With coaches, different approaches

January 29, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

ATLANTA -- As if they needed any further delineation, the acute differences between Super Bowl coaches Jimmy Johnson and Marv Levy were in evidence again yesterday.

Johnson, of the Dallas Cowboys, was intense and arrogant.

Levy, of the Buffalo Bills, was low key and engaging.

Johnson was self-consumed, operating at his self-promoting best.

Levy was enlightened, humorous and reflective.

Rarely have two individuals sharing the same stage been such profound opposites.

This stage, of course, is Super Bowl XXVIII. And the fact that Johnson beat Levy decisively at this juncture a year ago fuels the theory that it will happen again tomorrow, when the Cowboys and Bills tangle at the Georgia Dome.

Each took his turn at the podium yesterday for one final fling with the media. To summarize the difference was to see how each answered the same inane question.

The question, from some radio wit, concerned underwear. "Boxers or briefs, Marv?"

"We don't reveal intimate secrets of the locker room," Levy said to laughter.

When it was Johnson's turn an hour later, he had only a tasteless reply.

One more time, Levy waded through the barrage of questions about the Bills' record for Super Bowl futility -- three losses in a row and counting. He did so without anger. Reaching for perspective instead, he told this story:

"I have a guy who calls in my radio show every week and says,'Coach, I want you to know you're not doing the right thing. You've got to tell your players this is war -- football is war, it's war, I'm telling you.'

"I keep telling him that Artie Donovan has been in both, and believe me, football isn't war. But he kept it up and kept it up. So last week I finally told the guy, 'I've done you a disservice. I checked back in history and interviewed a bunch of guys who landed on the beaches of Iwo Jima and Normandy, and when they went in, they were all yelling, 'This is football.' "

The only prediction Levy would make was, "We will be there and we will be on time."

But Levy did break with his three-year Super Bowl tradition of refusing to pose with the Lombardi Trophy.

"I refused to pose because I was in a hurry to get back," he said, "and I thought it was sort of presumptuous. But in order not to get that question asked next year, I'll pose with it this time."

Next year? It was the closest Levy would come to sounding like Johnson, who took the Cowboys to the Super Bowl last season in his fourth year as coach.

In a week that Johnson spent telling everyone how great he is, he admitted to one mistake.

It came in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl, which he lost, as coach of Miami, to an underdog Penn State team. On Thursday, Johnson essentially blamed the defeat on his Miami quarterback, Vinny Testaverde. Yesterday, he backtracked, however slightly, by calling it "a little misinterpretation."

"I said I made a mistake," Johnson said, "and the mistake was not making a change in the quarterback position for that game because [Testaverde] had been injured and had not prepared as much as Geoff Torretta, the backup quarterback.

"This was no reflection on Vinny because anybody that knows me personally knows how I feel about Vinny Testaverde. . . . It was an admission on my part of making a mistake, and you can write that one down because you won't hear me say that very often."

Johnson is clearly the center of his own world. At one point in the interview, he said he uses reporters to direct messages elsewhere.

"I don't talk to you [in interviews]," he said. "I talk to our players, I talk to our fans, and occasionally something goes to the other team. In my opinion -- and no offense, because all of you are fantastic people, I'm sure -- but I talk through you, not to you.

"What am I having right now? I'm having a nice team meeting. So some of my statements and some of my phrases, really if it helps you, I could care less.

"But if our players hear it through you and it makes them play better, then I've accomplished what I set out to do. And in the meantime, if I plant a little seed that happens to go to the opponent, and that seed of doubt grows, I've accomplished what I set out to do."

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