Pasadena, Calif. — Network television is satisfied with the participants; President Reagan couldn't be more pleased; and all those Madison Avenue types with expense accounts can't wait to get to Pasadena, sight of Super Bowl XVII on Sunday, Jan. 30.
It will be the Washington Redskins against the Miami Dolphins - two aggressive football teams with just enough larceny in their hearts on defense to suggest that this is one Super Bowl that won't be a bore. My advice is to ignore the fact that Miami beat Washington in an exhibition game at home back on Aug. 14.
The Redskins, under National Football League Coach of the Year Joe Gibbs, have learned to do a lot of things right. When they eliminated the Dallas Cowboys 31-17 in the NFC championship game, they completely controlled the tempo for the afternoon. Washington's offensive line proved so formidable that it consistently knocked the Cowboys back on their heels. While Dallas Coach Tom Landry may have had a corner on experience, this is one time when emotion scored more points.
What the Redskins probably do best is work hard, fit together, and keep their turnovers to a minimum. In Gibbs, they have a coach who sometimes teaches a Bible-study class and who has the gift of getting players to listen to him when he talks. Joe is not a personality type exactly, but a man whose sincerity touches people.
When nobody was excited enough by Washington's offensive line to give it a catchy nickname, the players created one for themselves - the Hogs! Although none of them ever saw a meal he didn't like, the name refers to a nose-to-the-ground ethic.
Anyway, they helped make a world-class runner of veteran John Riggins, whose powerful thrusts into opposing defenses stop just short of bending steel. During the playoffs Riggins averaged 140 yards a game rushing, and he hit that figure on the nose against Dallas while also scoring a pair of touchdowns.
In quarterback Joe Theismann, a 10-year NFL veteran, the Redskins have a field general who has been criticized more often during his career than the US Postal Service. When people tire of knocking Joe for never throwing to anyone but his primary receivers, they can always go back to saying that he scrambles too much or that his arm isn't strong enough.
But while Theismann might not resemble what a sculptor would prefer to see in a passer, Joe can make things happen. When everything was on the line Saturday he completed 12 of 20 attempts for 150 yards and one touchdown while directing a well-balanced attack that kept the Cowboys playing catch-up all afternoon.
Defensive end Dexter Manley is another who can rise to the occasion, as he did against Dallas with a big second period sack that sidelined starting quarterback Danny White and then a key deflection of a fourth quarter pass that set up Washington's clinching touchdown.
For those who noticed Miami's week-to-week improvement, all through the playoffs, there is the feeling that the Dolphins may be peaking at just the right time. The Miami defense, which shut out the New York Jets 14-0 in the AFC championship game, was so good that you wondered if they didn't have a list of all the Jets' plays and in what sequence they were to be used.
The Dolphins' defense, ranked first in the NFL this season, is known as the Killer Bees, a reminder that at least six players on that unit have either first or last names that begin with the letter B. But an inside linebacker named A. J. Duhe actually had the most to do with shooting down New York in the AFC championship game.
In a move designed to confuse the Jets, Miami occasionally switched A. J. from inside linebacker to middle linebacker to defensive end - and the strategy obviously worked. Although Duhe had logged only two interceptions in six previous NFL seasons, he picked off three of Richard Todd's aerials, the last of which he turned into a 35-yard touchdown run. If Miami is able to jam Washington's receivers at the line of scrimmage the way it did New York's, the Redskins are apt to have to settle for the same fate that befell the Jets.
Offensively, the Dolphins are led by quarterback David Woodley who is still learning his trade and still throwing interceptions, but who has had some remarkable games nevertheless. What makes Woodley so tough to defend isn't that he scrambles, but that when he sees an opening in the secondary that he can exploit by running he'll take instant advantage of it.
Simply stated, Miami's strengths are its defense; its ability to improvise on offense; and the fact that Don Shula has already coached in four Super Bowls; one with Baltimore and three with the Dolphins. He has won two, a 14-7 defeat of the Redskins in 1973 and a 24-7 demoliton of the Minnesota Vikings in 1974.
Washington's strengths are virtually the same, except for the relative inexperience of Gibbs, who is going to his first Super Bowl and has never had to deal with all of the big game's attendant pressures before.
Of course Gibbs won't be throwing any passes or making any tackles either, but he will be sending in plays from the bench to Theismann. Oh, one more thing - since their 0-5 start in 1981 the Redskins have won 19 games while losing only 4, including an 11-1 record (counting playoff games) this season.