This Super Bowl has good chance of being super

JOHN EISENBERG

January 23, 1991|By JOHN EISENBERG

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Super Bowl is all about sensory overload, corporate excess, minutiae, mindlessness, brilliance, trumpeting, market share, high-rolling, dream-seeking, self-promotion, myth-making, Vince Lombardi's fierceness, Lynn Swann's elegance and John Elway's agony. It is not about football.

Not, anyway, about compelling, evenhanded, can't-take-my-eyes-off-you football. We don't get that lucky on Super Sunday, not often. The same statistics circulate every year, updated. So many of the games -- it's five of the past seven now, an even dozen overall -- are fait accompli by halftime. The day is a roaring success as an unofficial American holiday, but it is not, historically, a good day to watch a game.

This irony is so ingrained in the minds of the sporting masses that the idea of an interesting, competitive Super Bowl simply refuses to stick. You say the matchup looks good? There has to be a catch. A pigeon-toed cornerback who's been hidden in a zone defense all year. A brooding quarterback given to jangled nerves. A contender propped up by faint opposition. Somehow, the mix will sour. We all know that by now.

It is, thus, with a fair amount of trepidation that one assesses the upcoming Supe as carrying four-star potential. That is the report from this seat in the press box. It is hard to envision the methodical Giants and any collection of souls hailing from B-B-B-Buffalo as the twin leads in a smash hit, but there is reason to suspect one is looming.

The Bills have been given the oddsmakers' chalk, by six points, but that's too much. This game is going right down to the nubs. It's a pie fight and both sides have the same amount of meringue. It's a hunk-off between Kevin Costner and Richard Gere. It's a World Cup soccer game. It's a draw. Someone will win in the end, but not by more than a thimble.

There are those who disagree, who believe the Bills are in already, their 51-3 rout of the Raiders last Sunday evidence of a teeming, unmatched wherewithal. But let's not get carried away with this notion of a mismatch. The road the Giants undertook to reach Tampa was far more challening than the Bills', evidence of a similar potency.

The Bills are indeed terrific. There is no debating that. They're the best to emerge from the AFC since the Raiders team that beat the Redskins seven years ago. They aren't a Denver-like insta-contender. Their defense is strong. Their no-huddle offense the closest thing to the Lakers' fast break that football has seen.

It is a mistake, though, to get too carried away in the rush of blowouts and fat statistics that the Bills have engendered. They play in a weak conference. No matter that the NFC-AFC intergalactic wars ended 26-26 this season. In the playoffs, the Bills have beaten a young Miami team with a suspect defense and an even younger Raiders team that rolled over and begged for a bone faster than you can say, "Attaboy, Spot." Not exactly Gehrig and Ruth.

The Giants, on the other hand, arrived here fresh from knocking the three-peat out of the 49ers, in San Francisco no less. It wasn't a fluke. The Giants dominated the second half and deserved the game. They are a sound, resourceful team. Their offense makes few mistakes. Their defense is the best in the league. Six-point underdogs? They've lost one game by that much this season.

The Bills will move the ball Sunday. They will score. But they will not approach the overwhelming success they had in the playoffs. The Giants' defense is just too sound. See, an %o important part of the no-huddle is the confusion it creates when the defense can't make its usual substitutions. But the Giants don't substitute much. Their front-line defenders are substantive enough to play all downs, in all circumstances. The no-huddle is not over their heads.

As to whether the Giants can move the ball enough to score with the Bills, we shall see. Remember, the Giants are starting a pinch-me at quarterback, Jeff Hostetler. He has been calm and productive so far, but let's face it, there are reasons he has hardly played as a pro before now. He could blow up any minute, taking the Giants' chances with him. But if he didn't blow up against Joe Montana, he probably won't. Expect him to show up, not blow up.

There do exist strains of logic that argue against a close game. There is the possibility that the Giants played their Super Bowl last Sunday and can't get up again, that the Bills truly are another cardboard creation of a weak conference, that Hostetler will indeed resemble a substitute. But it all just rings hollow this time. You have to trust your eyes. The Bills are too sophisticated and complete. The Giants are too solid and unshakable.

No, the Super Bowl just has a different feel this year. There is no Joe Montana to dominate with his passes and profundity ("I don't really know the answer to that.") There are no monster mashers emerging from the NFC, leaving opponents with little hope. Most importantly, there are no Denver Bronocs. Let's put our hands together for that, people. The Broncos are a thousand miles away. The Super Bowl is alive.

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