Yellow Jackets’ Super Bowl memories: ‘What the heck just happened?’

Credit: Marcio Sanchez

Credit: Marcio Sanchez

The blackout at Super Bowl 47? Anthony Allen was there for it. A team bus accident on the way back from practice at Super Bowl 50? Vance Walker was spooked by it. A frenzied pregame atmosphere unlike anything you’ve ever experienced? Gerris Wilkinson lived it at Super Bowl 42.

Twenty former Georgia Tech players have gone on to win Super Bowls over the game’s first 54 editions, starting in the first (Bill Curry) through the most recent (Harrison Butker, who will go for ring No. 2 on Sunday with the Kansas City Chiefs, against Tampa Bay). But, just like graduations, weddings and other life moments, the memories sometimes have little to do with the actual events.

Five former Yellow Jackets shared their recollections of their Super Bowl triumphs. Some of them are even about the games.

Anthony Allen

Allen, an All-ACC running back for Tech in 2010, helped the Baltimore Ravens with Super Bowl 47 in the 2012 season, a 34-31 win over San Francisco. What Allen remembers most is what most fans remember the game for – the 34-minute blackout in the second half at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.

“We were just sitting on the sideline and then we hear a loud ‘psshhhh’ and then the lights just go out,” said Allen, who lives in Miramar, Fla., with his girlfriend and their two children. “I just remember (teammates) Jacoby Jones and Joe Flacco and I are looking around like, What the heck just happened?”

As the wait extended, Ravens players such as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Anquan Boldin tried to maintain players’ focus.

“At the moment, it was like, We’ve just got to put the pedal to the metal and blow these guys out,” said Allen, who works in digital marketing.

As it turned out, the Ravens’ 28-6 lead quickly shrank to 28-23, but they were able to hold on in the fourth quarter. A win all the same.

“Everybody was just so dumbfounded at the fact that this happened during the Super Bowl,” Allen said.

Bill Curry

The last of the three Super Bowls that Tech Hall of Famer Bill Curry played in is the one he cherished most. The first – with the victorious Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl 1 – he left the game with an injury. The second was a defeat – with the Baltimore Colts to the New York Jets and Joe Namath in the famed Super Bowl 3. The last was Super Bowl 5, as the Colts returned to play Dallas, eager to make amends, albeit with a lesser team.

“(Defensive lineman) Billy Ray Smith used to say, ‘Man, I hope we make the Super Bowl. There’s no way we’re going to lose because the other team will be laughing so hard,’” said Curry, who continues to live in Atlanta with his wife, Carolyn, and has a full schedule of public-speaking engagements.

The 16-13 win over Dallas was an ungainly victory. Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas got knocked out of the game, and Baltimore fumbled five times, among seven turnovers.

“We didn’t protect him well enough, and we made one mistake after another,” Curry said. “The defense just went out there and stopped them one time after another, which was amazing.”

Kicker Jim O’Brien won it with a field goal in the final seconds. The day before the game, Curry said, O’Brien made a confession to team publicist Ernie Accorsi, later to become the New York Giants general manager.

“Jim said, ‘Hey, Ernie, I sure hope they don’t need me tomorrow,’” Curry said. “‘I can’t kick off this artificial turf. Fortunately, that did not get back to the team. ‘Obie’ just split the uprights with that kick. That was the happiest moment.”

Billy Shields

A Georgia Tech Hall of Famer for his offensive-line play from 1972-74, Shields won Super Bowl 19 with San Francisco in January 1985. It was near the end of an 11-year career in which he was the starting left tackle for the San Diego Chargers for eight seasons in a record-setting offense that transformed the NFL passing game.

Shields, who lives in Henderson, Nev., and works in real estate development, was a backup in the 49ers’ 38-16 win over Miami. The game was played at Stanford University, not far from San Francisco. It was one of only three occasions in Super Bowl history in which one of the teams played the game in their home metropolitan area, including this Sunday’s game in Tampa, Fla.

“It was like a homecoming game in high school,” said Shields, a father to three grown children. “The whole city was excited about the 49ers being in the Super Bowl. You’d drive down the street, the main drag of Stanford and that area, and they had their windows painted up on the stores just like you would see in a small town for a football game. That part made it special, at least for me.”

The 1984 49ers team ranks among the best in NFL history; they went 15-1 in the regular season, and the organization included five eventual Pro Football Hall of Famers, notably coach Bill Walsh and quarterback Joe Montana. Shields’ position coach was Bobb McKittrick, regarded as one of the great offensive-line coaches in NFL history.

“It was an incredible group to be with,” Shields said.

Vance Walker

Vance Walker’s first season with the Denver Broncos (2015) was a joyride.

“It was like we were in college, as far as, we had such great chemistry off the field, and it showed up on the field,” said Walker, an All-American defensive tackle for the Jackets in 2007.

One of his vivid memories of Super Bowl 50, where Denver beat Carolina 24-10 in Santa Clara, Calif., is of a different sort of ride. On the way back to the hotel from practice, Walker said that a driver in front of the team’s police escort stopped in the middle of the expressway. The lead bus swerved out of the highway and hit one of the police officers riding a motorcycle, and then the trail bus hit the lead bus.

Everyone was fine, Walker said, but it spooked the team.

“It just seemed like really bad luck,” said Walker, who now lives in Redondo Beach, Calif., and works with investment properties. “This is how we’re starting a week off? In a car accident?”

He also remembers having fun that week, like a shopping trip with teammates where he splurged. Normally a frugal type – Walker invested and saved well enough during his seven-year career that he could fully retire if he so chose – he treated himself to a Super Bowl gift. He went for a $2,000 pair of designer shoes.

“My mom, she’s going to see that and she’s going to be like, Oh, my God,” said Walker, a single dad.

After the victory, the Broncos partied at the team hotel, and Walker slipped on his new shoes to celebrate. Coming out of the elevator, a member of the Broncos medical staff saw him and came over to give him a hug.

“And in the process, (he) just dropped his beer on my shoes, and my shoes were ruined,” Walker said. “I smelled like beer the whole night, my shoes were ruined. I couldn’t even get mad. I was like, You know what? This is God’s way of telling me I shouldn’t have bought these shoes.”

Gerris Wilkinson

After starring at linebacker at Tech, Gerris Wilkinson was a third-round draft pick of the New York Giants in 2006. In his second season, he helped them upset the undefeated New England Patriots 17-14 in Super Bowl 42.

The story Wilkinson likes to tell happened before the game started, when he took the field for warm-ups. Typically, the stands are perhaps one-quarter full.

“We come out for the Super Bowl about an hour before the game, you don’t even see a seat,” said Wilkinson, who is married with two children and living in Berkeley, Calif. “It was standing-room only, there were people all over the field, people all over the stands. That was when it first hit me – this is a different game.”

On the field during warm-ups at State Farm Stadium (then called University of Phoenix Stadium) in Glendale, Ariz., speakers were pumping out music.

“The field was literally vibrating,” said Wilkinson, who works in real estate investment and management. “My legs were going numb just from the excitement and the energy.”

The game, he said, was a blur, until one of his teammates made perhaps the most iconic play in Super Bowl history – David Tyree’s “helmet catch” of a pass from Eli Manning.

“And from that point on, it was like, Oh, man, we actually might win this thing,” Wilkinson said.