Does Cowboys mystique keep those sets on?

PRO FOOTBALL

January 30, 1994|By VITO STELLINO

The favored NFC team was shooting for its second straight Super Bowl victory.

The underdog AFC team was looking down the barrel at its fourth Super Bowl loss.

Sound familiar?

Change the name of the teams, and today's Super Bowl sounds like a repeat of Super Bowl XXIV four years ago between the San Francisco 49ers and the Denver Broncos.

That's why there will be a few nervous folks at NBC today keeping their fingers crossed and hoping for a close game.

The 55-10 San Francisco victory over the Broncos in January 1990 drew a 39.0 rating (percentage of TV sets tuned in) and was the lowest-rated Super Bowl in more than two decades.

That's why this is the year the NFL should find out whether it makes any difference what the matchup is in the Super Bowl.

This has to be one of the toughest sells in Super Bowl history -- the rematch of the Dallas Cowboys' 52-17 victory over the Buffalo Bills.

What NBC and most fans wanted was Joe Montana in the Super Bowl -- preferably against Steve Young and his old San Francisco 49ers teammates.

Even Montana against the Cowboys would have been an attraction.

Instead, the Cowboys are back and poised to deal the Bills their fourth straight Super Bowl loss.

Of course, upsets do happen. This is the 25th anniversary of Joe Namath's "guarantee" in Super Bowl III.

But it's hard to sell the idea in advance that there will be an upset.

Even in Atlanta, which is playing host to its first Super Bowl, they're not thrilled with the matchup.

"I think it probably takes some of the luster off it," said Jim Kitchell, a member of Atlanta's Super Bowl Host Committee.

The only thing that might save NBC is the mystique of the Cowboys. Love 'em or hate 'em, there's no NFL team with a bigger following.

Last year's Super Bowl game between the Cowboys and Bills drew a record audience of 133.4 million, topping the mark of 127 million set in 1986, when the Chicago Bears captured the nation's fancy and clobbered the New England Patriots, 46-10.

The rating for last year's game was 45.1, the highest since the New York Giants' 39-20 victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXI attracted a 45.8 rating.

The Super Bowl record rating of 49.1 was set at the end of the 1981 season when the San Francisco 49ers beat the Cincinnati Bengals, 26-21, in Super Bowl XVI.

Even though it had the record rating, that game only drew the ninth-largest audience -- 110 million fans.

Since cable TV has siphoned off some of the audience, the 49.1 record is unlikely to be topped. But the audience is bigger because the population has grown.

All the NBC executives, from sports president Dick Ebersol on down, are insisting they're not unhappy with the matchup. They're trying to sell the idea it could even outdraw last year's game.

If they're right, it means the mystique of the Cowboys is alive and well, or that they could match the Colts and Bucs in the Super Bowl and it would attract a huge audience.

The Baltimore number

A letter in The Sun suggested last Sunday that Baltimore fans boycott the Super Bowl on TV because the city was bypassed in the expansion derby.

But if the conference championship games are any barometer, Baltimore fans haven't been turned off yet.

The ratings were virtually identical to last year's for the conference title games.

The AFC title game got a 23.8 rating last year and a 22.5 this year. The NFC game got a 27.4 rating last year and a 26.8 this year.

The number for the Super Bowl in Baltimore last year was 40.1.

The one week factor

If today's game is close, it'll be another sign that the league should stop taking a two-week break before it plays the Super Bowl.

The last time it played the Super Bowl the week after the conference title games, three years ago, the game came down to a missed field goal by Buffalo's Scott Norwood.

There's a feeling that the two-week break tends to throw at least one team off and contributes to the blowouts.

But the league is talking about going back to a two-week break next year when it cuts the number of bye weeks for each team from two to one.

Coach Marv Levy of the Bills said last week there's a "natural rise and peak" for the players in a one-week break.

"There is so much hype and hoopla that you become jaded by the end of two weeks," Levy said.

For the league, though, the more hoopla, the better.

The duel

If the Cowboys win, the trophy presentation could be as interesting as the game.

Owner Jerry Jones will want to make sure that he gets as much credit as coach Jimmy Johnson for the victory.

Watch to see if he hands the trophy to Johnson or keeps it himself.

Jones and Johnson always want to make sure they get their proper due for the Cowboys' success.

Jones was irritated at a Dallas paper a week ago when it ran a story on how the Cowboys were built and didn't mention his name. He figures he did as much as Johnson to build the team.

When the Cowboys showed up for their first media session on Monday after their arrival in Atlanta, Johnson was waiting to go to the podium when Jones jumped up to it first.

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