Shutdown Corner

Guarantees, homecomings and moonings: A history of the most worn-out Super Bowl storylines

Frank Schwab
Shutdown Corner

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(USA Today Sports Images)

We long ago learned the Super Bowl hype drill and now we can easily anticipate which storyline will be beaten into the ground during the run-up to the Super Bowl. It wasn't too hard to see we'd be Harbaugh'ed out before either team hit New Orleans this week.

It's always been this way, though, and let's blame Fred Williamson for starting the phenomenon of the overhyped storyline. The Kansas City Chiefs cornerback bragged before the first Super Bowl about how he would knock out the Green Bay Packers receivers with his swinging forearm tackle called "The Hammer" Meanwhile, the Packers cheered with glee when Willamson got knocked out in the fourth quarter. Concussion awareness was not big in the NFL in 1967.

Some Super Bowl storylines can be seen coming a mile away, some sprout up from news items ("Wait, what's deer-antler spray?") or proclamations ("Who's Chris Culliver and what did he say?") during the week. But every year, there's at least one or two storylines that, by the time the game kicks off, you hope you never hear another word about again in your life.

And with that, here are the most played-out, worn-down, beat into the ground pre-Super Bowl storylines in the history of the NFL's big game:

10. Duane Thomas doesn't like to talk

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(Associated Press)

There were so many worthy candidates that got left off the list (and we didn't count the late-breaking stories like Barret Robbins, Stanley Wilson or Eugene Robinson that happened so late in the week they didn't get overexposed). Look, when John Matuszak's New Orleans antics with the Raiders at Super Bowl XV can't make the list, it's a strong field.

Back at Super Bowl VI, the big story was that Cowboys running back Duane Thomas didn't like to talk to the media. So yes, even 40 years ago we had the absurdity of a player who doesn't like to talk being the talk of the Super Bowl. Thomas did give one of the most memorable quotes in the game's hype history when asked about playing in the ultimate game: "If it's the ultimate game, how come they're playing it again next year?" he asked.

9. The Harbowl
To be honest, it hasn't been all that bad. You're probably way sicker of hearing about Ray Lewis this week (spoiler alert: This isn't the last you'll hear about Lewis in this post). But we've heard "We're not that interesting," enough times to become monotonous and then the storyline picked up steam when the Harbaugh parents had not just a conference call with the media, but a live press conference in New Orleans. Yup, you're on the list, Harbowl.

8. Gruden against Oakland

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(USA Today Sports Images)

Nothing was more of a softball than the matchup of Jon Gruden facing his former team, the Oakland Raiders, less than two years after the Raiders had traded Gruden to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. We know what happened after that – Gruden led the Buccaneers to the Super Bowl in large part because he knew Rich Gannon's tendencies so well, Tim Brown preposterously accused Bill Callahan of sabotaging the game, and Gruden went on to ruin our Monday nights with his never-ending flowery NFL game "analysis."

7. Parcells checking out on the Patriots
One of the weirder Super Bowl subplots was Bill Parcells supposedly talking to the Jets about becoming their head coach ... as he was in New Orleans getting the Patriots ready to play in Super Bowl XXXI. The Boston Globe printed a story early that week saying Parcells would be done with the Patriots after the Super Bowl, Parcells didn't even travel back with the team, and the book "Patriot Reign" by Michael Holley says the Patriots have records of "dozens" of phone calls from Parcells' hotel room in New Orleans to the Jets facilities. So yeah, that became a story. In "Patriot Reign," then-Patriots defensive coordinator admitted it wasn't exactly ideal.

"Yeah, I'd say it was a little bit of a distraction all the way around,'' Belichick said in the book, via the Hartford Courant. "I can tell you firsthand, there was a lot of stuff going on prior to the game. I mean, him talking to other teams. He was trying to make up his mind about what he was going to do. Which, honestly, I felt [was] totally inappropriate. How many chances do you get to play for the Super Bowl? Tell them to get back to you in a couple of days. I'm not saying it was disrespectful to me, but it was in terms of the overall commitment to the team.'"

6. Hollywood Henderson mocks Terry Bradshaw's intelligence

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(Associated Press)

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson's trash talk to Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw became the stuff of Super Bowl storyline legend, with Henderson giving the famous quote: "He is so dumb, he couldn't spell cat if you spotted him a C and an A." Of course, in Super Bowl XIII Bradshaw won MVP honors and Henderson's claim to fame from that Super Bowl might be that he put a mixture of cocaine and water into an inhaler and snorted it during the game. Now that would have been a heck of a pre-Super Bowl storyline.

5. Ray Buchanan wears a dog collar
Atlanta Falcons cornerback Ray Buchanan wore a dog collar to Super Bowl XXXIII media day, one of the more contrived pre-Super Bowl stories that was talked about long after we didn't want to listen anymore. Buchanan wore the dog collar to symbolize Atlanta's underdog status (see what he did there?), guaranteed a win, compared Denver tight end Shannon Sharpe to Mr. Ed, and then was part of a Falcons defense that got torched in that game.

4. Jim McMahon's full moon
Super Bowl XX was really never in doubt, even before the Chicago Bears or Patriots got to New Orleans, so the full hype spectacle was on. It hit its apex when Bears quarterback McMahon, whose ridiculous feud with the women of New Orleansand commissioner Pete Rozelle over his headband choice probably should have made this list too,mooned a helicopter flying over Bears practice. He did that in response to the many vapid questions about his acupuncture, yet another ridiculous storyline from that Super Bowl. Let's just move on.

3. Ray Lewis, take one

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(Associated Press)

We've had plenty of Ray Lewis overload this week, but it's still nothing like Super Bowl XXXV. Lewis pled guilty to obstruction of justice in relation to two stabbings that happened after the Super Bowl the year before in Atlanta, and that was the overriding story for XXXV. We had Brian Billick insufferably lecturing the media to not ask questions about it, Shannon Sharpe standing behind Lewis at media day to defend his teammate, and of course endless questions to Lewis about what did or didn't happen. We couldn't wait for the game to start just for that storyline to go away for a little bit, but then the game stunk too.

2. Namath's guarantee

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(USA Today Sports Images)

This is one of the truly iconic stories in NFL history, as Namath guaranteed the Jets would win during an appearance at the Miami Touchdown Club before the game. We know how that turned out. The way we know this story got too much exposure is it has been 44 years and we're still hearing about it. The worst part about this story is the way any athlete "guaranteeing" a victory now becomes way, way, way too overblown (are they supposed to believe they're going to lose?) and athletes and coaches avoid saying anything interesting so they don't get swept up in the stupid "He guaranteed a win!" nonsense. Thanks Joe.

1. Jerome Bettis' homecoming/farewell
Nothing against Jerome Bettis. He was a great player, and a good personality. But the story of him going back to Detroit to play in his final game of Super Bowl XL became the most worn out, "dive for the remote to hit mute ASAP" storyline in Super Bowl history. It was the perfect storm. A media favorite. A hometown story. A player in his final game. Nothing much else to say about a boring matchup and no great nightlife in Detroit to distract the media. It became a constant barrage of tired cliches for a player that was going to have very little impact on the game as a short-yardage back on his last legs. Everyone could see the Bettis story becoming the most agitating thing about Super Bowl week, and the reality was even worse.

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(Associated Press)

So just wait until next year, when we can predict which stories we'll be tired of hearing of by kickoff. It's part of Super Bowl tradition at this point.

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