Hank Stram, NFL Films and the first coach to wear a microphone in the Super Bowl
On the CBS television broadcast, Jack Buck took note of “what a jubilant sideline scene we show you.”
Sure enough, there was coach Hank Stram, celebrating his Chiefs taking a 16-0 lead over the Vikings in Super Bowl IV en route to a 23-7 victory. It was the last Super Bowl for Kansas City until the one coming up on Feb. 2.
But Buck, whose son, Joe, will call Super Bowl LIV for Fox, was as much in the dark about the story behind the story as the rest of those watching in real time.
To live viewers, Mike Garrett simply had run through a huge hole in the Vikings' defense for a 5-yard scoring play.
But when NFL Films’ Super Bowl highlight film came out later that year, Garrett’s run became known forevermore as “65 toss power trap,” a call that Stram was heard articulating on the sideline no fewer than six times.
Five preceded the play. The sixth came after it, when Stram was heard praising the prescience of “The Mentor,” who made the call. That was what he called himself.
So it went all afternoon at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans on Jan. 11, 1970.
History recalls the game in part for being the last one played by an AFL team, and for confirming that the Jets’ upset of the Colts the year before had not been a fluke.
But almost no one remembers the CBS broadcast featuring Buck and analyst Pat Summerall. CBS did not even save the video. It exists today only because of a black-and-white kinescope the CBC made of the Canadian TV feed.
The game is recalled mostly because of a decision by NFL Films’ father-and-son team of Ed and Steve Sabol, the latter of whom died in 2012 and was chosen for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Centennial Class just last week. (Ed was inducted in 2011.)
Everyone knew Stram as a chatty showman, and NFL Films already had put a microphone on him during a regular-season game, with great success.
So before the Super Bowl, the Sabols met Stram at the Sonesta Hotel in New Orleans and asked him to become the first coach or player wired for a Super Bowl.
Steve Sabol recalled in an NFL Films interview that Stram was open to the idea but said that “some coin of the realm is going to have to change hands.”
The Sabols offered $250, and he told them “that won’t even pay for The Mentor’s dry-cleaning bills.”
Then they offered $500. Sold.
It might have been the best idea in the history of the company. Stram stole the show, to the point that Steve Sabol called that Super Bowl highlight film the most requested of all time.
Stram, who died in 2005, did not tell his players about the microphone, but in later years, many suspected him of laying on his charm extra-thick because he knew he was being filmed and recorded. (After retiring, he had a long announcing career and worked with Jack Buck on Super Bowl radio coverage.)
Officially, the narrator is the iconic voice of NFL Films, John Facenda, but Stram-isms have become the soundtrack of that game, with phrases that continue to pop up among announcers and fans a half-century later.
Most famously: “C'mon, Lenny [Dawson]! Pump it in there, baby! Just keep matriculating the ball down the field, boys!"
Stram identified early on that the Chiefs could riddle the Vikings with short passes to the sideline, and they kept at it all day. “That’s like stealing over there,” he said.
(Future two-time Super Bowl-winning coach Tom Flores frequently can be seen standing near Stram as Dawson’s backup quarterback.)
Many games and plays are better remembered from NFL Films highlights and/or audio than what live TV viewers could see, notably Franco Harris’ “Immaculate Reception” for the Steelers in the 1972 playoffs.
But never before or since has the collective memory of one big game been shaped more by a non-player than Super Bowl IV was by Stram, thanks to that NFL Films microphone and its 24-minute recap.
Steve Sabol, who was operating a camera trained on Stram, said that at one point, the picture noticeably wobbles because he could not help laughing.
Said Sabol, “It was like having Henny Youngman coach a team to the Super Bowl.”