Throwback jerseys have become all the rage lately, but I wonder how many people wearing them truly know much about the history of football or the team/player whose jersey they have on their back. The men who played the game in the '60s and '70s were truly gladiators. They were warriors who fought it out on the football field, blow for blow, and helped pave the way for the game we see today.
There were some amazing players in those days, both bruisers (Deacon Jones and Ray Nitschke) and innovators (Fran Tarkenton), trend setters (Joe Namath) and just damn good runners (Gayle Sayers). Now, NFL Films brings them all home in a 5-disc collector's DVD set that no football fan should be without, whether you're seeing these legends for the first time or reliving the good 'ol days of yesteryear.
Each disc features two Super Bowls and the season leading up to them using the NFL Films patented pulse-pounding music, baritone narration, and stunning game footage. In a word, each episode is fun. The professional football players of the early years of the Super Bowl are definitely fun to watch, there's no question about that. And these discs collect the finer moments so we can be startled and awed all over again.
The only thing missing from these pieces are those retrospective interviews that made NFL Films so popular. This makes sense because these programs were shown to football fans at the beginning of the following seasons. These may be vintage productions, but I still think each section, whether is be about the season or the Super Bowl, could have benefited greatly with interviews from the key players and coaches. I look forward to the day when NFL Films incorporates the footage found on these discs with recent interviews to add detail and emotion to the images.
Disc One: Super Bowl I and II
Super Bowl I (Packers vs. Chiefs) starts at the midsummer training camps and progresses to highlights of the 1966 season. Taking each position in turn, from the team leading QBs, to the linemen battling it out in no man's land, the first 20 minutes focus on the biggest and best players, showing clips of what they do best. If you've never seen Fran Tarkington scramble around the backfield before picking apart the secondary, you're in for a real treat. Just be sure to have the remote handy so you can watch those clips again.
Although this section does a great job showing the greats of the game, such as Gayle Sayers, Johnny Unitas, and Charlie Taylor, many of the players in these highlights aren't named by the narrator. Some of the plays are so amazing, I wanted to know just who made that great catch, or that incredible juke. As it is, only NFL history buffs will know them all, which is a shame.
The next 25 minutes focus on Super Bowl. Held at the Los Angeles Coliseum on January 15, 1967, these clips and the commentary over them show just how much the game has changed, particularly when hearing narrator John Falenda say, "Scrambling isn't a sign of strength, but a sign of weakness." Although not shown in a linear fashion, the clips of the game explain the important plays and subplots that set up each score, and show the reasons for the Packers' eventual domination.
The Super Bowl II (Packers vs. Raiders) highlights first break down the 1967 season by focusing on each division and each team in turn. This section offers some great footage of Deacon Jones, Dick Butkus, and the fleet footed Bob Hayes. The season footage culminates with clips from the Western Conference Championship between the Rams and Packers, and the Ice Bowl between the Packers and Cowboys.
The 25 minutes that focus on the Super Bowl is once again top notch. At first the game is told from start to finish, focusing on the scoring plays. However, the second half goes back to those big plays and explains how key mistakes by the Raiders set up scoring opportunities for the Packers. For me, the footage was both exciting and historically informative, but my favorite moments were the post-game interviews from both locker rooms and the interview with Packers guard Jerry Kramer, who explained his motivational half-time speech. Great stuff!
Disc Two: Super Bowl III and IV
The season sections preceding the Super Bowl highlights on this disc are both a little disappointing. Sure, they feature great clips from the 1968 and 1969 seasons (respectively), but the lack of a chronological narrative is disturbing. The clips for both seasons are random, focusing on specific games or players. The highlights are great, but I wanted to know how close certain teams were to taking their divisions. Without a narration that describes how each team did during these seasons, the highlights aren't as exciting as they could be.
With that being said, the Super Bowl footage is great. For Super Bowl III (Jets vs. Colts), the highlights are strung together to show how the game was won, starting with information on the Baltimore Colts' stifling defense during the regular season, and "Broadway" Joe Namath's guarantee of a Jet victory (the classic song that includes lyrics such as "…a groovy super guy" is a nice touch). Despite only featuring about 18 minutes of real Super Bowl action, these clips show how Namath led his team and how then-backup QB Johnny Unitas almost managed to stage an amazing comeback.
Meanwhile, for Super Bowl IV (Chiefs vs. Vikings), the best footage includes Chiefs' coach Hank Stram's tirades on the sideline. The coach was the first to be wired for the big game, and these audio clips show his mastermind at work. He really knew how to call plays that would hurt the Vikings' defense, then known as the Purple Gang. Although the hard hits and the amazing passes of Len Dawson are some amazing sights, the sound clips are definitely the best.
