The date was January, 1974. Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas was the site chosen for Super Bowl VIII, a contest between the NFC champ Minnesota Vikings and the AFC champ Miami Dolphins, fresh off of a perfect season the year before. Dr. Hunter S. Thompson was in town to cover the game. (Excerpted from The Great Shark Hunt: Gonzo Papers Vol. I: Strange Tales From a Strange Time)
FEAR & LOATHING AT THE SUPER BOWL
"...and whosoever was not found written into the book of life was cast into the lake of fire..." - Revelations 20:15
This was the theme of the sermon I delivered off the 20th floor balcony of the Hyatt Regency in Houston the morning of Super Bowl VIII. It was just before dawn, as I recall, when the urge to speak came on me. Earlier that day I had found - on the tile floor of the Men's Room on the hotel mezzanine - a religious comic book titled "A Demon's Nightmare," and it was from the text of this sleazy tract that I chose the words of my sermon.
The Houston Hyatt Regency - like others designed by architect John Portman in Atlanta and San Francisco - is a stack of 1000 rooms, built around a vast lobby at least 30 stories high, with a revolving "spindletop" bar on the roof. The whole center of the building is a tower of acoustical space. You can walk out of any room and look over the indoor balcony (20 floors down in my case) at the palm-shrouded, wood and Naugahyde maze of the bar/lounge on the lobby floor.
Closing time in Houston is 2:00 AM. There are after-hours bars, but the Hyatt Regency is not one of them. So - when I was seized by the urge to deliver my sermon at dawn - there were only about 20 ant-sized people moving around in the lobby far below.
Earlier, before the bar closed, the whole ground floor had been jammed with drunken sportswriters, hard-eyed hookers, wandering geeks and hustlers (of almost every persuasion), and a legion of big and small gamblers from all over the country who roamed through the drunken, randy crowd - as casually as possible - with an eye to picking up a last minute sucker bet from some poor bastard half-mad on booze and willing to put some money, preferably four or five big ones, on "his boys."
The spread, in Houston, was Miami by six, but by midnight on Saturday almost every one of the two-thousand or so drunks in the lobby of the regency - official headquarters and media vortex for this eighth annual Super Bowl - was absolutely sure about what was going to happen when the deal went down on Sunday, about two miles east of the hotel on the fog-soaked artificial turf of Rice University Stadium.
Ah ... but wait! Why are we talking about gamblers here? Or thousands of hookers and drunken sportswriters jammed together in a seething mob in the lobby of a Houston hotel?
And what kind of sick and twisted impulse would cause a professional sportswriter to deliver a sermon from the Book of Revelations off his hotel balcony on the dawn of Super Sunday?
I had not planned a sermon for that morning. i had not even planned to be in Houston for that matter ... But now, looking back on that outburst, I see a certain inevitability about it. Probably it was a crazed and futile effort to somehow explain the extremely twisted nature of my relationship with God, Nixon, and the National Football League: The three had long become inseparable in my mind, a sort of unholy trinity that had caused me more trouble and personal anguish in the past few months than Ron Ziegler, Hubert Humphrey and Peter Sheridan all together had caused me in a year on the campaign trail.
Or perhaps it had something to do with my admittedly deep-seated need to have public revenge on Al Davis, general manager of the Oakland Raiders ... Or maybe an overweening desire to confess that I had been wrong, from the start, to have ever agreed with Richard Nixon about anything, and especially pro football.
In any case, it was apparently something I'd been cranking myself up to deliver for quite a while ... and, for reasons I still can't be sure of, the eruption finally occurred on the dawn of Super Sunday.
(more Hunter S. Thompson & Houston, Texas to come.)