Howley, O'Brien, Noll belong on Super team

John Steadman

December 12, 1990|By John Steadman

ADMITTEDLY, it's an almost impossible endeavor to look back at past Super Bowl games and select an all-star team to mark the upcoming silver anniversary. It's nebulous at best. More guesswork than analytical. But three embarrassing and painful inequities have, in particular, evolved -- at linebacker, place-kicker and with the choice of the head coach.

Otherwise, it's a gala presentation that attracts interest, builds hype and creates spirited controversy, which is what it was designed to do. The voting, by the public, was nationwide and there's no reason to quarrel with the majority of the results. Keep in mind that it's mythical. Name personalities in some instances influenced the outcome, which is unfortunate yet understandable.

The most all-consuming performance produced by a linebacker, one Chuck Howley of the Dallas Cowboys against the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl V, didn't receive the true attention it deserved. Howley intercepted two passes and was a superb tackler on both sides of the line of scrimmage. He also is the only member of a losing team to be so dominant in the previous 24 Super Bowls to be voted the Most Valuable Player Award and ride away in a new automobile.

Outside linebackers Jack Ham of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Ted Hendricks of the Colts and Oakland Raiders finished ahead of Howley. And so did Carl Banks of the New York Giants. Howley was a distant fourth in the voting, despite his auspicious effort. Too bad. His play was so outstanding against the Colts that if you were only occasionally paying attention it could hardly be forgotten.

The poll to name this dream alignment drew 1.1 million ballots and was based entirely on showings in the Super Bowl. This is to differentiate from what might have transpired in an overall glorious Hall of Fame career. The idea is to isolate on the Super Bowl, which means nothing else is supposed to influence the outcome.

Nine members of the Pittsburgh Steelers made the glittering 27-man roster but the most grievous omission is the coach, Chuck Noll, who went to four Super Bowls and won them all. Noll trailed Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers, Bill Walsh of the San Francisco 49ers and Tom Landry of the Cowboys in the voting.

Lombardi, who died in 1970, had victories in the first two Super Bowls but then retired before changing his mind and initiating a coaching comeback with the Washington Redskins. He represented dedication and excellence but Noll, on the Super Bowl coaching lines, was in the championship more times any other coach, including invincible Vincent. Noll's teams have been perfect in the Super Bowl, going 4-for-4. It's impossible to be any better than that.

It seems that sentiment and the Lombardi reputation influenced the coaching decision, which deserves to be challenged. Noll isn't the complaining type who will vent his annoyance by going home and breaking up the furniture. Based on his Super Bowl record, Noll belongs. Being ignored and unappreciated are two elements of the tough side of life he has continually endured -- quietly.

The kicker on this celebrated array is Jan Stenerud of the Kansas City Chiefs, who played in only one Super Bowl. He kicked three field goals, including one of 48 yards, to help defeat the Minnesota Vikings, 23-7. But didn't the Chiefs gather enough points to help defeat the Minnesota Vikings without any assistance from Stenerud's foot?

Is there a better nominee? Why not Jim O'Brien of the Colts? His golden kick in Super Bowl V is the only one that ever actually decided the outcome of this postseason extravaganza. It came from the 32-yard line with a mere five seconds remaining and, no doubt, was achieved with more pressure than accompanied any single isolated movement in all the history of the Super Bowl. O'Brien jumped for the sky and each member of his team was $15,000 richer.

Members of the newly elected all-time Super Bowl, strictly subjective, will attend Super Bowl XXV on Jan. 27 in Tampa and be introduced in pre-kickoff ceremonies. It'll be a momentous moment for the honorees, despite the fact some worthy nominees, notably Howley, O'Brien and Noll, finished as mere distant also-rans, honorable mentions or no received no mention at all.

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