Why the worst Super Bowl in history was my favorite
By Tom Quiner, Pulse Life Advocates Board President
The worst Super Bowl in history was number V. And I loved it. Looking back, it reminds me of the epic battle of pro-lifers against Roe v Wade, which all happened at about the same time.
A young Baltimore Colts fan
As background, I’m a lifelong Colts fan. Back in the 1960s, the great Johnny Unitas was Colts quarterback when they played in Baltimore.
I began cheering for them in 1965, which was a frustrating year. The Colts and Green Bay Packers finished tied for first in their conference with 10-3-1 records. They met for a one game play-off to determine who would go to the championship game.
Unitas and his back-up QB, Gary Cuozzo, were both injured, so they had to move their halfback, Tom Matte, to quarterback. Matte and the Colts fought mightily only to lose at the gun to a controversial Packer field goal, which to this day I’m convinced they missed, as you can see in the video below.
In 1967, the Colts lost only one game, but missed the play-offs because they tied with the Los Angeles Rams who won the tie-breaker.
And of course, there was 1968, the year the Colts went 13-1, easily won all of their play-off games, only to lose Super Bowl III to the upstart New York Jets. You remember, that’s the one when the cocky Jets QB, Joe Namath, said he guaranteed the Jets would win.
He certainly delivered. Which brings me to Super Bowl V.
The Colts finished the season with a stellar 11-2-1 record and beat the Bengals and Raiders to earn a trip to Super Bowl V at the Miami Orange Bowl. Their rival: the formidable Dallas Cowboys who finished the regular season at 10-4.
What unfolded on that Sunday afternoon on January 17th, 1971, before 79,204 fans and a 46 million television audience was … a debacle.
The two teams turned over the ball a record 11 times between them, 7 by the Colts! A Super Bowl record. The Cowboys set a Super Bowl record for the most penalties, with ten for 133 yards.
What a mess!
The Colts suffered one setback after another, much like the pro-life movement was experiencing at the same time. (Back in Iowa, a woman named Carolyn Thompson could see something was going to happen regarding abortion at the national level, and began working towards founding Iowans for Life.)
On the Colts first score, Unitas threw deep, the ball was tipped, eventually landing in the arms of tight end John Mackey who waltzed into the end zone for the TD.
Blocked extra point (ouch!)
Great, right? But then the extra point was blocked, a significant point wasted, and an omen of what was to come.
Later in the 2nd quarter, Unitas got hammered by the Cowboys line, sustaining a rib injury which knocked him out of the game. The Colts had to turn to veteran Earl Morrall to make something happen.
Morrall drove the Colts to the Cowboy’s 2 yard to no avail. The ferocious Dallas defense stuffed them on a 4th and goal attempt.
The Colts were down at halftime 13-6.
The third quarter was more of a mess. The Colts fumbled the kickoff, Cowboys recover.
Cowboys drive to the Colts 1, only to fumble and give the ball back to the Colts.
The Colts drive to the other end of the field, only to miss a field goal.
4 interceptions in the final quarter!
The messiness continued into the last quarter, Colts still down 13-6. Morrall threw an interception into the end zone, squandering another Colts opportunity.
The Colt’s defense again stopped Dallas, and Morrall promptly marched the Colts to the Cowboy 31. I still have nightmares about the play that came next: a botched ‘flea flicker.’ The Colt’s running back took a lateral pass from Morrall, passed downfield to his wide receiver, who caught it … BUT … as he raced towards the end zone, with no one in front of him … FUMBLES … the ball, which bounds through the end zone for a … TOUCHBACK.
Cowboys’ ball. Colts lose possession.
But, Dallas promptly threw another interception, naturally, which eventually led to a Colt’s TD. Game tied at 13-13.
After trading punts, Dallas got the ball back in Colt’s territory with less than 2 minutes left.
Final two blunders
At this point, I’ll point out that history remembers this game as the “Stupor Bowl” or the “Blunder Bowl,” and the Cowboys had not one, but two costly blunders left in their repertoire.
The first: a 15 yard holding penalty that move them back to their own 27.
The second: another Craig Morton interception (his third of the quarter!), this one intercepted by Mike Curtis who returned it 13 yards to the Cowboy 28 yard line.
The Colts ran two plays and ran the clock down to 9 seconds left in the game.
The entire game rested on the leg of rookie kicker, Jim O’Brien, who had already missed an extra point and a field goal.
The Colt’s offense had squandered so many opportunities, the question was: could they right the ship, put all of their mistakes behind them, and execute one final perfect play to win the prize?
Super Bowl V: a microcosm of the battle against Roe v Wade
Before I answer that question, let’s return to my earlier comparison of this game to the epic battle to overturn Roe v Wade.
The Roe case was decided two years after Super Bowl V. In
anticipation of what she saw coming, Carolyn Thompson founded Iowans for LIFE in 1972 and launched a 50 year battle against Roe and a culture of death.
IFL suffered many setbacks over the next 50 years, as did pro-life organizations throughout the country. But we all persevered, never, ever yielding an inch.
Despite mistakes, despite fighting a big bully with more money and more political clout, despite everything being stacked against our just movement, Roe … v … Wade … was … OVERTURNED!
We won that battle, just as the Baltimore Colts overcame their mistakes to win Super Bowl V when Jim O’Brien split the uprights with a game winning 32 yard field goal at the gun.
To this day, Super Bowl V is considered to be the worst Super Bowl on record. But to me, it’s the best, because my team won, just as my team won on June 24, 2022, when the Supreme Court released the Dobbs decision overturning Roe.
As the Baltimore Colts demonstrated, it pays to persevere.
[Following the overturning of Roe, Iowans for LIFE rebranded as Pulse Life Advocates to reflect our renewed commitment to informing, educating, and inspiring a new generation to value the sanctity of all human life from fertilization to natural death. Join us. Donate to our pro-life outreach today.]