Super Bowl media day is a farce. The lady from TV Azteca isn’t asking about Bill Belichick’s substitution schemes. Players are insulted or confused. A football writer in Phoenix today will scribble this down and think it’s news. But this month marks the 40th anniversary of the first and best skewering of Super Bowl media day. 1975 was the year Lance and Fred showed up.
Lance Rentzel and Fred Dryer were medium-grade celebrities who happened to play for the Los Angeles Rams. (Rentzel, a wide receiver, had been married to actress Joey Heatherton; Dryer, a 6-foot-6 defensive end, would later act in TV’s Hunter.) After the Rams lost in the 1974 NFC Championship Game, Dick Schaap, the editor of Sport, sent Lance and Fred to cover the Super Bowl. Schaap figured they could experience life on the other side of the typewriter.
But Lance and Fred had their own ideas. They rented costumes from the 1920s. They took the names of fictional reporters “Scoops Brannigan” and “Cubby O’Switzer” of The Daily Steamer. Then they went to Super Bowl media day and performed a Method parody of brain-dead journalism. Sample question: “Do you think the zone defense is here to stay, and if not, where do you think it’s going?”
NFL PR men were as easily trolled then as they are today. After 24 hours on the beat, Lance and Fred were hauled in front of commissioner Pete Rozelle. But by that point, they’d made all future media day pranks and parodies redundant. Lance and Fred had stepped into the pre–Super Bowl news void and made news themselves. They were the deflated footballs of 1975.
Here, they tell their story:
Courtesy of Fred Dryer
Lance: I’ve had 10 concussions. My memory is a little fuzzy about this event.
Fred: I got a phone call from Lance in December of ’74. We’d just lost the NFC Championship Game to Minnesota. Dick Schaap had called Lance and asked him to cover the Super Bowl. Next thing we know, we’re over at the movie theater in Westwood. Jack Lemmon was in The Front Page. It was a Roaring Twenties period piece. We got an idea — Lance had the idea, actually. We’d dress up as Roaring Twenties reporters and go cover the game.
Lance: Freddy’s an absolutely brilliant comic. When Freddy imitates somebody, his face morphs and he looks like them. His muscles change to fit the character. I was always Freddy’s catalyst. I’d say, “Gee, Freddy, what do you think Coach Prothro would think about this …” Freddy would go off on it.
Fred: I said, “Lance, I don’t think I’m invited to the Super Bowl. You’re the one with the press credentials.” He called Schaap. Schaap said, “Great idea! Bring Fred along. I’ll get you complete credentials. You’ll get absolutely every courtesy reporters will get.”
Lance: Freddy said, “Hey, bingo, boss, right on you!” He was already using one of the 1920s terms!
Lance and Fred went to a costume shop that rented clothing to Hollywood studios. Lance emerged, he later wrote, in a “blue, pin-striped zoot suit set off by black-and-white wing-tipped shoes, a florid bow tie, and a wide-brim hat with an orange press pass in the band.” Fred got a tweed coat and put a pack of Luckies in the front pocket.
Fred: How about my shoes? I wanted those shoes. They fit perfect. They were brown with white saddles in the middle. I loved ’em! I asked the costume guy, “Can I buy ’em?”
He said, “I can’t do that. Some actor may want ’em.”
I said, “Go fuck yourself.”
Lance: We had no idea other than wearing the uniforms. It was the uniforms that triggered the personas.
Fred: See that Speed Graphic camera? I carried that thing around with me. The press was looking at it. They said, “Can I see that?” I said, “Absolutely not!”
Lance: We came into the shop as guys from Southern Cal and left as 1920s reporters. Scoops was the ace reporter. Cubby was the cub. I was the mentor; he was the protégé.
Fred: Lance kept saying to me, “Punch it up, Cubby! Punch it up!”
The pair flew to New Orleans on Wednesday, January 8, four days ahead of the game.
Fred: We showed up at the hotel and Dick Schaap met us. He said, “What are these outfits?”
We said, “We’re Roaring Twenties reporters!”
To really make it authentic, we slept in our clothes. And just to give it extra emphasis, I put my suit coat jacket underneath the second mattress to really crease it up and get it wrinkled.
