WHETHER a bad rap or not, the National Football League has been stung this season by criticism that its games have become boring, with too many field goals, not enough offense, and a sense that there is far too much attrition and too little excellence and variety. These impressions might all be washed away with a scintillating Super Bowl, but after last weekend's conference championship games, no one is holding his breath.
The reason: Dallas and Buffalo will be reunited this Sunday in a Super Bowl rematch for which few yearned. Last January, the Cowboys dismantled the Bills, 52-17, and the rosters will be basically the same this time in Atlanta.
A place in the history books is already guaranteed, since this will mark the first time the same two teams have squared off in the championship game since the NFL agreed to include the old American Football League in its original Super Bowl, which was called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game in 1967.
Observers know the sad facts - that the game is too often a Super Bore and that Buffalo has lost the last three Super Bowls. But maybe this year's one-sided conference games (Dallas over San Francisco, 38-21, in the National Conference and Buffalo over Kansas City, 30-13, in the American) mean that the real excitement is still to come.
Rafer Johnson's special moment
Rafer Johnson shared an especially poignant story about the power of sports upon accepting this year's Theodore Roosevelt Award, which the National Collegiate Athletic Association presents annually as its top lifetime achievement honor. Johnson, the 1960 Olympic decathlon champion, related his experience as a volunteer with the Special Olympics, which provides athletic opportunities for individuals considered mentally retarded.
After presenting a young girl with her prize for winning a 50-yard dash, he watched as she shouted to her family, ``Look, Mom! Look, Dad! I won!'' Her parents began to weep. When Johnson approached them, the mother explained: ``Mr. Johnson, those were the first words we've ever heard our daughter speak.''
Readers respond with nicknames
The reader response to a suggestion for a new nickname for Washington's pro basketball team, the Bullets, brought some interesting suggestions.
Brian Boettiger of Boulder, Colo., sees potential for a total image remake with one of his suggestions - Peace Makers. Gary Jensen of Lake Jackson, Texas, initially took a cynical tack with Payoffs, Insiders, and Bureaucrats. Beginning to warm to the true task, he moved on to Beltways, Generals (once used), and Dollars. Finally, he struck on Ballots.
Eric Klieber of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, suggests the Bullets ``name themselves after the only thing in Washington that works, the Washington Metro.'' A personal preference of this writer, who prefers plural over singular nicknames, would be to add an ``s'' and make it Metros.
Do feet trip up soccer popularity?
USA Today sports columnist Tom Weir may be on to something when he theorizes that soccer struggles to achieve popularity in the United States because Americans are fans of eye-hand dexterity: ``It's all arms and hands, things that happen from the waist up,'' he says of the throw-catch-shoot-and-swing themes that run through baseball, basketball, golf, and even American football. ``The only sport we've had that has been as limited as soccer to thigh, ankle, and foot is track,'' Weir observes. ``And guess what? We only care about track every four years, and only because of the Olympics.''