Despite Kathie Lee, AFC ready to sing new tune

January 31, 1995|By JOHN EISENBERG

MIAMI -- The last time the AFC won the Super Bowl, Barry Manilow was the "hot" entertainer chosen to sing the national anthem. So it's been a couple of years.

Some serious football observers thought they detected destiny in this year's selection of Kathie Lee Gifford, the corniest choice since Manilow. Could this dose of schmaltz provide the antidote to some mysterious curse Barry had unwittingly laid on the AFC a year and a decade ago?

All hopes were --ed when Kathie Lee was booed big-time upon being introduced in all her perkiness before kickoff Sunday at Joe Robbie Stadium. The fans wanted no part of her. Her face dropped like the peso.

If she was indeed carrying some spell, it was broken.

And then, of course, it turned out that the AFC representative again was no match for the NFC's best. To put it mildly. The San Diego Chargers were in the game legitimately against the San Francisco 49ers for precisely three plays, breaking the old record of seven held by the New England Patriots.

The 49ers scored a touchdown in the first 84 seconds and another 211 seconds later. That was it. The last 55 minutes of the game had all the suspense of a "Barney" episode.

Of all the routs in all the stadiums in all the places the Super Bowl has visited, this one was the worst. The biggest joke. It was a blatantly telegraphed punch. Anyone, even Kathie Lee, could see that the Chargers were no match for the 49ers, that they were going to get pummeled.

Even the Chargers could see it coming; they just couldn't say anything for fear of being hit by the league with a "failure to hype" violation, a terrible crime for which punishment is five hours in a locked room listening to a tape of Paul Tagliabue explain the latest collective bargaining agreement. So they didn't say a word.

The only hope that the game would be close, as we heard again and again during the week, was that "you never know what's going to happen." Well, we knew this time. The Bolts were dolts. Nuts, actually, with a big hole in the middle (of their pass defense).

Score-wise, they had no chance.

L It was almost enough to make you long for the Buffalo Bills.

Or wish that you were at the Grey Cup.

As Deion Sanders so eloquently put it, "We knew we were going to kick their butts, but we couldn't say anything, you know."

(As a card-carrying member of the "they" the Chargers kept disparaging all week for giving them no chance, I was excited about the possibility of hearing them admit in the locker room afterward, "You know, you were right. We were bums. We didn't deserve to be here." Alas, having spent all week watching NFL Films videos, they talked about courage and honor, blah, blah.)

As weightless as the game was, it did serve one purpose: It provided a low point. You bet it did. That was the nadir. The mud at the bottom of the hole in which the AFC has resided since Barry Manilow was hot.

From this lowest low point -- Stan Humphries! -- the Super Bowl can only get better. More competitive. More interesting.

At this point, it is a borderline case of fraud being perpetrated on the sporting public. Joe Friday would arrest the league in a second. But things are about to start changing.

One day soon, the sun is going to rise in the west, man is going to bite dog and Tagliabue is going to go out on the road as a stand-up comic.

One day soon, the AFC is going to win the Super Bowl.

In the next two years, say.

Mark it down.

You can see it coming. The NFC is down to two teams, the 49ers and Cowboys. The 49ers are a one-year salary cap miracle; they're a fabulous team, yes, but keeping them together will be difficult. And Steve Young is 33 and Jerry Rice 32, so they're not going to get any better than they are now. As for the Cowboys, who are going to lose another round of free agents this off-season, they're going in the wrong direction.

After those two teams, the rest of the NFC, including all nine teams in the famed "Black and Blue" division, is a mediocrity. The Bears and Lions and Saints have nothing on anyone in the AFC.

Meanwhile, the AFC is marked by a set of rising young teams. The Patriots have the league's next great quarterback, Drew Bledsoe. The Steelers have an NFC-style team, with a strong running game and a legitimately tough defense. With a better quarterback, they could win this game. The Chargers, as pitiful as they were Sunday, are one of the league's youngest teams; they will continue to get better.

It is no secret what is happening. The Patriots are coached by Bill Parcells, an NFC refugee who knows how to put together a Super Bowl winner. The Chargers' general manager is Bobby Beathard, another NFC refugee who won Super Bowls with the Redskins.

The cornerstones of the NFC's dominance gradually are moving to the other side.

Pretty soon, the unthinkable is going to happen.

The AFC is going to win.

Either that or Kathie Lee just ruined the game for another 11 years.

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