MIAMI — The New England Patriots ran the football 59 times from scrimmage Sunday, maybe a world record, giving us all a preview of the dazzling fireworks we can expect from the AFC champs come Super Sunday.
After the Patriots beat the Dolphins in the Orange Bowl, 31-14, New England linebacker Steve Nelson pointed out what appears to be the most spectacular facet of the Patriots' game.
"We know how to recover fumbles," Nelson boasted.
That worked out well Sunday, because the Dolphins knew how to fumble fumbles. After beating the Patriots 18 straight times down here, the Dolphins packed 19 years worth of bobbles and bumbles into one unenchanted evening.
Not that the Patriots didn't earn the win, not that they can't play ball. Not that they won't be a worthy foil for the Bears.
It's just that the Patriots are dull.
The Patriots not only had 59 running plays Sunday, they had 59 dull running plays. When the Patriots run, they don't sweep the ends, like Walter Payton and the Bears. The Patriots sweep the center.
Patriot quarterback Tony Eason threw 12 passes all day Sunday, all but two of them flicks and dumps to tight ends and running backs. His three touchdown passes totaled seven yards. The Patriot air attack was like the weather Sunday--a light drizzle.
If the Patriots ever considered opening up their offense for this game, they probably scrapped that plan when their most exciting wide receiver went down during the week with a freak injury, posing the riddle: How many Fryars does it take to put away a kitchen knife?
But Irving Fryar's unfortunate absence probably didn't affect the game plan much. New England's wide receivers are like the guards at Buckingham Palace--pretty, but mostly ornamental.
"We wanted to rush the ball 80% of the time, and we did that," Patriot guard Ron Wooten said. "This is the only game we've gone into this year where we stayed with the game plan four quarters--pounding the ball between the tackles. We wanted to rush the ball 50 times."
OK, so what's the crime in running the ball? What's wrong with a conservative offense?
Nothing, except this is the Super Bowl we're coming up to, a game the NFL builds up like a show-biz spectacular, a game where the fans want to see a little glitter and dazzle, and here come the New England Molemen.
The TV people were probably rooting for Dan Marino to make it to New Orleans. The Dolphins may be a one-star team (Marino), with some decent backup, sort of like Gladys Knight and the Pips. But the Patriots are like Wally Pipp and the Pips.
At quarterback, the Patriots have maybe the dullest quarterback ever to play in a Super Bowl, with apologies to David Woodley. Tony Eason has really done a nice job this season, but there will be no rush to buy tickets to his personal highlights film.
Eason is basically a cool and efficient guy who runs the Patriot offense well and, in dire emergencies, even throws the football.
Going into the game, Patriot offensive tackle Brian Holloway boasted, "We're going to take the Orange Bowl apart brick by brick."
If you can visualize a group of football players actually doing that, brick by brick, using little hand tools, you have a pretty good picture of the way the Patriots went about their business Sunday.
When the day was over, the Patriots were proud of their handiwork.
Said Holloway: "I think the running attack has to do with one thing--believing in yourself, believing in the man next to you, and believing on every snap there's no one can stop you."
That's three things, but who's counting?
With the Patriots, when it comes to postgame quotes, you take what you can get. Yes, they are a dull team in the locker room, too. Tony Eason talks a blander game than he plays. The only emotion he showed after the game was when he and his brother, Bo, who plays for the Oilers, embraced. Tears welled in Eason's eyes and he snapped indignantly at a TV camera crew shooting the emotional scene, "Turn that off, please."
Where are the L.A. Raiders when you need them? Where are outrageous quotesmiths such as Lester Hayes and Howie Long?
The only real excitement Sunday came when Dolphin kicker Fuad Reveiz shanked a 32-yard field-goal attempt in the second quarter, then slapped Patriot linebacker Don Blackmon on the helmet in anger.
"I just went out and taunted him a little," Blackmon explained. "I just told him, 'Good kick, way to go.' "
That's the stuff, Don. That's the kind of thing we need more of in two weeks.
But don't count on it.
Even Patriot general manager Pat (Jellyfish of Foxboro) Sullivan had a bland day Sunday. He sat up in the stands with his wife, instead of being where he belonged, down on the sidelines hurling childish taunts at the opponents.
Instead, we had team owner Billy Sullivan, father of Pat, talking about how he's thrilled to be going back to New Orleans for the Super Bowl because that's where he spent his honeymoon several decades ago.
Now that's exciting.
But go ahead and call them dull. The Patriots don't care. They have a mission.
"The Bears know there's something that happens when we step on the field," Holloway said. "We're 60 men, united in spirit, will and determination."
Kind of like a chain gang.