The saintly women who marry sportswriters are easily pleased for the most part. Give them a leaking faucet to fix while the hubby is at spring training and these angels of mercy are in their heaven. They love to change the oil in the car. "Unplugging gutters is my life," my wife once said, and I saw a beatific peace settle upon her brow.
I know she hates to leave her life's work behind. Still, every year I ask her to go to the Super Bowl with me. Every January we go to Miami, Los Angeles or New Orleans. It's cruel of me, I know, to take her away from Washington at the height of the furnace-repair season. But I get lonely on the road. Anyway, she likes to carry my golf bag.
"The Super Bowl is in Detroit this year," I said last fall.
"I'm not going," she said. "There'll be snow six feet deep in Detroit in January."
"They play the game indoors, in the Silverdome," I said.
"I don't care, I'm not going to Detroit in the middle of the winter."
She probably wanted to put the snow tires on our cars, but I talked her into taking a little vacation. She was disappointed that I didn't bring my golf clubs. I could tell at the airport here when she said, "Can you cover a Super Bowl without your golf clubs?"
What a priceless dear she is. Not only did my wife sacrifice those things that make life with a sportswriter so enriching, she also put into a 10-word interrogative sentence the essence of literally thousands of words written and spoken in Detroit this week.
Sportswriters have savaged this town all week. One went on a nationally televised morning show and said he was depressed here; he didn't like waiting in slush to watch a practice; he said the Silverdome reminded him of the Moscow Olympics except the Moscow police were nicer. Coming to Detroit is "punishment," said Paul Zimmerman of Sports Illustrated.
"Super City? Writers dump on it," said a headline on the front page of today's Detroit Free Press. The story spoke of sportswriters drinking at a free bar provided by the NFL, mostly complaining about (in the paper's words) "the miserable city into which they've been thrust: with the freeway system of Los Angeles, the weather like Anchorage, the economy like Poland."
Detroit News sports columnist Joe Falls, who talks like someone running for mayor, recently listed for visitors all the hot spots of culture and cuisine here. It didn't take him long. In today's column Joe asked writers to finish the sentence, "A Super Bowl in Detroit is . . . "
"Like an all-expense vacation to Gdansk," wrote George Kimball of the Boston Herald-American.
What has happened this Super Week is the same super thing that happens every Super Bowl.
No news happens Super Week. If we don't know enough about these football teams after five months of reading and watching television, we haven't been trying. We know Joe Montana will throw to Dwight Clark; we know Fred Dean will go head to head with Anthony Munoz; we know Pete Johnson is bigger than a Lincoln Mark IV. We know the Super Bowl with its Roman numeral affectation is a symbol of corporate and spiritual decay in America. We know all that.
But sportswriters, like political reporters, abhor a vacuum. So while the idle-handed pundits develop a Jerry Ford-for-veep rumor, we sportswriters look out from our expense-account rooms and see snow for miles and say, "If this is the Super Bowl, where are the palm trees?"
Detroit gets the blame.
If you threw all the criticism in a blender, you'd come out with a paragraph like this:
"They'll play the 16th Stupid Bore in a plastic dome that cries out for a hood ornament. This dome rises from frozen tundra across which stretches a long, dark line of the unemployed. Behind barbed wire on a mechanically ugly landscape, Pete Rozelle has created the worst idea since Diet-Pepsi. It's a hideous, horrible Candid Camera joke carried out on a polar ice cap. Did everyone bring some Spam?"
Fact is, this Super Bowl is as well organized as any. The NFL's executive director, Don Weiss, is so pleased with Detroit's performance that he predicted in The Free Press that the Super Bowl will come back here another time.
Detroit's mayor, Coleman Young, said he isn't worried about the incongruity of the idle rich playing here while thousands of auto workers are out of jobs.
"The presence of the Super Bowl means in excess of $50 million to Detroit," said Joyce Garrett, the mayor's press aide. "So the mayor has no problem in that regard because that $50 million will help everyone in Detroit realize an improved economic situation."
It's understandable that the local newspapers are defensive about the whinings of on-the-road sportswriters. The papers don't know us fellows as well as our wives do. My wife, hearing me complain last month about having to go to Detroit, said she was sure she could find something for me to do around the house.
I said, on second thought, I better get on up to Detroit and see how they've fouled up the Super Bowl.