This year, football and fun have a somber underside


January 27, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

TAMPA, Fla. -- The parties are scaled down, the security is beefed up, and it must be the first Super Bowl before which a quarterback would say, "I just don't understand why there can't be world peace." But it wasn't long before Jim Kelly, of the favored Buffalo Bills, was back talking about the no-huddle offense, leaving life's more vexing mysteries to philosophers, theologians and, of course, Downtown Julie Brown.

Brown, of MTV semi-fame and a very underrated journalist, showed up for picture day early in the week, swapped lewd comments with several players, bit one player's jersey, while the player was wearing it, and asked Kelly this penetrating question: "I understand that some of your teammates do some serious shaking of booty when they score a touchdown. Do you have any new acts planned?"

LTC This -- the foolishness, I mean, followed by the football -- is supposed to be what the Super Bowl is all about. It's what the previous XXIV were about. But, of course, this year it's not. This is the year where the lead story in the Tampa Tribune one day last week would be headlined: "Thoughts of War in the Gulf Temper Super Bowl Revelry."

This is the Super Bowl where CNN, and not ESPN or taped football highlights, is shown constantly on TV in the hospitality rooms. It's the Super Bowl where the talk is of Scuds and oil spills, more than of Bills and Giants, and where some people question the appropriateness of jet-fighter flyovers.

Certainly, it's the first Super Bowl where there are press briefings on combating terrorism. Security is so tight -- this is true -- that Mickey and Minnie Mouse were denied access to the NFL headquarters because they lacked the proper ID.

Sometimes, it seems as if the Giants and Bills are nearly forgotten, but not always. The president himself took time out to say this game should go on, although he had nothing to add about whether Mitch Frerotte should be allowed to paint his face.

Face painting -- it's not allowed; too much fun for the NFL -- is the silly story of the week. There are the predictable ones, too. First of all, this is being set up as the big New York intrastate battle, with the governor, Mario Cuomo, coming down on the side of the Bills. Actually, the Giants play and live in New Jersey, and Buffalo, I'm pretty sure, is somewhere in Canada.

Then there's the respect angle. The Bills, though favored, still insist they get none, which is, I suppose, a factor of being from Buffalo. The most famous line about Buffalo is from "A Chorus Line," in which one of the dancers says something like, "I considered suicide, but then I figured that committing suicide in Buffalo was redundant."

Bruce Smith, the Bills' brilliant defensive lineman, says he's tired of hearing about how great the 49ers are, especially since they're not even here. "I wish they were here," he said. "Beating them would prove to everyone how good we are."

Beating the Giants would be a start. And Lawrence Taylor, the Giants' defensive force, doesn't think that will be so easy. "Did theBills go 18-0 this season?" Taylor wondered. "Did they go 19-0? Seems to me they lost at least a few games this season, didn't they?"

They did, but they did beat the Giants, too. They beat them after taking out quarterback Phil Simms, which is how they'll play them again today. Which brings us to Jeff Hostetler, the Giants' backup quarterback and the key figure in this game.

As we know, the Bills are loaded. They have in Kelly a top quarterback, in Andre Reed a receiver some are comparing to Jerry Rice, in Thurman Thomas a star running back. Then they have all those big names on defense. On the Giants' side, most of the big names are on defense. And it will be up to Taylor and Leonard Marshall to make problems for Kelly and the no-huddle offense, which has put up 95 points in two playoff games.

The Giants do have a big-time defense that can, if anyone can, slow down the Bills. But they have to do something offensively, too. The running backs are Ottis Anderson and Dave Meggett, who must let theGiants keep the ball. And there is Hostetler, who is agile, can run and has shown big-play potential. But who is a seven-year backup.

They call him Hoss (for Hostetler), although he looks like he should be called Myron. Earlier, Kelly joined Taylor to help judge a so-called beauty contest at a topless place. Hoss, meantime, is a studious fellow who had a 3.95 average at West Virginia and who wants to be a financial planner when he grows up. The problem he faces today is that if the Giants fall behind, there is a tendency to panic. And a panicking lifetime second-team quarterback could make for a Buffalo rout.

Actually, I think the game has the potential to be a good one, if the Giants' defense really steps up. But here's a more likely scenario. Late in the game, newsman Peter Jennings cuts in with some gruesome war scene, more bad news than we can comfortably handle, and when the TV switches back to Jim Kelly hitting James Lofton for the game-winning touchdown, it's going to be very hard for a lot of people to care.

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