WHAT happened in Miami Sunday night was not so much a game as a football coronation. The San Diego Chargers were ring bearers to the once, present, and possible future champions of the National Football League. The San Francisco 49ers made off with a 49-26 Super Bowl victory that was at least as one-sided as the score indicates.
The die was cast from the very first play, when the Chargers incurred a face-mask penalty on the opening kickoff. This was unusual -- and a telling sign of self-destruction -- because the mask was grabbed not in making the tackle, but by a player trying to fend off a blocker.
This miscue added 15 yards to the return, and gave perhaps the best offensive unit ever assembled excellent field position. Three plays later, San Francisco's Steve Young was completing a 44-yard touchdown strike to Jerry Rice that was notable for its ease. Then, on only their seventh play, the 49ers cashed in again on another down-the-middle pass completion, this time for 51 yards to running back Ricky Watters.
In giving up the fastest two touchdowns in Super Bowl history, the Chargers looked like a team that felt it didn't belong. ''I don't know whether we were awestruck or what,'' said dumbstruck San Diego coach Bobby Ross. ''Maybe some of it was youthfulness, overeagerness. Maybe we were a little surprised by the quickness of the 49ers.''
Whatever the answer, the Chargers picked the wrong day to come up flat, turning San Francisco's record fifth Super Bowl triumph into a romp.
Some other impressions of the game:
*It's hard to imagine a quarterback who was in more control than Steve Young was. He threw a record six touchdowns, completed 24 of 36 passes, and was not intercepted. His passer rating for the game was 134.8. Passer ratings are too involved to explain here, but suffice it to say that his regular-season rating, a league record high, was 112.8. Young also led all rushers, with 49 yards, which was more icing on a Most Valuable Player performance.
*What good timing on the Gatorade sideline shower. San Francisco coach George Seifert was getting the bucket just as San Diego was scoring a meaningless late-game touchdown. He never really saw the play, not that it mattered.
*President Clinton's postgame telephone congratulations were on target. He said that in his travels he's been struck by how universally respected and liked the Niners are, that no one resents their success. He also, in a humorous aside, said Seifert looked good without his glasses, shed during the locker-room celebration.
Touching other bases
*Pop quiz: The last National Football League franchise to fold did so 42 years ago in the city occupied by the dethroned Super Bowl champion. Can you name the team? (Answer below.)
*Dennis Rodman, the San Antonio Spurs' forward with a history of personal challenges, feeds off being different. The media generally go along with the caricature Rodman has created of himself, paying an inordinate amount of attention to his shocking hair colors and perhaps too little to his athletic uniqueness. When Rodman is in control, he is about as much fun to watch as any player in the National Basketball Association. That's high praise for a guy disinclined to shoot anything but a lay-up.He is a d emon defender and rebounder, though, and runs the floor with high-stepping elan. There's no one quite like him -- a skinny, indispensible guy with a career single-digit scoring average per game.
*When Super Bowl XXX is played in 1996, perhaps it should be designated the Flour Sack Super Bowl, with all those x's.
*Quiz answer: The NFL's Dallas Texans went out of business in 1952, their first and last year of existence. Eight years passed before the city was introduced to a new franchise, the Cowboys.