The Super Bowl is finally here, roman numerals, repugnant ticket prices and all. There will be winners and losers, those who celebrate and those who want to go into hiding. Everybody wants a ring, but not everyone will enjoy the spoils. Just half of those who suit up will toast the champagne, leaving them to wonder if they will have another opportunity.
The Most Valuable Player Award often goes to the quarterback, but Georgia has had three MVPs who played other positions: Jake Scott, defensive back for the Dolphins (VII); Terrell Davis, running back, Denver (XXXII) and Hines Ward, wide receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers (XL).
There are many classic stories about those who fail to win the big prize in sports. Ted Williams never won a World Series ring. Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson missed out on the career grand slam in golf because they never won the PGA Championship. Cedartown’s Doug Sanders, who won 23 PGA events, never won a major championship. Winning a major, many golfers say, validates your career.
When you think of great football coaches, there is the reminder of those who won multiple national championships and those who only won a single title. And then there was Bo Schembechler of Michigan, one of the most respected coaches in history — Bo never won the national championship while at Michigan.
Archie Manning, the good guy who has enjoyed vicariously the Super Bowl success of two of his sons, Peyton and Eli, who have won two rings each, never got into a playoff game. Playing for the lowly New Orleans Saints for so many years, Archie never played on a winning team in his entire career. Twice he was part of teams that were 8-8 — once with the Saints in 1979, and the other with the Minnesota Vikings in 1983.
Fran Tarkenton, the former quarterback for the University of Georgia, played in the Super Bowl three times with the Vikings and came away 0 and 3. Jim Kelly, Buffalo Bills, was 0 for 4 in Super Bowls.
It appeared as though John Elway would never win a Super Bowl after playing on losing teams the first three times his Denver teams got to the Super Bowl, but he got a reprieve, playing on teams that won two Super Bowls. Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins does not have a Super Bowl ring and neither does Sonny Jurgensen. They are two of the most talented quarterbacks in history of the National Football League.
There is no explanation for the dearth of championships for many athletes and coaches. Same as there is no way to explain how it came to be that John Wooden would win 10 NCAA titles at UCLA, seven of them in a row.
At age 45, Tarkenton said he thought he could still win a Super Bowl ring if somebody would give him the opportunity, quickly adding, “And that’s sick.” He eventually embraced a philosophical stance: “It is a great sense of accomplishment to get there. You’ve got that one game with the two best teams playing each other for a one game showdown. It is not like baseball or the NBA where you have to win four of seven games to win a title. When you win, everybody remembers the winner. The loser is not a loser, but he is in the eyes of the world. With, the passing of time, I refused to let it bother me. It can be depressing when you consider that on that day you were not good enough. Still you can languish in self pity. Hell, I might, at age 60 go out there and win a Super Bowl, you never know.” All this confirms that those who never win a ring are deeply stung by the failure.
Lately, there has been overwhelming emphasis placed on the importance of winning a ring, which may or may not bring about sympathy for those who did not claim one. A couple of years ago, I met with Roger Staubach at his office in Dallas and asked the great Cowboys quarterback, who knew the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, if he had any sympathy for those who don’t win the big game. Roger, a principled and altruistic good guy, but ever the competitor, said: “Certainly not. They are big boys. They can take it.”