Among most NFL players and coaches, the sentimental favorite to win this year's playoffs is probably Chicago. But not because they love William Perry, or even Mike Ditka.
The guy they're pulling for is the Bears' veteran running back, Walter Payton.
For 11 years, Payton has given the Bears every ounce of himself that he could summon on every play. And not once has he been close to the Super Bowl.
All of those who work in the NFL know that. They want Payton to win simply because he's Payton.
"It's hard to put into words what he does for us," teammate Dan Hampton said the other day. "He's easily the best player in my lifetime."
An opponent, Coach Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys, appreciates another side of the 5-11, 200-pound Chicago runner.
"Payton is tremendously strong, stronger than any other player ever at his size," Landry said. "He can knock off linemen with strength alone."
One isn't born that strong. One works at it, as the New York Giants know. They'll be matched against the NFL's most popular player when the playoffs return to Chicago Sunday.
Speaking of William Perry, the Bear known as The Refrigerator, there is a chance that he's out of position as a defensive lineman.
The way he handles himself at 308 pounds, Perry could be an NFL starter as a running back.
"The Refrigerator is going to be a great defensive tackle some day," Bear Coach Mike Ditka said.
But he might be a better fullback. In the NFL, it's an axiom that naturally gifted athletes should be used to run and catch the ball, and, on three recent plays, Perry's athletic ability has shone through:
--From his defensive post in the middle, he ran down a screen pass on the line of scrimmage.
--Sacking a passer, he jumped on Detroit quarterback Eric Hipple and rode him piggyback until Hipple collapsed.
--Recovering a fumble, Perry leaped over a pile of players and picked up the ball on the bounce, with one hand, and ran it more than 50 yards, although he obviously tired.
He also throws, catches, bucks and blocks with style, and a type like that belongs on offense, more often, in any case, than Ditka has found places for him.
The Cowboys are on the spot again in Texas--this time as a result of Landry's announcement that he reached his 1985 goal when his club won the championship of the NFC East.
To some Texans, that sounded as if the Ram game Saturday isn't vital to Landry.
Tex Schramm, the club president, took it upon himself to put the record straight.
"Sometimes (in other years) we've set our goals too high," Schramm said. "We've started at training camp by saying we're going for the Super Bowl. Then when we fell short, we were accused of being unsuccessful. This year, Tom set a realistic goal--to win the division, and we did. But that season is over.
"This week we're starting a new season with new goals."
To get to the Super Bowl, and win, the Raiders may need more offense than they showed when they won the championship of the AFC West during the regular season.
They may need more passing.
Can they find it?
They have a possible source at running back in Marcus Allen. The most accurate of the NFL's halfback passers, Allen hasn't thrown much recently, but he hasn't forgotten how.
It is sometimes said that no move in football is more threatening to a defense than a runner-passer rolling out with the option to run or pass.
Allen is a master of the tactic, which the Raiders customarily ignore in their offensive game plans largely because Allen rarely rolls out. He rarely takes off on sweeps, or end runs. The Raiders don't run sweeps.
But they could.
Pulling linemen aren't necessary for such plays. Blockers sliding along the line can screen out key defensive players while a back runs outside to daylight instead of inside.
The Raiders could put in a sweep for Allen, who, occasionally, might rein in and throw.
Otherwise, as they enter the playoffs, the Raiders are mainly and fundamentally a defensive team, about which this can be said:
--The Super Bowl has never been won by a team without a strong defense.
--It has never been won by a great defensive team with a weak offense.
When Cleveland plays the Miami Dolphins at Miami Saturday, the nation's football fans will be able to compare two kinds of passers lacking mobility, Bernie Kosar of the Browns and Dan Marino of the Dolphins.
Kosar really is immobile. A good judge of when and where to throw, Kosar makes it intellectually as a passer rather than physically. Under attack, he doesn't get out of the way very fast.
Neither, by reputation, does Marino. But Marino is a lot quicker than he sometimes seems. He has been able to step forward when harried or to scramble sideways occasionally under a rush.
Kosar, an NFL rookie this year, came up at the wrong time for a slow-footed quarterback.
"Most of the rushing pressure today comes from outside linebackers," said Dick Steinberg, New England personnel director. "In the old days of four-man lines, the linemen did most of the rushing, and you didn't have to be too quick to get out from under some of those guys. It's harder today for a slow quarterback to elude a digging linebacker."
That's Kosar's problem.