Someone had to play the Bears in the Super Bowl and the lucky AFC winners are the Patriots. The honor comes with a 10-point spread, which is what the oddsmakers have decided the Patriots will need to make this an even game.
Thus the 20th Super Bowl promises one of the two worst matchups of the last 16.
For the first four Super Bowls, when the AFL was considered something Walt Disney had created, double-figure spreads were standard. But between 1971 and 1986, only one other Super Bowl team was more than a one-touchdown underdog. That was in 1980, when the Steelers were favored by 10 1/2 points over the Rams.
All the same, the 10-point spread will not slow the buildup one whit.
Something, no doubt, will be heard from Patriot Coach Raymond Berry, who is, himself, a mystery.
Then there is Berry's quarterback, Tony Eason, already a nominee as dullest headliner ever to play in a Super Bowl. Eason is a soft-spoken young man, who may have been driven to cover by his mid-season benching and the reaction by Patriot fans. In Miami, he set a new standard for inaudible mumbling at a press conference.
So, if all that exposure of such low-charisma performers offends you, it might be wise to leave the country for a week.
For the tougher of you, or the more optimistic, there's reason to hope. Bad projected matchups haven't necessarily resulted in bad games, any more than the dream matchups--remember Dolphins-49ers last year?--have resulted in good games.
Anything is possible, as the five worst projected matchups in this series proved.
Starting at the beginning, they were:
SUPER BOWL I
Jan. 15, 1967 in the Coliseum, with the Green Bay Packers favored by 14 points over the AFL's Kansas City Chiefs.
Green Bay was 13-2 and at the height of its power. Kansas City was 12-2-1, having just topped Buffalo, 31-7, in the AFL championship and defied Commissioner Milt Woodward's no-champagne edict, smuggling several cases into its dressing room. At a victory dinner later, Woodward had his tie cut off at the knot by Chief linebacker E.J. Holub. For all offenses related to celebrating, Woodward fined the Chiefs $5,000. High-spirited or not, the AFL was considered a Mickey Mouse league, resulting in the one-sided line. No one gave the Chiefs much of a chance, but there wasn't huge backing for Green Bay, either.
From a New York Times pregame story: "Reports from legal bookmaking establishments in Las Vegas, Nev., have revealed that the Super Bowl contest has not been an especially attractive betting proposition. Professional gamblers who bet heavily with the Las Vegas bookmakers apparently have too little information on the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs."
Curiosity wasn't running at an all-time high, either. In front of a crowd of 61,946 in the Coliseum, the Packers won, 35-10.
"In my opinion," said the winning coach, Vince Lombardi, "the Chiefs don't rate with the top teams in the NFL."
SUPER BOWL II
Green Bay was back again, this time a 13 1/2-point favorite in Miami's Orange Bowl over the Oakland Raiders. This was some tribute to the Packers' reputation, since they had gone through all kinds of trouble getting there.
Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung had retired, and Lombardi was reportedly about to follow. The Packers were only 9-4-1 and had to rally in the closing seconds of the NFL championship, scoring on Bart Starr's plunge behind Jerry Kramer, to edge the young Cowboys.
The Raiders had been 13-1. Unlike the Chiefs the year before, primarily cornerback Fred Williamson who had popped off until his teammates threatened to disown him, the Raiders conducted themselves like little gentlemen. This, of course, is something for which they are not famous.
The Raiders practiced at a boys' school in Boca Raton, Fla., under heavy security. On game day, however, they came out and were ground down by the methodical Packers, who went about the task, in the words of one wire-service report, "with the effervescence of overworked morticians."
The final score was 33-14. Mismatch II.
SUPER BOWL III
This was the game that changed the landscape for all time, the Jets' impressive victory in the Orange Bowl behind Joe Namath after having been 18 1/2-point underdogs to the Colts.
Under their young coach, Don Shula, the Colts had gone 13-1 in the regular season, avenging their only loss by crushing the Browns in Cleveland, 34-0, in the NFL championship.
The Jets had been 11-3, but everyone knew the AFL was still nothing more than a bunch of mad bombers playing schoolyard ball against some bump-and-run cornerbacks.
When Namath guaranteed victory, compared the Colts' Earl Morrall unfavorably to the top AFL quarterbacks and even to his own backup, Babe Parilli, had his taproom confrontation with the Colts' Lou Michaels, and overslept the day after and missed photo day, it was considered only the prelude to his comeuppance.
Namath, the bomber, then turned conservative, completing 17 of 28 passes for 206 yards. The Jets grabbed a 16-0 lead and won, 16-7.
SUPER BOWL IV