Super Bowl XVIII was supposedly going to be the type of game you put on film, then preserve in a time capsule for posterity's sake. Instead, it turned out to be a Super Bust, with the vaunted defending champion Washington Redskins going down to an ignominious 38-9 defeat at the hands of the Los Angeles Raiders, who became only the second team to win as many as three Super Bowls. (The Pittsburgh Steelers have won four.)
Sunday's massacre wasn't the worst defeat in a National Football League championship game, a dubious distinction held by an earlier Washington team which absorbed a shocking 73-0 loss to the Chicago Bears in 1940. It was however, the most one-sided game in the Super Bowl's 18-year history, more lopsided than even the first edition, which saw Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers exercise the NFL's superiority over the American Football League's Kansas City Chiefs, 35-10.
What an estimated 100 million TV viewers saw happen at Tampa Stadium would have given network ''technical difficulties'' a good name. It was one of those freakish occurrences in sport, wherein a truly excellent team somehow is totally dismantled.
How can one account for what took place?
Well, Washington Coach Joe Gibbs may have hit on part of the answer during a Super Bowl week press conference when he called the NFL season too long. Gibbs was specifically referring to the 16-game regular season, but the logic certainly can be applied to the playoffs as well. The Redskins' 19th game, in retrospect, was one too many for a team that had won 11 straight and had played superbly for so long. Or as L.A. linebacker Rod Martin succinctly put it: ''They were overdue to lose.''
If the Redskins' brilliance had flickered out, the Raiders' was only now reaching its ultimate luminesence. A clear case in point was the play of Marcus Allen, who was chosen the game's Most Valuable Player after rushing for a career-high 191 yards to break the Super Bowl mark of 166 set by Washington's John Riggins last year.
''Tom (Flores, the L.A. coach) says you want to reach your peak in the playoffs, and I think that's what we did tonight,'' said veteran guard Mickey Marvin.
Though a member of the Raider offense, Marvin was quick to tip his helmet to the team's tenacious defensive unit. ''That's where you win championships, and I honestly believe we have one of the greatest defenses of all time.''
On this day, there can be no dissenters. The Raiders did everything necessary to stop the league's highest scoring offense dead in its tracks.
First, of course, they had to halt Washington's piggish running attack. They did that, limiting the Redskins to a mere 90 yards on the ground, and holding Riggins to 64, thereby ending his streak of 100-yard playoff games at six.
Next, they had to contain two of the game's premier wide receivers. They did that, too, allowing Charlie Brown and Art Monk just one catch between them before the fourth quarter, when the rout was on.
Finally, the Raiders knew they couldn't allow mobile quarterback Joe Theismann to wreak havoc scrambling out of the pocket. This too was accomplished, as L.A. pinched off most of the escape hatches, leading to six sacks of Washington's harried field general, who normally is the picture of aplomb.
A number of reasons converged to explain this sudden defensive mastery.
For one, the Raiders were determined to avoid another defensive letdown of the kind that cost them a victory at Washington in the regular season's fifth week. L.A. led 35-20 in that contest, but gave up 17 points in the last 7 1/2 minutes.
It helped to have an extra week to prepare, since Redskin Coach Joe Gibbs likes to confuse people by employing a dizzying array of offensive formations, shifts, and men in motion.
''We got into Joe's thought patterns we knew them so well,'' said L.A. cornerback Mike Haynes, who was acquired in a November trade with New England.
Al Davis, the Raider owner, prizes good cornerbacks and jumped at the chance to get Haynes, even though he had been sitting out a contract dispute.
Haynes and Lester Hayes give L.A. the best man-to-man defenders in football, a fact that played a role in the Super Bowl's outcome.
''Washington is used to seeing teams play a zone defense,'' Haynes observed, ''but by playing man-to-man, Lester and I can stick close to their receivers and take away the sideline pattern.'' In doing so, the Raiders kept Brown and Monk under wraps and forced Theismann to seek out less dangerous targets. Thus it was that tight end Clint Didier, who had caught only nine passes during the regular season, wound up with a team-leading five grabs.
While the deep backs were doing a number on the Washington passing attack, the linemen and linebackers were clogging all the running lanes and pursuing with relentless fervor.
''We didn't give Riggins anyplace to run but outside,'' said defensive lineman Howie Long. ''And because John never gets stopped on the initial hit, we felt we had to swarm him.''
Long indicated that he and fellow defensive linemen Lyle Alzado and Reggie Kinlaw had become a little fed up hearing about the Hogs all week. This convoy of hefty blockers had become so famous the previous season that they grossed $ 150,000 selling pig paraphernalia under the firm name Super Hogs Inc.
''Who knows? Maybe we'll start marketing some T-shirts,'' said Long, who sensed the Raider line was potentially Riggins-proof. ''If you had to custom-order a line to stop him, we'd be it. We're all built like refrigerators , which gives us the leverage to get up underneath his blockers.''
Super Bowls historically are won by the team that makes the big plays, and on this occasion the Raiders seemed to be making all of them.
The first came just five minutes into the game, when third-stringer Derrick Jensen blocked a punt and fell on it in the end zone for a quick 7-0 Raider lead.
That was followed early in the second quarter by 12-yard touchdown pass to Cliff Branch set up by Jim Plunkett's 50-yard heave to the same speedy receiver two plays before. Score 14-0.
Mark Moseley kicked a 24-yard field goal at the end of a lengthy Redskin drive, and a 14-3 halftime deficit seemed a certainty until Los Angeles came up with the game's most stunning play.
With just 12 seconds remaining until the intermission, the Redskins gambled with a screen pass deep in their own territory only to see left reserve linebacker Jack Squirek intercept Theismann's toss into the left flat for a ''gift'' five-yard TD return and a 21-3 lead.
What Washington was doing making such a dangerous type of pass in the shadow of its own end zone is a source of wonderment, and is destined to be one of the most second-guessed calls in Super Bowl history.
''We didn't expect the obvious; they're too smart for that,'' said Haynes afterward. Squirek, who had had been sent in with specific instructions to watch for a screen play, saw Theismann pump fake a pass to his right, then fire toward where he thought Joe Washington was all alone in the left flat. The ball couldn't have been put on a bigger platter.
What little offensive life the 'Skins exhibited came on the opening drive of the second half, when a beautifully conceived 70-yard march culminated with Riggins's one-yard TD plunge. This was a day lined with frustrations, though, and sure enough the extra point was blocked.
At this juncture, one knew the die had been cast. Allen, who had been injured and did not face the Redskins in October, put the game on ice with two third-quarter TD jaunts before Chris Bahr mercifully ended the game's scoring with a chip-shot field goal late in the game.
For the versatile and fluid Allen, the second half served to showcase the talents that had been somewhat overshadowed by rookie stars Eric Dickerson and Curt Warner during the regular season
In the playoffs, however, Allen came on in typical Raider fashion, rushing for 121 yards against Pittsburgh, 154 against Seattle, and finally applying the coup de grace with the 191 against Washington. The highlight was a Super Bowl record 74-yard run, in which he ad-libbed by reversing direction and leaving a trail of frustrated Redskins in his wake.
It was a day for shaking heads - and for wondering when a defending champion would ever again look so bewitched, bothered, and bewildered.