You can hear the sounds of the ocean from the water-view rooms at the Loews Hotel in Santa Monica, Calif. In January of 1993 I wasn’t supposed to be sleeping there.
NBC5 had secured two rooms in the Cowboys team hotel, but they were designated workrooms. I was part of a crew of 20 or more that had been dispatched to California to cover Super Bowl XXVII.
As a cub reporter I was working around the clock to cover my first Super Bowl. And when the editing equipment, set up on the desks in the room, began to look like a blurry mass of electronics and blinking lights, I knew it was time to sleep. What the heck?
We had two beds in our “workroom.” So I would open the sliding doors, smell the ocean, feel the cool breeze and hear the crashing waves as I drifted off into Super Bowl dream land.
After 39 years of covering sports, the two weeks I spent covering that Super Bowl still ranks as one of the best moments of my career. It began with a trip to Thousand Oaks. I had heard so much about Cowboys Training Camp at California Lutheran College. My first year covering the Cowboys was the season they moved training camp back to Texas at St Edward’s University in Austin. Each day on the sidelines of the practice fields at St. Ed’s I would hear tales of how great training camp in California had been. So I was anxious to see it. By late January of 1993 the practice fields at California Lutheran were overgrown. There were still several pieces of exercise equipment scattered about. Weeds and rust covered them, even though it never rains in Southern California. Or so I am told. It was an eerie reminder of glory days gone by.
Amazingly, a new set of glory days was about to be born just 57 miles away. The Rose Bowl in Pasadena was the sight of the game that year. We spent the week attending press conferences
and practices. The Cowboys’ designated training complex for the week was UCLA. It is a beautiful campus in the midst of a beautiful part of town. At night, when we weren’t editing, we visited some of the famous establishments on the Sunset Strip and elsewhere in LA. One night we happened into Jumbo’s Clown Room. There at the bar was Ken Kercheval – better known to most of us as Cliff Barnes on the TV show Dallas. We introduced ourselves as a TV crew from North Texas. He invited us to join him, picked up our tab and asked questions about Joe T Garcia’s and other North Texas landmarks.
After spending Friday and Saturday nights listening to the sound of seagulls and editing equipment, it was finally time for the game. We arrived at the Rose Bowl some eight hours before kickoff. I felt like I was living a dream as we pulled up.
Having grown up in Big Ten country I watched the Rose Bowl every year but had never attended. Now here we were walking into that storied stadium for a Super Bowl. I went straight down the tunnel and walked onto the field. The seats of the empty stadium sprawled before me, the palm trees peeking above the walls of the stadium outlined against a bright blue sky.
I took it in and said to the fellow standing next to me, “Wow!” He was taken aback, too, and is much more eloquent than I. He said, “They should play the Super Bowl here every year.”
Something about the voice was familiar, so I turned to see the National Anthem singer for the game that night standing next to me. It was Garth Brooks.
The game was unbelievable. The Cowboys were not even expected to be there, much less to be able to compete with the Buffalo Bills, who were making their third consecutive trip to the ultimate game. Led by a defense that forced a Super Bowl record nine turnovers, the Cowboys won 52-17. Troy Aikman was the MVP as he turned most of those turnovers into touchdowns. He completed 22 of 30 passes for 273 yards and four touchdowns.
After the game, we were on the field watching confetti fall, interviewing players broadcasting the remarkable results of the game back to the Metroplex. As we were preparing to head back to the hotel, one of the NBC5 bosses said to me, “We are going to keep you here for a couple of more days. Troy is going to be a guest on Jay Leno tomorrow night, and we have been granted access to cover his appearance.”
So the next night there I was in beautiful downtown Burbank, on the set of the Tonight Show.
Jay Leno greeted me personally. I got to hang out with the band, and suddenly there I was in the green room. Just me, the camera operator, Kerry Smith, and the Most Valuable Player of the Super Bowl.
We interviewed him, chatted, laughed about the game, and then, suddenly, the other guest walked in. We had seen her perform in Austin, and she was about to burst into mainstream music with her Grammy Award-winning-hit “Sunny Came Home.” It was Shawn Colvin.
Our story that Monday night was the lead story on the newscast, and we felt an unbelievable sense of accomplishment. We spent two weeks and two days in California. We covered the Cowboys past at Thousand Oaks, we covered the Cowboys present at the Rose Bowl, and we were pretty sure the Cowboys future was pretty darn bright, too.
It was time to head back to the hotel – not the Loews; we were in a Holiday Inn that night, near the airport.
And yet, somehow, I felt like I could still hear the waves and feel those ocean breezes.