Lance: Drinking was the important part. Maybe the most important part. Drinking was embedded in the whole persona. Scoops and Cubby were born because of drinking.
I’m going to betray Freddy. He didn’t drink the hard stuff. He was drinking little feminine fruity drinks. Let that lie on his head.
Fred: One night, we put on our costumes and went to Old Absinthe House bar. Howard, Dandy, and Frank were there. Dandy was so fucking loaded he couldn’t stop laughing. Howard was shit-faced smoking a cigar. He was laughing. Frank was a tight-ass, as usual.
Lance: They said, “Scoops, Cubby, come on and sit down!” Nobody called us Lance and Fred that week. Actually, we were Scoops and Cubby for about three or four months after that.
Fred: We took the pledge of the mooching writer. Mooch food. Stay up all night. We had five bars we had to go to that night. Then we closed out the hotel bar.
Early the next morning …
Fred: We went to bed around 4:30 a.m. We got up about an hour and a half later. We were really getting into the flow of it. We had to catch the eight o’clock bus to go over to the Pittsburgh Steelers breakfast.
We got on the press bus. That’s when the shit hit the fan. Dave Klein, from one of the New Jersey papers, he didn’t like me from the get-go when I played for the Giants. Dick Young of the New York Daily News was there. His column was called “Young Ideas.” I kept telling Young, “Who the fuck came up with that name? You’re as ossified as anybody I’ve met in my life. You haven’t had an idea since Moby-Dick was a novel.”
Well, that split the bus. You’ve got five reporters in Dick Young’s camp. One of them said, “You think we could come down to the field and be football players?”
Of course, everybody started laughing when he said that!
Lance: No reporter had a neutral stance on this. Either they loved us or resented us.
Scoops and Cubby arrived at the Steelers press breakfast at the Fontainebleau Motor Hotel. They found Chuck Noll, the Steelers coach, standing before the room, and writers gamely trying to excavate the same “story lines” they’d been excavating all week. It was media day.
Fred: I’d rather go to a funeral of an enemy than I would attend one of these things again. It was the most boring, full-of-shit group I’ve ever seen in my life.
Dick Young opened up the Q&A by asking the three-part question on AstroTurf. As soon as that happened, you could hear groans from the front of the room to the back.
Lance: What triggered it for me was the three-part question on AstroTurf. I said, “Freddy, I think they’re running out of stories.”
Fred: Chuck Noll took the AstroTurf question seriously and started answering it! When that happened, everybody left the room almost. I’m way in the back, way in the fucking back, and I’m yelling at Lance, “This is fucking terrible! Somebody has to ask a question!”
Lance said, “Dig into your question box and figure something out.”
I start going through questions, all this stuff I’d scribbled down while I was drunk. I said, “I’ve got one!”
The moderator said, “Yes, you in the back!”
I stood up and I said, “Do you think the zone defense is here to stay, and if not, where do you think it’s going?”
I yell this out. It hangs in the air for about 10 seconds. People start turning around and looking at me. I’m chewing on [a] roll.
Lance: The entire press plan, the entire public relations plan, got tossed into the toilet the moment we went in there.
Fred: The moderator comes to the back and says, “Who are you guys?” We showed ’em our stuff. We said, “We work for Sport magazine. Dick Schaap is our boss. We’re going to cover this news whether you want us to or not.”
NFL PR had an orderly plan to shuffle reporters between the members of the Steelers. The sight of two active players dressed like Walter Winchell’s legmen threw the plan into chaos. The reporters ignored the Steelers and began following Scoops and Cubby.
Fred: We ran down the hall into a ballroom where all the players, all the Steelers, were. We went right up to Terry Bradshaw. We were the first guys to get to him. We asked him, “Is it true that hat size is indicative of IQ, and if so, what is your hat size?”
From a press account: “Somebody blurted, ‘Four-and-an-eighth.’”
Lance: As it turned out, the press found this a delightful break from the normal routine. We didn’t know what the normal routine was. We were just players.
Fred: We went to Franco Harris, Joe Greene. We turned it into a laughathon. The NFL was saying, “First we have Terry, then we have Franco …”
We said, “Instead of doing this shit, we’re going over here …”
Lance: You can only go so far with, “How does it feel to be in the Super Bowl?” What kind of answer can you give to a question like that?
