When picking winner, NFC always Super safe bet Eight straight and why? Pick your favorite theory

January 25, 1993|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

Are you ready for some hype?

The countdown is down to six days before Super Bowl XXVII next Sunday at the Rose Bowl between the Dallas Cowboys and the Buffalo Bills.

It's called the biggest spectacle in American sports, a game that draws the highest TV ratings, has turned into a virtual midwinter holiday and is analyzed so much that it's easy to forget it's just a football game.

It has become such a must-see event that it doesn't matter that everybody seems to know in advance which team will win.

And if the past is prologue, the NFC representative -- Dallas -- is going to win.

After all, the NFC has won eight straight and 10 of the past 11. That's why the Cowboys are favored by a touchdown. Bettors don't seem to care that the Bills went 4-0 against the NFC in the regular season.

The NFC is like a blue-chip stock that pays dividends every year. Not only have NFC teams won eight straight Super Bowls, but they also have covered the spread in seven of those games.

Only two of the past eight -- the San Francisco 49ers' 20-16 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII and the New York Giants' 20-19 triumph against the Bills in Super Bowl XXV --were even competitive.

The other six scores were 38-16, 46-10, 39-20, 42-10, 55-10 and 37-24. Average margin: 43-15.

Why does the NFC win the Super Bowl so easily?

After all, the 28 teams scout the same college players. They don't draft by conference, they draft by record. All except the fifth-place teams play four teams from the other conference each year. Coaches and players move easily between conferences.

Back in the days before the NFL and AFL merged in 1970, the Super Bowls were something of a crusade for the upstart AFL. Now the conference designations are virtually meaningless.

Yet the NFC, which won only twice in the 1970s, began to dominate in the 1980s and has continued to do so this decade.

The NFC's edge has been noted on Wall Street, where it is pointed out that the stock market usually declines if an original AFL team wins. By that standard, it's good for the country for the NFC team to win.

Even pro football people can't figure out why the NFC dominates the Super Bowl.

Dick Steinberg, general manager of the New York Jets, said, "The theory a while back was that teams like the 49ers, Bears, Giants and Redskins were down in the late 1970s and had all the high draft choices and got the right coaches in place to get the right chemistry going. That theory is kind of antiquated now."

Carl Peterson, general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs, said, "I've been asked that at least a hundred times. I don't know if there's any scientific reasons why they've been more successful."

One of the most popular theories is that the sport just runs in cycles.

"I've always believed it's cyclical," Peterson said. "The NFC East has been on a long ride, but if you're a percentage guy, you're going to say that sooner or later, the AFC can jump up. Two years ago, with the exception of a field goal that was wide right, Buffalo would have won."

George Young, general manager of the New York Giants, remembers when he was scouting for the Miami Dolphins in the 1970s and people were asking why the AFC was the dominant conference.

"I feel it goes in cycles," he said. "I went through this in the 1970s when I was asked questions from the opposite side. I don't think there's any magic to the NFC."

Young said teams concentrate more on intra-divisional rivalries than on the NFC vs. the AFC. "Each team is trying to match up in its division and maybe a certain type of personnel matches up well in a division. Maybe doing that doesn't match up well against the other conference," he said. "Most of our decisions are really made on the basis of matching the personnel in the division first."

It's noteworthy that the members of the celebrated quarterback class of 1983 -- John Elway, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, Tony Eason and Ken O'Brien -- all went to AFC teams. All but O'Brien went to the Super Bowl and the other four are 0-7 in Super Bowls. It could be that the AFC teams survived with superior quarterbacks, but ran into trouble against more physical NFC teams.

Another theory is that a series of personnel moves in the late 1970s all favored the NFC. Bobby Beathard left Miami in 1978, became general manager of the Washington Redskins and hired Joe Gibbs as his coach the next year. Young left Miami in 1979 and rebuilt the Giants. Bill Walsh left Stanford for the 49ers in 1979 and drafted Joe Montana. And Mike Ditka took over the Chicago Bears in 1982.

Those four teams have managed to win 10 Super Bowls for the NFC since 1981. The 49ers won four, the Redskins three, the Giants two and the Bears one.

Ron Wolf, general manager of the Green Bay Packers, said, "I can't explain it [NFC dominance], but you've had guys who have really dominated the game like Walsh and Gibbs."

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