dan Reeves. By himself. He was staring at the table in front of him. He didn't look up. He didn't move a twitch. His face was ashen, the deadest look I've seen on anyone still alive.
Reeves was inconsolable. How do I know that? Joe Gibbs, the Redskins' coach, approached Reeves and placed a hand on the shoulder of Reeves. Gibbs then whispered something into Reeves' ear. Whatever Gibbs said didn't create the desired effect. Reeves' body slumped. Gibbs' body stiffened. Gibbs nodded without words and left. Reeves sat there by himself for the next 45 minutes before leaving.
When I hear now of a coach in any sport telling someone he's having a hard time accepting defeat, I think of Dan Reeves that Sunday night and see his face and wonder now, as I wondered then, how long it took him to get over it. If ever.
Yes, indeed, a Super Bowl, like New Orleans itself, is the definitive inkblot test. People see what they want to see and disregard the rest. While some concentrate on the great players doing great things on the field, I tend to look for personal snapshots, like the Raiders' John Matuszak in the French Quarter.
I said hello to Tooz one night at Brennan's and then the 6-foot-8, 285-pound defensive end, showing the proper French Quarter enthusiasm, ripped off his shirt, shook his fanny like an exotic dancer, all the while scanning the room for late-night company.
Matuszak was more than happy to play the role of Rambunctious Raider. He enjoyed acting, conforming to an outrageous stereotype. If Matuszak had an equal, it had to be no-teeth Jack Lambert, the Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker.
During the week preceding Super Bowl XIV, an intrepid reporter looking for a little something different asked Lambert what sign of the Zodiac he was.
“Feces!” Lambert screamed with great glee into the microphone.
Doug Williams, the Redskins quarterback in Super Bowl XXII, didn't scream when a radio dude asked him how long he had been a black quarterback. Everyone in the cluster around Williams' podium went silent. Now that I look back on it, we were expecting the same kind of reaction Harbaugh would give if someone asked him how long he had been a white coach.
Calmly, with his voice barely above a whisper, Williams replied, “All my life.” It was a great moment of restraint, made unforgettable because his response was in front of about 100 notebooks, cameras and microphones pressing forward to capture the invective Williams never gave.
Maybe this Super Bowl week will provide a nugget that will live on long past next Sunday. Maybe. I'm doubting it. Irv and his toenails hold a special place in my heart ... and I know that has to be difficult to read. You had to be there.
You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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