Super Bowl foes often too tense for best games

I'm not the first guy to write this and I probably won't be the last, but what almost every one of the first 20 Super Bowls has needed is a choreographer! Usually the teams take things so seriously they flatten out from the tension and don't play anything close to their best football. They seem to approach the game as though it had been made in a munitions factory and was already ticking.

One thing that could make this year's game different is that quarterbacks Phil Simms of the New York Giants and John Elway of the Denver Broncos are game-breaking types with the ability to keep things exciting at all times. The problem is that there's no guarantee the rest of the team won't play like a violin that has been left out in the rain.

A California professor once put a stopwatch on the game and came up with seven minutes of bona fide action. He said the rest of the time was spent in the huddle, at the line of scrimmage, and unpeeling from pileups.

If you call that entertainment, so is watching a character actor being fitted with a hairpiece.

The play-calling often starts out on the conservative side, and only reveals interesting wrinkles well into the game.

The old Baltimore Colts and the Dallas Cowboys once went 11 minutes before either team made a first down. Naturally everybody wrote how well both defenses played. But the truth is that it took that much time before each team lost its jitters and got into a good playing rhythm.

Even though the game is probably America's greatest one-day sports event in terms of attendance, hoopla, and media coverage, it is always oversold, overpublicized, and overproduced.

But quarterback Joe Namath of the New York Jets did create a sense of theater in 1969 when he guaranteed reporters, at an impromptu poolside press conference, a victory over the heavily favored Colts. The press, starved for a steak after eating hamburger quotes all week, played Namath's remarks up big.

But basically the Super Bowl, because of its structured interview policy, can't possibly generate the close personal contact writers have with baseball players at World Series time.

Another problem is that the National Football League waits two weeks after its conference championship games before it stages the Super Bowl. It also has a penchant for what might be called prefabricated media conferences. Interviews are set up in hotel ballrooms. Each coach appears for maybe 30 minutes, then the next hour is spent with selected players brought down from their rooms and placed at separate tables like Miss America contestants.

The result is that most reporters and columnists get approximately the same material. And by the time the NFL gets its extravaganza on stage, it has been buried under so many clich'es that only a swaggering personality like Namath or a really exciting contest can save it.

That is also also why, over the years, the Super Bowl has become more of a happening than a game.

Yet Super Bowl Sunday enjoys such a hold on the American public that freeways empty during the time it takes to play this game as millions of men and women park in front of their television sets and refuse to move.

Poor Grandma, she might just as well accept the fact that for three-plus hours on Super Bowl Sunday, she's going to have to answer anything that rings!

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