Thursday, July 07, 2005

Memories Of Hank Stram

I have vague recollections of the great Green Bay Packers, and also Joe Namath, in the first three Super Bowls. But the first Super Bowl I have vivid memories of was Super Bowl IV. At the time of Super Bowl IV, I was in the first grade, and unlike my older brother, a fan of the establishment. By that I mean the NFL. And it's representative, the Minnesota Vikings. My brother was a fan of the underdog Kansas City Chiefs of the upstart AFL.

Superbowl IV- A common scene.

So on January 11, 1970, when the Vikings and Chiefs squared off in New Orleans, I was quite firmly ensconsed in the Minnesota camp, like my father. My brother was entrenched on the other side. It turned out to be a very upsetting day.

I remember the Vikings could do almost nothing right that day. Joe Kapp, one of my favorite players, got knocked around pretty good. I remember almost crying when the Vikings fell behind 6-0 on two Jan Stenerud field goals. I think it had more to do with my brother's taunting than it did my loyalty to the Vikes. My father tried to reassure me that Minnesota would come alive and put these Chiefs guys in their place. That worked for awhile. But hope quickly faded and by halftime it was all but over at 16-0. My brother did his best to rub it in and bring my blood to a boiling point. That was the single longest half-time I ever remember.

The Vikings did put some life into my by then raggedy body by scoring a 3rd quarter touchdown, but as Kansas City immediately drove again for their last touchdown, I finally gave up on them. I remember watching that last quarter in the growing darkness of that winter day, playing an awesome board game called Green Ghost (I smell another post) with my father and brother. Looking back, I think this was his effort to bring some peace back to the family, what with the football-induced bickering between the two of us kids.

I remember hating the Chiefs for the longest time after that. I hated Len Dawson. I hated Buck Buchanan. I hated Otis Taylor. And I hated Hank Stram.

Hank Stram

After I had matured into my twenties, I finally had enough courage to relive that dreadful day, so I watched a Super Bowl video about it on ESPN. By this time, I had grown to appreciate underdogs. And I think I finally understood that it really wasn't the Chiefs who were the bullies in this game, although my first-grade mind had clearly perceived it that way. The Vikings were actually heavily favored, being from the "bully" NFL. My perspective on what took place that day changed 180 degrees.

And I changed my opinion of Hank Stram. I hadn't realized that Hank was miked during that game. I think this was the first time that had been tried. He sure was entertaining to listen to as we watched him watch his Chiefs destroy Minnesota. Perhaps Hank's second career was born that day, as I'm sure someone recognized his potential to become a great broadcaster. He was quite the show-man.

Of course, Hank went on to become a successful Monday Night Football broadcaster for CBS radio. Teamed with the immortal Jack Buck, they were by far the better broadcast team for "watching" MNF. Hank's football knowledge was incredible. He had a gift for teaching and for description, a combination for excelling as a color-man.

In Jack's book, "That's A Winner", he paid a short tribute to his radio partner. Mr. Buck relates how "the coach" was one of only two football people he worked with who could predict what play was coming next. Jack would ask him, "What's coming coach?", Hank would invariably call the play before the line was even set, and that scenario would unfold before their eyes. He was the poster boy for a great X's and O's coach.

One of the funny stories Jack told on KMOX, of which there are many, relates to Hank's apparent propensity to eat while broadcasting. He would constantly be gnawing on something. One night, Hank, looking for something to eat, picked up Jack's metallic slide-rule-like device that was used to calculate yardage quickly, thinking it to be a Snickers candy bar. Why he thought this I don't know, but Hank bit in to it. Jack's description of the sound of teeth hitting metal coupled with the sight of the sparks that flew threw the booth is a pure comedic classic.

So Hank died on Monday. He was 82. I didn't realize just how old he was. He always seemed youthful and vigorous to me, like in the picture above, and I'm sure that is how I will remember him. I am glad I have learned to appreciate him as I myself have aged.

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