Super Bowl weekend has always held a special place in my heart, and not because I once won a huge payoff on a late touchdown or a referee’s blown call.
It’s because on Friday evening, January 16, 1976, the weekend of Super Bowl X between the Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers, my distinctly uncool ’75 Ford Granada idled into Las Vegas carrying a foot locker, a golf bag, and an unemployed writer wondering if this city would offer more promise than my previous stops on a wanderer’s journey from Spokane, Washington.
The fact that I’m still here 43 Super Bowls later is a complex tale of chance, destiny, and fairy dust.
I look back on accepting that invitation to view the Big Game with long-time friends in LV as one of the most fortuitous choices I’ve ever made. For I don’t think there’s a city in the country or the world that offers a richer buffet of stories about any subject imaginable than Las Vegas.
I had earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English over the prior few years, and for the effort had not one single offer of employment. I had lucked into a job as a sportswriter at the Spokane morning newspaper primarily because I was a golfing partner of the sports editor and he was willing to give me a chance.
I learned a ton about journalism in my two years at the paper. The main takeaway was that while I enjoyed writing about sports, I yearned to paint on a much bigger canvas. I wanted to write about business and crime and entertainment and economic issues and do in-depth personality profiles and travel pieces and exposes, and the only avenue to scratch that itch was to become a freelance writer.
A freelancer’s path brings with it occasional stretches of poverty. But as I was single, in my mid-20s and generally low-maintenance by nature, I knew I could endure the lean times as long as I was pushing myself creatively.
Only hardcore grid fans will remember that Super Bowl X was a dandy, with the Steelers edging the Cowboys, 21-17. It was the first time that two former Super Bowl champions had met in the big game, and it would clearly mark the Steeltown boys as the team of the decade, as they won four Super Bowls in six years.
My initial thought back then was to stay in Las Vegas for three or four days, kick the tires to see if there was any work available, and then travel east to bigger markets. But that week of Super Bowl X the weather was gorgeous, with temperatures in the 70s, and my friend who was housing me found us some chumps on the golf course and I elected to stay another week. Then another week. Then the Winter Olympics were starting, and like other red-blooded men my age I fell in love watching Dorothy Hamill win her figure skating gold medal in Innsbruck, Austria.
So mid-January turned into February turned into March, and I was still here. I was reaching for tall cotton with the stories I was writing, sending unsolicited articles to the Saturday Evening Post and Reader’s Digest and The New Yorker. Of course they were all turned back either outright or because I didn’t have an agent, but a certain measure of rejection is good for the soul.
Some 25 or so books, four screenplays, and around 1,000 magazine articles and essays later, I’m still excited to be in Las Vegas. This weekend I’ll watch my 44th consecutive Super Bowl from a comfy couch. I’ll not only be celebrating the game, but the anniversary of arriving in a city which has given me an exciting career, a wonderful family, and an opportunity to hone the only craft I ever wanted to pursue.
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