LAKE MINNETONKA, Minn. -- I want to say just two words about this Super Bowl: ice fishing.
We are treading on new ground, although not on thin ice. The ice is about 2 feet thick where I sit, in the middle of what they call an ice house -- which is a zippered tent with a plastic floor nailed into the lake/glacier -- where a couple of friends and I are, yes, ice fishing.
No one has ever said the actual words "ice fishing" at a Super Bowl site before. At most Super Bowl locations, you like your ice crushed in, say, a margarita while poolside. That is not conducive to serious thinking, however, whereas ice fishing (no, that's not fishing for ice; you can get all the ice you need walking out your front door) gives you time to consider the meaning of life, not to mention permafrost. I went in search of the meaning of the Super Bowl.
So, I stare down in the hole -- we've got four holes, and we caught one fish, but more on that later -- and just do what fishermen do, except I'm doing it at minus-30 wind chill while sporting long underwear and four pairs of socks. I'm wearing this wool cap, which says on it, "I Love New Orleans." Is that a message?
Anyway, the wind is blowing about 40 mph, and the tent feels like Toto and I are about to leave Kansas when it hits me:
Redskins by 14.
You bet is what everyone says here. You say: Did you ever consider wearing underwear on your head? They say: You bet.
They also say whatever it is that will make a visitor feel comfortable. Minnesotans want us to like them. They want us to like each and every one of them. If trying hard matters, this is the best Super Bowl site ever. Everyone's nice. It's like a giant Up With People convention. Ask for a wakeup call, and the operator says, "Have a delightfully refreshing rest." It's the kind of place where even Thurman Thomas should feel good about himself.
Can we talk about Thomas before we get to why the Redskins can't lose? Did I hear a "you bet"?
Thomas had the quote of the week. When suggesting that he himself was the best all-around running back in the world, if not the pure runner that Barry Sanders is, he said resignedly of best all-around, "It's a title I'll have to live with."
That was one day after he stiffed the press because he thought teammate Jim Kelly was getting too much ink. He's a sensitive type. It seems that offensive coordinator Ted Marchibroda had said that Kelly was the Michael Jordan of the Bills, to which Thomas said: "I guess we have two Michael Jordans."
How can the Redskins cope with that?
(I'll give you the answer in a minute, but first I've got to tell you a little more about ice fishing. It's the dumbest sport since synchronized swimming. Here's what you do: You sit out in your ice house and you drop a line down a hole. They've got this spring-action device wherein a flag pops up if you get a bite. Then, you reel in the fish. That's it. Don't look for any Ted Williams guide to ice fishing. You get the fish, and you throw it out onto the ice where, in about 15 seconds, or the length of the typical Bills drive, the fish is frozen solid. We caught a northern pike, threw it on the ice and it turned into a rockfish. The only hard part is knowing when the ice first becomes thick enough to support the ice house. Our guide Brian says: "Some moron always goes out first, and if he doesn't sink, others follow.")
Where were we? Oh, football. Here's what the Bills have going: The better quarterback, the better running back (heck, the greatest ever), unmatched defensive players (Bruce Smith and Cornelius Bennett), the lack-of-respect factor, artificial surface favoring their speed and a pair of Michael Jordans.
Ordinarily, that would be enough. But it isn't. First of all, the Bills play in the AFC (Awful Football Conference), which has lost seven Ultimate Games in a row. Also, the Redskins defend against the no-huddle better than anyone in football, including Denver, which held Buffalo to 10 points in the AFC championship game. Also, the Redskins' offense should hammer the Bills' defense, which has weaknesses and which is nicked up anyway. The quick-draw offense leaves the Bills' defense on the field too long against the Redskins' alternating grind-'em-out/big-play game. Nobody has stopped them yet.
"We don't necessarily have the better players, per se," Matt Millen says of his team. "But we have players who fit."
And there's this: Nothing ever seems to go wrong for this team. In practice the other day, Mark Rypien was seen writhing on the ground, grasping his ankle, sure he had heard this giant pop, thinking it was all over. That night, he was seen running for a cab. He's fine. So are the Redskins. You bet.