Coach's Corner

Two years ago, my friend Dick invited me to his annual Super Bowl party. Then, as Dallas prepared to play Pittsburgh, the house was charged with Cowboy electricity. A ceremonial lucky ball sat perched atop the TV. Cowboy paraphernalia - shirts, mugs, beer steins - were everywhere. As the game began, everyone - even some of the wives who wouldn't know a zone blitz from a zeppelin - was attentive. For the most part, the game held center stage. The customary chili dogs were served at the time God intended food to be served: halftime. The atmosphere at the slate gray house deep in Clarksville, circa 1998, was considerably different. With five minutes until kickoff, a sleepy, indifferent group was slowly gathering. Aside from the Bronco shirt Dick managed to dredge up, there was no way to tell this wasn't a gathering to sample cheese and a new Pinot Noir.

Still, it was clear, quickly, who the fans were. A small core group hunkered down in the diminutive living room, with a fine view of the Capitol, as many, many women, men, and small children came and departed. Our seats would not be relinquished for some hours hence. At one point, I counted 23 people crowded into Dick's small house, many of whom probably had never watched an entire half of football in their lives. Sadly (but typically), a few rabid Cowboy fans of years past spent much time chatting around the dip. A number of "fans" openly admitted they were here for the chili dogs, period, relentlessly hounding Dick to serve his specialty before the second quarter began. Though bad form, this was all right with me. There was little competition for my chair, allowing me to avoid the agonizing sportsfan's conundrum of what to do: urinate or keep my seat?

As the second half began, the chaotic house became oddly quiet, like the ocean after the Titanic sunk. Only seven people remained. The other 16, gorged on chili dogs and seven-layer bean dip, went home, I suppose to watch a PBS documentary on a day in the life of the East African wildebeest, missing what's become the classic oxymoron: a most entertaining Super Bowl.

In last week's column, I listed a number of events necessary for a Denver miracle. Brett Favre must have a bad game. Despite decent looking stats, Favre did, indeed, have a pedestrian game. Elway needed to have the game of his life. He didn't. Has a winning Super Bowl quarterback ever been less involved in the outcome? Bronco special teams needed to make big plays. They did, all day long, forcing turnovers, shutting out the Packer return game, and consistently giving the Broncos excellent field position. Packer running back Dorsey Levens needed to break his leg. He didn't, but for reasons I'll go into in a second, he might as well have, as non-existent as he was in the second half. Terrell Davis had to rush for 100 yards. He certainly did that, and more.

For those who think Barry Switzer is such an idiot, this game had its share of odd strategic decisions, any one of which would have had the former Dallas coach swinging from the traffic lights over Mockingbird Lane. With six seconds to go in the first half, Denver had the ball on its 40, with three time-outs left. One medium range pass would put them in field goal range. With absolutely nothing to lose, Shanahan, inexplicably, though the television "experts" totally missed it, did a Marty Schottenheimer. Elway took a knee. End of half.

All's well that ends well, as the saying goes; no one will remember that one. Green Bay Coach Mike Holmgren, however, had a devastating bout of temporary senile dementia. For the second half, he thought he was back in San Francisco, with his beloved West Coast offense at its worst, which is a lameass, intramural flag football kind of thing, where the tough running game, the NFC's longtime trademark, is totally abandoned. Again, the geniuses in the booth missed this obvious lapse completely, as the NFC's toughest running back was virtually ignored - in a nip-and-tuck affair which begs for a strong running game - the entire half. This is like Patton forgetting he has tanks! What the hell was going through Holmgren's head?

Denver, on the other hand, remembered their running back. The Packer defensive line ate dose after nasty dose of Terrell Davis, as the Broncos controlled the clock and in the process beat the holy shit out of the Big, Bad Packers. I'm convinced that, if the game had gone into overtime and Denver won the toss, they would have sliced with rapidity through the exhausted cheeseheads. Imagine, if you will, the saliva-whipping hysteria level of Cowboy fans had this been Switzer. Bill Clinton would've been driven off the front page for a week.

Anyway, I left the party satiated on hot dogs, bean dip, Coca-Cola, homemade ice cream, and the omnipresent mint Girl Scout cookies. Oddly, though I was rooting for Green Bay, I felt pretty good about the Bronco victory. Even I was getting tired of the continual NFC domination. It's not good for the game. Normally, I abhor the sappy human interest stories bored writers come up with, but I was rooting for Elway. There was nothing fluky about Denver's win. On this day they were - clearly - the better team.

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