Disc Three: Super Bowl V and VI
The 1970 season was the first after the NFL/AFL merger, and more people were watching the sport than ever before. The portion of disc three that focuses on the 1970 season is one of the best in the set for two reasons. First, it is one of the few to specify which teams won their division crown and how the best teams got to the playoffs. Although it's not a game-by-game account of the season, it sure paves the way to the Super Bowl highlights by making it easier to see how the teams got there. The other great part of this section is the inclusion of Tom Dempsey's record-breaking 63-yard field goal, which won the game for the Saints as time expired. Sure, it's a kicker's highlight, but it's still an unforgetable moment in NFL history.
Although Super Bowl V (Colts vs. Cowboys) was one of the greatest games in the short history of the game, the best moments of the game's footage are to be found outside of the stadium. Several hilarious minutes are devoted to showing fans trying to get into the sold out game by sweet talking the ticket agents. That's not to say the game footage, which really builds on the excitement of the hard hits and the last second field goal, isn't worthy. It's the first in this series to include sounds of the hitting from the field, a huge bonus for this defensive struggle.
The Super Bowl VI (Cowboys vs. Dolphins) really shows how the Doomsday Defense dominated the game. After some costly errors in the early part of the game, the Cowboys' defense really put the clamps down on legends Bob Griese and Larry Czonka. All of the great footage is here.
Disc Four: Super Bowl VII and VIII
The 1972 season clips focus on each team's best player, but the lack of concrete information on how each team made the playoffs and which teams just missed is a fairly big omission. However, this problem is easy to overlook considering this section includes footage of the Immaculate Reception. Watching Terry Bradshaw's pass bounce into the hands of rookie Franko Harris, who then goes on to win the game with a TD is one of the most fun moments in the history of the NFL. The excitement of that last-second score is really built up here, and even Raiders fans who believe he didn't make that catch can get caught up in the thrill of the playoff game.
Of course, the Super Bowl VII (Dolphins vs. Redskins) footage is nothing to scoff at. The Dolphins topped off their perfect season with a nearly flawless Super Bowl that featured a very impressive "No-Name" defense. Although it was a low scoring affair, the defensive stands by both teams are something to marvel over.
The 1973 clips feature some of the best running the NFL has ever offered, in rookie Chuck Foreman (Vikings) and the legendary OJ Simpson (Bills). Simpson's road to 2,000 yards is showcased here in all of its glory. Oh man, could that guy run. Too bad there isn't more footage offered, but what is featured truly shows the running back as one of the best ever. As for Super Bowl VIII (Dolphins vs. Vikings), there was none better than Larry Czonka, who posted 145 rushing yards, most of them caught on film and presented here.
Disc Five: Super Bowl IX and X
The 1974 season highlights focus on the rookies. Great rookies. Don Woods of the Chargers could run the ball like the best of them, and John Stallworth of the Steelers could run like the wind and catch just about anything. Add the hard hitting Jack Lambert to the mix, and you've got some serious football clips. However, the coolest clip here is the post-game interview with OJ Simpson. I just love those old interview clips.
Super Bowl IX (Steelers vs. Vikings) features a very crucial and controversial call. With the Vikings down, they apparently recovered a fumble by receiver Larry Brown. However, the call was overruled and the Steelers maintained possession. The play is shown from two angles, and one looks like he did indeed fumble. Who knows what could've happened if the play went the Vikings' way?
Although the footage from the 1975 season is good (it features some of Terry Metcalf's NFL record breaking 2462 offensive yards), nothing could compare to the big game. Super Bowl X (Steelers vs. Cowboys) is one of the most exciting featured on this set, and perhaps one of the best in the history of the game. The Steel Curtain defense managed to contain the Cowboys' potent offense and resist a fourth quarter comeback. The final score of 21-17 may not show the glory of this game, but the footage here certainly does.
NFL Films and Warner Brothers feature Super Bowl Collection I-X in 4.3:1 full frame. As can be expected with such old footage, the presentation is a mixed batch. Sometimes there are plenty of specks and scratches, while other times the images look flawless. Generally, the colors are muted or washed out, but in a way, this adds to the whole "vintage" idea. A few times the game film is too dark due to shadows or overcast skies, but for the most part, the image is bright and relatively detailed.
