In rush to pick winner? Look at ground game

On The NFL

January 24, 1999|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

In the Super Bowl, the quarterback matchup is usually the marquee attraction.

Yet the team that wins the rushing battle is usually the one that wins the game.

Of the first 32 Super Bowls, 29 have been won by the team that won the battle on the ground.

The ground war in Super Bowl XXXIII next Sunday will be particularly intriguing because it will match the league's top two rushers, Terrell Davis of Denver and Jamal Anderson of Atlanta.

That has never happened before in the Super Bowl and hasn't happened in a championship game since 1948, when Philadelphia's Steve Van Buren dueled Charlie Trippi of the Chicago Cardinals in a snowstorm.

Emmitt Smith of the Dallas Cowboys is the only rushing champion to play in a Super Bowl, which he did three times. Twice, he faced Buffalo's Thurman Thomas, who was ranked third.

Last year's Super Bowl pitted the No. 2 rusher, Davis, against Green Bay's Dorsey Levens, who was ranked fourth. Davis won that battle and the game.

All this explains why this Super Bowl may be closer than expected. Denver is favored by a touchdown, but the Broncos are facing a team that can run and stop the run.

The Falcons finished second in stopping the run and the Broncos third, so Davis and Anderson will face tough run defenses.

As Minnesota coach Dennis Green said, "Once you get to the playoffs, the teams that run and stop the run are the ones that win."

Palmer's one-liners

Former Jacksonville Jaguars assistant Chris Palmer had a reputation for being low-key as an assistant coach, but he flashed several one-liners when he was named Cleveland Browns coach.

When asked if he's the type of coach who sleeps in the office, he said, "I'd much rather sleep with my wife."

After a well-timed pause, he added, "I've slept on the couch a couple of times. But not in the office."

He also obscured the fact he was the Browns' second choice by saying he had read Paul Brown's autobiography, and by questioning the layers of bureaucracy in Art Modell's Ravens organization.

You can never go wrong in Cleveland by praising Brown and knocking Modell.

By contrast, Brian Billick was gracious in his remarks about Cleveland when he was named Ravens coach.

Palmer also showed no lack of confidence.

Noting that Jacksonville became a playoff team in its second year, Palmer said, "What's wrong with the first year?"

There's little history of a football rivalry between Baltimore and Cleveland. The teams played only eight times in the heyday of the Colts from 1956 to 1971 -- the year before Bob Irsay bought the team -- although three of the meetings were in the playoffs and one was a title game.

But with the two teams in the same division, the rivalry between the two cities should develop quickly. Palmer may help keep it lively.

Back in San Francisco

How hard is it to stay retired in the NFL?

Just ask Bill Walsh.

He supposedly retired as San Francisco 49ers coach after the 1988 season. He later went to Stanford, spent a year as a 49ers offensive consultant and became the team's general manager last week.

His return probably means that Eddie DeBartolo Jr. is back running the show, even though he supposedly hasn't been reinstated by the league yet after stepping down in the wake of a Louisiana gambling investigation.

Although DeBartolo and Walsh had their differences -- DeBartolo stripped Walsh of the president's title after a 1987 playoff loss to Minnesota -- his answer to most problems has been to turn to Walsh.

"I just couldn't return to the 49ers in a subordinate role," Walsh said. "I think that's understandable. Not that I haven't worked well with others and for others. But the role changed to where I can truly express my beliefs and then implement those beliefs."

Of running the draft, he said, "This is one of my key responsibilities. This area I believe I have a real good track record and I think I can sustain it."

One of his jobs will be as mentor to Terry Donahue, the former UCLA coach who was hired as director of player personnel. Donahue is supposed to eventually replace Walsh.

Walsh has a tough go-around this time. The team is aging and is more than $20 million over next year's projected salary cap.

Strife in Tennessee

These are not happy times for the Tennessee Titans.

Coach Jeff Fisher was forced by general manager Floyd Reese to fire three assistant coaches. Fisher got in a screaming match with Reese and even traveled unannounced to Houston to meet with owner Bud Adams in a vain attempt to get the decision reversed.

Fisher would only say, "Lots of things go on behind closed doors. There are agreements and there are disagreements."

Said Reese: "It doesn't make a difference what line of work you're talking about, people don't always agree. But that doesn't mean it's a strained relationship or a problem."

Giants: no second thoughts

Dan Reeves is in the Super Bowl two years after being fired by the New York Giants, but the Giants have no regrets.

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