AFC's stupor bowl 11 and counting: Some blame a less physical style, others cite a down cycle. But the bottom line is that the NFC hasn't lost the Super Bowl since 1984.

January 23, 1996|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Every year NFL officials huddle and throw around theories on why the National Football Conference dominates the American Football Conference in the Super Bowl.

And even after further review, there is still no definitive answer.

"It is one question people in the league cannot answer," said Ernie Accorsi, assistant general manager of the New York Giants. "Some of the great minds like George Young [Giants general manager] and Bobby Beathard [San Diego Chargers general manager] are still searching.

"It's not like baseball where you have two different leagues with different strike zones, or one league is better at hitting the fastball, and one league throws more off-speed stuff. We draft from the same pool. We use the same free-agent market. It just doesn't figure out."

The NFC certainly has its own formula, a physical approach that has led the conference to 11 straight Super Bowl wins. Representatives of the AFC say the streak is a cycle, reminiscent of the five consecutive titles won by the AFC in the 1970s.

But this is no trend, and this is the reality: The NFL is full of parity, but the NFC is clearly better at the top level. Except for Joe Montana leading the San Francisco 49ers on a last-minute drive in San Francisco's 20-16 win over Cincinnati in Super Bowl XXIII, and Buffalo's Scott Norwood missing wide right on a 47-yard field-goal attempt in the final seconds in the Giants' 20-19 victory against the Bills in Super Bowl XXV, the Big Show has been a Big Bore.

Some recent scores: 49ers 55, Denver Broncos 10. Dallas Cowboys 52, Buffalo 17. Chicago Bears 46, New England Patriots 10.

Super Bowl XXX shapes up as another mismatch Sunday with the Cowboys 13 1/2 -point favorites over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Whatever happened to that old saying about "On any given Sunday . . ."

"Until we win a Super Bowl, the AFC will always be looked upon as inferior," said Kevin Greene, the Steelers' outside linebacker.

The last time the AFC won was in 1984 when the Raiders defeated the Washington Redskins, 38-9.

"Has it been that long?" said Bill Tobin, the Indianapolis Colts vice president.

Former Giants quarterback Phil Simms has a simple answer.

"The NFC has a more physical style," said Simms. "The AFC plays with more finesse. Then when the styles clash, power overcomes finesse."

"The front seven is much stronger throughout the NFC compared to the AFC," said Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, a former offensive coordinator with the 49ers. "As the saying goes, you win it up front."

The shaping of the NFC's domination began in 1981 when the NFC drafted linebackers Lawrence Taylor, Mike Singletary, Hugh Green, E. J. Junior and Rickey Jackson. The Bears drafted Richard Dent in 1983, and added Wilber Marshall two years later.

Soon everyone wanted a Taylor-type player, and then opposing coaches had to find someone to block his clones. Giants coach Bill Parcells and Redskins coach Joe Gibbs started beefing up their offensive lines.

And adding another tight end.

And going with heavy jumbo packages to muscle up.

Meanwhile, the AFC was building on speed, finesse and deception. Denver used the shotgun formation, misdirection plays and relied on the arm of John Elway. Buffalo went with the no-huddle offense and four-receiver set spreading out defenses.

"We may have the biggest offensive line in pro football, but a lot of teams in the NFC are gaining on us," said Dallas guard Nate Newton. "By playing in a more physical conference, you become more physical by championship time."

With some apologies to the 49ers, the NFC champion in the past 11 years has been a running, ball-control team that has dominated the line of scrimmage in Super Bowls, teams like the Giants, Redskins and Cowboys.

Even the 49ers ran well against the Chargers in last year's 49-26 rout, but they used Steve Young's arm to set up the legs of running back Ricky Watters.

Not that the NFC hasn't played well on the other side of the ball as well.

"Those NFC teams always play great defense while the AFC has given up a lot of points in Super Bowls," said Tobin. "Maybe it was because we just ran into outstanding offensive teams. But teams that can run and play sound defense this time of year are hard to beat."

The style theory seems more valid than any other. Denver was a classic case of a smaller defense getting worn out as the game went on. The Broncos had leads in two of their three Super Bowl losses during this streak.

Bills receiver Steve Tasker has said the NFC had better quarterbacks during the past decade, but the AFC has had Elway, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly and Tony Eason, all from that great quarterback class of 1983 who are also 0-9 in Super Bowls.

"A team needs a hot quarterback going into the playoffs," said Tobin, with another theory.

But what were Kelly and Elway?

"Two hot quarterbacks, but one [Kelly] played with a great team that got overmatched a couple of times, and the other [Elway] played for a team that was finesse and undersized," said former Raiders coach John Madden.

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