Note that the video star rating is based on the overall presentation. Certainly, the older footage does not stand up to the video standards of today, but I can't imagine any of this footage looking better. For the most part, these film clips look good and the more recent interviews look great. Thus, the picture quality gets a justified 3.0 star rating.
NFL Films and Warner Brothers feature Super Bowl Collection I-X in a 2.0 stereo track that is adequate at best. With this old footage, I wasn't expecting much, but a remastered track that offered more bass for the music and the hard on-field hits would've been nice. As it is, the old interviews come through with little or no distortion and the more recent ones are crisp and clear. The narration also sounds fine. All in all, the audio tracks are average, with no glaring problems but with no bright spots either.
Each disc features game footage of the Super Bowls along with logos of the teams that participated. Nothing special here, really.
THE BONUS FEATURES
Each disc features four special featurettes concerning players and coaches of the Super Bowl teams. They may be short, but these NFL Films gems truly shine a light on the personality involved by featuring impressive interviews and even better game footage.
On disc one you'll find '66 Championship Game, a seven minute featurette that showcases the big plays from the important game that pitted the Packers against the Cowboys. Great stuff. The other Super Bowl I bonus feature is First Super Bowl Telecast (4:32), which details the humble beginnings of the marriage between football and network television. You'll also find Bart Starr (7:30), which is filled with footage and interviews about the Packers legend. Raiders Front Four features interviews and clips of the hard-hitting linemen from the 1967 Raiders team: Ben Davidson, Carleton Oats, Tom Keating, and Dan Birdwell. These clips and interviews show how tough it must've been to play hard-nosed football during the '60s.
Over on disc two you'll find four more featurettes. George Sauer (5:08) is an emotional look at the retirement of the great Jets receiver of Super Bowl III, while Weeb Ewbank is definitely a more lighthearted look at the amazing coach who took the Baltimore Colts to the Super Bowl. Hank Stram Wire features interviews with Stram and NFL Films producer Ed Sabol as they look back on the first coach to be wired for the Super Bowl. The best part of this four minute featurette is the funny interviews with players as they remember how much more animated the coach was compared to regular games. Easily the most entertaining bonus item on disc two is the New Orleans' First Super Bowl (3:47), which offers bloopers from the pre-game and half-time shows. After these debacles, it's a wonder the city ever hosted another game.
Disc three's featurettes include Jim O'Brien (4:47), a closer look at the kicker who won Super Bowl V with a 32-yard field goal and his life as an inventor after retiring from the NFL. Tom Landry's Legacy (3:50) features interviews of players who were lucky enough to play under the great coach. This is one featurette that I would like to have seen extended somewhat, either here or in future NFL releases, with more information on Landry's significance to pro football. Also on disc three is Duane Thomas (7:36), a look at the Cowboys'swift-footed first round draft pick of 1970. Man could he run. Lastly, you get Bob Lilly (4:12), a look at the defensive tackle who led the Cowboys' Doomsday Defense. Man could he hit.
Over on disc four you'll find Miami's Perfect Season (5:02) and '72 Dolphins Reunion (3:44), two featurettes that focus on the undefeated Dolphins, perhaps the greatest single team achievement in the history of the game. Despite going 17-0, this team is rarely mentioned as one of the all-time greats, a fact that is argued by the players of that squad. Also on tap is Miami's "No-Name" Defense (5:00) and Forgotten Faces (1:06), the NFL Films' look at the terrific defense that was filled with no big name players (although the team debates that fact).
On the last disc, you'll find Terry Bradshaw (4:46), a brief history of how the Hall of Fame quarterback helped turn around a bad team into the winner of four Super Bowls. Vikings Super Bowl Failures (4:01) includes clips and interviews of those Minnesota Vikings who were only good enough to be second best. This is a very nice look into a team proud of its durability despite not winning the big game. Jack Lambert (4:47) takes a look at the hard-hitting, tough-as-nails linebacker from the dreaded Steelers' defense, and Roger Staubach (4:31) showcases one of the Cowboys' most beloved quarterbacks.
As an extra bonus, the DVD set comes with a replica Super Bowl ticket (I got Super Bowl X) and a booklet that features pictures from each game, the MVP, the winning team's Super Bowl ring, both team's lineup, the game's box score, the cover to the game program, and picture of a game ticket. This booklet is nicely done.
These discs feature some great footage of the first ten Super Bowls and the seasons that preceded them. Although the footage could have benefited from some modern interviews with the players and coaches, the game clips themselves speak volumes and are worthy on their own. If you're a fan of the old school game, this set is definitely for you. Although the price tag is fairly steep, I still highly recommend this set.