Al Jean on Super Bowl XXVI, the game and the first sports episode of The Simpsons

Thirty years ago on Wednesday, Mark Rypien threw a pair of touchdown passes and the NFL team that played its home games in Washington, D.C. cemented its status as what professional football had come closest to. dynasty in Pete Rozelle’s parity era as he defeated the Buffalo Bills, 37-24, in Super Bowl XXVI.

Washington’s victory (more on the lack of nickname shortly) also marked perhaps the first – and far from the last — time “The Simpsons” accurately predicted the future.

“Lisa the Greek”, the first highly sporting episode of the potentially endless series of “The Simpsons”, celebrated its 30th anniversary of its first broadcast on Sunday. Three days before Washington won its third Super Bowl win in 10 years, an estimated 23.2 million people watched Homer and Lisa bond over the latter’s amazing ability to pick NFL games correctly.

Lisa, frustrated after Homer turned down her invitation to hike on Sunday after the Super Bowl in favor of going bowling with fellow barfly Barney, initially declined to pick a Super Bowl winner, but eventually told Washington if she still loved Homer and Buffalo if she didn’t.

After a hectic afternoon and evening of long pregame shows, weird halftime shows and a Duff Bowl (won by Duff Dry because, as Moe puts it, “they wanted it more”), Homer clapped with relief as Washington won on a final-second touchdown. (As it turns out, in an era of Super Bowl blowouts, “The Simpsons” couldn’t create a second straight classic finish) The show ended with father and daughter climbing Mount Springfield the following Sunday. .

“I find it very much appreciated and appreciated,” longtime Simpsons runner Al Jean said in a phone interview last week. “There aren’t as many lines as people give you back, like ‘I choo choo choose you‘ Where ‘cromulent’ or ’embiggens.’ But whenever anyone mentions it, it’s always like, ‘Oh yeah, that was really sweet.’ They love this show.

The footballing aspects of “Lisa the Greek” serve as a loving ode to the era that turned Jean and his fellow writers and staff into avid football fans – an era that helped football become the most popular sport of America for viewers and players while turning Super Bowl Sunday into an unofficial national holiday.

Only viewers of a certain age will get the obvious references to ‘The NFL Today’ – featuring Jimmy the Greek, the first punter to appear on TV, as well as Phyllis George, who had a card catalog entry then. that Lisa was investigating the history of professional football at the Springfield Public Library – and understand why Homer sat glued to the couch because getting up could have meant missing the rare display of all NFL scores for the day.

“You didn’t know what the scores were – you started watching Headline News to see the scores roll by,” Jean said. “Now on the internet you can find out what’s going on at any game at any time. But at that time, it was much more difficult to obtain a result. It was a very different world.

Moving to Washington and Buffalo as Super Bowl teams shortly before the episode’s airdate was another chance for the staff to put their football knowledge to good use — to some degree, in any case. case. While it would have been easy to double down on Yeardley Smith, the voice of Lisa Simpson, picking one or more other teams if one of her picks lost before the Super Bowl, staffers were confident in Washington and Buffalo – the top seeds in their respective conferences as well as the only two teams to score more than 400 points in 1991 – would make the big play.

But while the staff decided Lisa would choose Washington to prove her love for Homer, Jean and many of her colleagues – recalling teams such as the Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Colts, Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins and the Oakland Raiders, all of whom lost a first Super Bowl before winning one in the first 15 years of the Super Bowl era — ended up making friendly bets on Buffalo, which lost the Super Bowl XXV when Scott Norwood’s 46-yard field goal sailed just in the final seconds of a 20-19 loss to the New York Giants.

Alas, it was the first of four straight Super Bowl losses for the Bills, making them an oversized version of the Minnesota Vikings, who lost four Super Bowls between the 1968 and 1976 seasons. Lisa also touched on the last two Buffalo losses: In January reruns of “Lisa the Greek” in 1993 and 1994, Lisa picked the Cowboys.

