Coaches hold steady in approaches Johnson takes grip, Levy runs tight ship Super Bowl XXVII

January 30, 1993|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES -- Contrary to popular perception, Marv Levy isn't the only Super Bowl coach who likes to read.

Why, Jimmy Johnson, the single-minded coach of the Dallas Cowboys, was talking just yesterday about the book he read last week.

It was titled "Flow", and it was about the psychology of the optimal experience. Johnson particularly appreciated a segment about a surgeon who ate the same breakfast and drove the same route to the hospital on days when he would perform major surgery.

"He did it that way for a reason," Johnson said. "He didn't want anything distracting him, as far as his focus and what he had to do."

Welcome to Super Bowl XXVII. This isn't major surgery, but it is a nonstop, weeklong bombardment of the senses. It is a writhing, thriving monument to distractions, the kind that Johnson and Levy, the literate coach of the Buffalo Bills, have tried hard to avoid. Two days before the big game, there was no controversy to be found.

"Prior to coming to Los Angeles, we heard all kinds of stories about distractions and how that would be a negative for our football team," Johnson said, "especially since Buffalo has been here a couple of times and knows what to prepare for. Talking to our players, I don't think it's been as big a distraction as what we anticipated. I feel like it's gone really very smooth."

Johnson headed off one potential Super Bowl distraction when he nudged defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt toward the Chicago Bears within hours after the Cowboys beat the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game. That Wannstedt agreed to take the head coaching job in Chicago before the Cowboys left Texas was a great relief to Johnson.

"I can't think of anything I'd want changed," Johnson said at his final media gathering before tomorrow's game. "I couldn't ask for anything more."

One year after the Bills grumbled their way into Super Bowl XXVI -- and then disintegrated further in a 37-24 loss to the Washington Redskins -- Levy made every effort to ensure it wouldn't happen again.

He lectured his players daily on the evils of being outspoken. He instructed the Bills to tone down their comments and seek a lower profile.

Perhaps mindful that they had been beaten handily by the dull and mundane Redskins a year ago, the Bills obliged.

"There isn't going to be one thing that distracts our football team," Levy said. "Nothing . . . nothing."

The Bills had opportunities to play the distraction game, as it turned out. When the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported in mid-week that Bills linebacker Darryl Talley had been punched in the nose by Magic Johnson's bodyguard at a Hollywood nightclub last Sunday night, Talley-gate was born. With denials all around and no evidence, it disappeared almost overnight.

Then there was running back Thurman Thomas, who misplaced his helmet in last year's Super Bowl, sat out two plays and had to relive the embarrassment several times during the week. Thomas, however, handled his dilemma with grace and humor, once distributing small, plastic Bills helmets to the media with the warning not to lose them.

One more potential problem arose Thursday when an Associated Press

photographer took pictures of children trying to peek through a seam in a curtain to watch the Bills' closed practice at the University of Southern California. The Bills demanded the film, ultimately got it, and the issue was dropped.

"I think our players handled themselves wonderfully," Levy said. "They've been responsive. I think Talley answered question after question about a cheap-shot story. . . . My reaction to it was, 'Nice, clumsy try' to whoever came up with it. I think Thurman Thomas handled the fact he missed two plays because he misplaced his helmet. Ever misplace your keys or pencil or the key to your typewriter? He's handled that with grace. If he lost his helmet, so what? Two plays."

Asked if he felt the Fort Worth newspaper had fabricated the Talley story as a means to undermine the Bills, Levy said he did not.

Then, as he apparently felt himself being drawn back into the stale controversy, he said, "Let me put it to rest with this: I don't feel that it's a very credible story."

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