Now that they've got the Nicaraguan thing settled, and the Black-White riot thing apparently under control, and now that there's no question that Jerry Rice will play, or that Bill Walsh will coach at least one more game; and now that the Cincinnati Bengals have agreed to at least not fake out NBC with any quick huddles during commercial breaks; and now that the NFL crack counterfeit squad has rounded up all the unauthorized T-shirt merchants, apparently they're going to play the Super Bowl XXIII game on schedule today in Joe Robbie Stadium, where theNFL can get around to seeing what it can do about its most enduring Super Bowl problem:
The teams involved never seem to play a decent game.The previous 22 Super Bowls have yielded very few dramatic moments. This has been particularly true during the past decade. Only San Francisco's 26-21 victory over Cincinnati in SB XVI ranks as semi-close or reasonably thrilling in the 1980s.
But this could be the year for a breakthrough.
Not only are San Francisco and Cincinnati back for their Super Bowl encore, and not only do they have the two top offenses in football, but there's been one significant difference in this year's week-long buildup to the Ultimate Game.
The game has not been overanalyzed. It has been largely ignored.
It's a good bet that most of America isn't terribly aware just who plays for who; or how the teams match up against each other; or how strong Cincinnati's defense is against the rush. Things like that.
Most of the buildup to the game has focused on other, non-football type things.
First, there was the problem with the Nicaraguan refugees, who were staying in Bobby Maduro Miami Stadium until city officials decided that wouldn't look too good to out-of-town visitors and evicted them just before Super Bowl week. There was a lot of civic debate until the Nicaraguans were relocated, in better circumstances.
Then there were the downtown race riots, which weren't as bad as they looked on the 10 o'clock news, but, even if they were widely isolated, they were still violent. A lot of football players for both the 49ers and Bengals answered more questions about riots than about Sunday's game, particularly the Bengals' players, who watched the riots from their hotel room balconies.
The main stories since the riots quieted down have been: 1. Will San Francisco coach Bill Walsh retire after the game?; 2. Does San Francisco receiver Jerry Rice really have a sore ankle, or is that just a 49er ploy?; 3. Will Bengals Coach Sam Wyche employ the no-huddle offense to throw the 49ers off stride?; 4. No street vendor is safe with the NFL strike force on the case, searching for unofficial souvenir sellers; and 5. Would further civic disturbances disrupt Super Bowl/cultural events such as last night's Sammy Davis Jr.-Frank Sinatra concert?
Basically, it has not been a very upbeat week. Super Bowl hype has enjoyed happier times.
But the game has been largely left alone.
There has not been a lot of discussion over who will do what to whom.
No presidents have called from the White House with special plays.
(George Bush did allegedly call to wish Boomer Esiason, the Bengals' quarterback who did some work on the campaign, good luck. But Esiason wasn't in. He called the White House back and left this message: "Just tell George the Boomer called.")
In a lot of ways, this Super Bowl has resembled the 1981 game in Detroit, when San Francisco met Cincinnati in the Pontiac Silverdome. The weather was so cold before that game that most of the pregame talk was about why anybody ever decided to have a football game in Michigan in January. When it finally came time for the game, there was a sort of relief factor. And the teams played well.
Whether today's game is good drama or not, it still figures to be watched on television by some 130 million Americans, or nearly one in every two. At least that's how many will tune in at the start.
How many will still be tuned in at the finish, that's another question. This could be the year the game turns out to be the story. At least it wasn't overkilled, or overplayed, before it began.