I don’t know why they don’t ask better questions. I don’t think anyone ever called ’em out on it. Interesting questions are not about “what.” And they’re not about “when.” What’s interesting to me as a writer are the ones that start with why and how. If I were going to ask questions, I think I’d start with the why and how.
Fred: Afterward, we go to the Vikings lunch. I asked Jim Marshall, “You said you’re going to be up for the game. Does that mean you’ll be on speed?”
I asked Fran Tarkenton, “They say there’s no tomorrow. Will you be disappointed when the sun comes up?”
Lance: Tarkenton got into it. He thought the whole thing was funny.
From Rentzel’s Sport story: “I popped my last question. ‘Fran, is it true that you can’t win the big ones? And if so, why?’
‘Yes, it’s true. I just don’t have the dedication, the discipline it takes, to win the big games …’”
Lance: The PR guys were literally pulling out their hair. Particularly one of them, Jim Heffernan. If someone would have given him a gun, he would have shot us.
Fred: He said, “How dare you. What if you were in the Super Bowl?”
I said, “We almost were!”
Lance: For what the NFL PR department wanted to do, we came in on the worst day. Friday’s the biggest day of Super Bowl week, publicity-wise. After Friday, everybody’s getting situated and they’re not thinking about pregame human interest stories anymore. Their attention is turned elsewhere. Well, on Friday, we were the lead story. How would we know? We’re just used to being interviewed.
I say this because I feel like I should. I have a regret. As funny as these things were, I was using the Super Bowl as a stage. In the process, I’m taking something away from probably the greatest sporting event in the world. That’s not my place to do.
From Rentzel’s Sport story: “Dryer began to type furiously. I watched over his shoulder. ‘Give ’em the works, Cubby! We ain’t got a minute to lose! This ain’t a newspaper story — it’s a career! Why, they’ll be naming streets after you!’”
Fred: The interesting thing is how perverted and governmental and institutionalized the sport has become, and how sad it is Scoops and Cubby could never, ever exist today. We would be gunned down within a mile radius of any of these teams.
Lance: When we went down Bourbon Street two nights later, Scoops and Cubby were all over the world. Guys were hanging 30 feet above us, hanging off balconies. I remember one guy fell and landed in a big pile of hay or something. I saw him jump and thought, He jumped off that building to see Scoops and Cubby up close.
After the press events, Lance and Fred were back in their hotel room when the phone rang.
Fred: I get a phone call from Rams owner Carroll Rosenbloom.
He said, “What have you been doing?”
I said, “What the fuck, did somebody call you?”
He said, “I got a phone call from the league office. They said you and Lance were creating a disturbance.”
I said, “You’re goddamn right we were!”
Then Dick Schaap banged on the door. He said, “Commissioner Rozelle’s in the cocktail lounge. You gotta go downstairs and see him right now. He’s pissed.” Dick was really worried.
I said, “Let me go get my pants.” I had put my pants back under the second mattress to press ’em.
Dick said, “You can’t go down there as Scoops and Cubby!”
Lance: The whole thing had gotten so far out of hand.
Fred: We get to the hotel bar. People are 10-deep around the commissioner. He was holding his scotch and twirling the ice around. He was expecting us.
He said, “Are you guys having a good time?”
I said, “Yes, commissioner, I had the best time. I stayed up all night last night. Now I know what it’s like to do my homework as a reporter.”
Rozelle said, “You’re about finished, aren’t you?”
I said, “No, we have another day.”
He repeated himself. “You’re about finished, aren’t you?”
I said, “We could be.”
He had a big grin on his face. He said, “I think you’re about finished.”
Lance: It was clear if we’d have done anything else we’d have really alienated him.
I told Rozelle, “Please, don’t ban me from the league. What do you need me to do?”
Nah, I didn’t say that …
Fred: Schaap had come down the elevator with us. But he stayed on the outside circle with the rest of the people around the commissioner. When we left — when we were dismissed — Schaap said, “Well, how’d it go?”
I said, “You’re fired, Dick.”
On Sunday, January 12, Lance and Fred went to Tulane Stadium to complete their duty as sportswriters. They covered Super Bowl IX.
Lance: I don’t remember the game. Freddy’s memory is better than mine.
Fred: It was cold as hell, and we left at halftime.