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JACK SMITH

SUPER BOWL XXI : THE GAME : Though Prediction Bombs, Game Also Isn't Real Big Treat

January 26, 1987|JACK SMITH

I am sitting in the press tent just west of the Rose Bowl.

Super Bowl XXI is history.

I am sitting at one of a number of long tables at which perhaps 200 other historians are pecking away at portable computers, racing against their far-flung deadlines.

I am bent over my portable computer.

I am thinking that whatever words I add to the torrent now being written about Super Bowl XXI, it will be like going over Niagara Falls in a canoe.

The man on my right, tapping away at a Radio Shack, just turned to me and asked, "What was the final score?"

I know that much, anyway.

Just in case you spent the afternoon in a dungeon, the final score was New York Giants 39, Denver Broncos 20.

It grieves me to say that. As you may remember, I predicted last Thursday that the final score would be Broncos 20, Giants 17.

Look at it one way, I wasn't so far off. At least I had the Denver score right. How many sports experts can say that?

Also, I noticed that Pete Axthelm, sports columnist for Newsweek, who is in the hierarchy of experts, right up there with Jimmy the Greek, predicted that the final score would be Denver 19, Giants 17. Notice that I was even with him on the Giants, and my Denver score was one point closer than his.

As for the game, it was a case of Tarzan against the elephant herd. Could the young Stanford kid with the slingshot cut down the thundering herd?

As it turned out, he couldn't.

But they will have to say that John Elway, the Denver quarterback, had his moments.

On the first play of the game, if I remember right, he ran for a first down.

Then in seven plays he took the Broncos in for a field goal.

I say "if I remember right" because, not having instant replay, I rarely knew what had happened. They do have a big instant reply at the Rose Bowl, but the resolution isn't very good, and they only show the play once.

I'm afraid I've been conditioned by too many years of watching football on TV. On TV, time is refracted. You not only see a replay of what has just happened, you see it several times, from various angles. It gives you a sort of God-like perspective.

Not only that, you have John Madden and all those other experts to tell you what happened. Madden even draws instant diagrams, showing what everybody was doing.

It's a shock to see a play live, so to speak, and realize that that's it. You aren't going to get a second shot at it.

Not only that, but I was counting on my wife to be my statistician.

In that first drive, Elway completed a 24-yard pass to the New York 39-yard line, but without instant replay I didn't know who his receiver was.

"Who caught that pass?" I asked.

"I don't know," she said. "I was watching the guards."

In preparation for the game I had asked her to read John Madden's latest book. Madden says the only way to know what's going on is to watch the offensive guards.

Actually, I had meant to watch the guards too, but on that first play I found myself keeping my eyes glued to Elway. He's a lot more interesting than the guards.

I had an idea my wife wasn't really enjoying the game. We had almost been late. We'd attended a luncheon party at a restaurant in Pasadena and had come to the bowl by bus. The bus raced over the freeway, then descended into the Arroyo Seco, through those curving streets among live oak trees, and ended up immobile in a gridlock of buses. When we could see the bowl, about three-quarters of a mile away, we got out and walked.

Once through the gate, we walked through the crowd around to our tunnel. I couldn't understand why everybody seemed to be going the other way. The tunnel was so crowded that I began to feel claustrophobic.

"If there's an earthquake, there's going to be a panic," I said. "Just press back against the wall."

"You think of everything," she said.

Our seats were 65 rows up on the southeast side, so that we were looking into the sun. We seemed to be sitting in a row of people who either had to go to the rest room every six minutes or had to go out for fodder.

I suspect that this restiveness is also a product of TV conditioning. We are no longer disciplined enough to watch an event if we can't get up and go to the bathroom or get something out of the refrigerator every six minutes.

I felt uneasy when the Giants went ahead, 7-3, on a series of passes by Phil Simms and runs by Joe Morris. They looked invincible.

"You're right on track," my wife pointed out. "If the Broncos score two touchdowns and kick another field gold, that's 20. And if the Giants get another touchdown and kick a field goal, that's 17."

She always sees the brighter side of things.

Then Elway put together that beautiful drive that took the Broncos from their 42-yard line to a touchdown, Elway going in for the score himself on a four-yard run. That put the Broncos up 10-7 and I began to have fantasies of utter vindication.

I didn't know it at the time, but that was high tide for the Broncos.

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