“I don’t know why anyone chose Buffalo,” Jean said with a chuckle. “I remember when I was a kid, a team would lose, come back and win. With Buffalo, you think OK, they lost the first, now they’re going to win the second. And they kept getting worse every year.

(Here, we should note that Jean said the Bills wouldn’t win this year, but that Lisa would “…choose Green Bay over Kansas City.” Call that a half-correct prediction?)

With the Bills back in the annual Super Bowl competition, much of what aired on “Lisa the Greek” serves as a time capsule for the NFL and the Super Bowl circa the early ’90s.

Washington’s moniker was dropped ahead of the 2020 season after decades of protests from Native American groups. After two seasons as the Washington Football Team, the organization is expected to announce a new moniker next week.

The idea of ​​a three-hour pregame show was mocked on “Lisa the Greek,” but the Super Bowl 55 pregame show began on CBS last Feb. 7 at 11:30 a.m.

And the Super Bowl XXVI halftime show – dubbed “Winter Magic” and paying homage to the upcoming Winter Olympics on CBS and featuring a pair of songs performed by Gloria Estefan – ended up being the last of the era. hokey. With networks looking to retain viewers who left in droves at halftime in 1992 for Fox’s live broadcast of “In Living Color,” Michael Jackson’s Super Bowl XXVII halftime show marked the beginning of the era of extravagant concerts. The trailer for this year’s halftime show was released last week, when the playoff field was still made up of eight teams.

Less than two years after Super Bowl XXVI, Fox went from thumbing his nose at the NFL to becoming part of the establishment by outbidding CBS for the rights to NFC games. Fox began airing NFC games in the fall of 1994, when “The Simpsons” moved from Thursday to Sunday, where it has remained ever since. For 10 consecutive seasons — from 2009-10 to 2018-19 — the highest-rated episode of the season aired immediately after an NFC playoff game.

“There’s no question that the ratings success of The Simpsons is in large part due to an introduction to football,” Jean said.

And in January 1999, seven years after Troy McClure’s “Handle With Care” parodied the idea of ​​throwing a dud of a new show in the post-Super Bowl slot (here’s your moment in the sun, “MacGruder and Loud” and “Davis Rules”), Fox used the window after his second Super Bowl TV show to launch “Family Guy,” which was followed by a football-themed episode of The Simpsons, “Sunday Cruddy Sunday. Another superstar-filled episode of The Simpsons – “Homer And Ned’s Hail Mary Pass” – aired immediately after Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005, followed by the premiere of “American Dad”.

Nothing has changed more in the past 30 years than the game itself, which has moved from the periphery to the mainstream. With gambling tips available on countless websites and on shows across all the sports networks, bettors no longer have to make their picks by relying on a Jimmy the Greek guy or cartoonish pitchmen touting their rates. Incredibly high success rates via 1-800 lines.

In January 1992, when Homer tried to convince Marge that gambling was illegal “in only 48 states”, only $50 million was legally wagered on Super Bowl XXVI in Nevada. Today gambling is legal in 30 states plus Washington DC and casinos and sportsbooks are advertising partners with the leagues. Over $500 million has been legally wagered on Super Bowl 55.

“They used to talk about it on Monday Night Football – they would be very elliptical though: ‘So some of you want that kick to go over the crossbar,’ Jean said with another laugh. “But now it’s like, ‘They’re 3 1/2 point favorites.’ They know. It’s just that the line is completely blurred.

There’s also a lot more to bet today – so much so that with his daughter’s love on the line in 2022, Homer would have plenty of prop bets to consider beyond the point spread or the odds. an outright winner.

“I think he’d just make the dumbest bet – like the total number of two-point missed attempts or something where there’s no possible way to think about it and calculate it,” Jean said. “It’s just random.

“Will the first player to score a touchdown have a name starting with H? This is the bet he would make and he would bet a lot of money.

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