Hours and Stories Dwindling Down to a Precious Few

It is not as crushingly dull here in Super Bowl camp as outward signs might indicate.

Blockbuster story angles are growing scarce, sure. USA Today scored big with its banner-headline feature on Hank Stram's hairpiece, with diagrams by John Madden.

Otherwise, hard news has slowed to a trickle.

Veteran Super Bowl watchers can barely get a pulse from the body this week, and they consider this a good sign. In previous years, most of the excitement and controversy occurred during the week, leaving Super Sunday sucking eggs.

Two years ago in New Orleans, for instance, nothing that happened during the game was nearly as dramatic or newsworthy as Jim McMahon's midweek mooning of a helicopter.

This year, both coaches have imposed gag orders on their players and called in heavy security to guard practice sessions. Alcatraz should have been this secure.

Result: If anything exciting is happening, nobody knows about it. The flavor of the week, fans, is vanilla.

However, beneath the dull drone of two bland teams methodically preparing for Sunday's game, there is a rumbling, ominous undercurrent of anticipation. It's like waiting for a volcano, or a burp.

Friday, the Washington and Denver players were declared off limits to reporters, but Joe Gibbs and Dan Reeves did meet the press.

This provided an opportunity to carefully study the coaches for any signs of stress and fatigue, and to search for ways to tell Gibbs and Reeves apart.

I discovered the secret: Check their hair. Reeves parts his on the right side; Gibbs on the left. Or is it the other way around?

During his question-and-answer session with the press, Gibbs--I'm pretty sure it was Gibbs--made mention of the relative dullness of this year's game preparations, and seemed pleased by it.

"Last year there seemed to be more excitement," Gibbs said. "It's a more businesslike atmosphere this year."

Appropriately, Gibbs and Reeves each appeared in a business suit, although not the same suit. Sunday, if the players come charging out of the tunnel wearing business suits, we're all in big trouble.

The coaches have been handling the pressure well. In past Super Bowl weeks, I've seen coaches lose their composure and snap like dry twigs, or grow sullen and withdrawn. But Gibbs and Reeves are handling this stuff with admirable aplomb.

For Gibbs, it's mostly a matter of maintaining routine. His Redskins have a set of weekly training rituals they have faithfully adhered to here.

Their week goes like this:

Every Thursday after practice, the players stick around Redskin Park and have a feast of barbecued chicken and hot sausages, catered by a local restaurant.

Friday is Pizza Day, with truckloads shipped in after practice.

Each Saturday morning, the players and coaches sit down together and break doughnuts. Then the players choose up teams for volleyball, which is played on the field with the goal posts serving as nets.

Later that day, even before home games, the team checks into a hotel. Saturday night, after meetings, everyone gets together for hamburgers and ice cream sundaes. I'm not making any of this up, by the way. Gibbs fondly refers to the burgers and sundaes as "our snack."

Here in San Diego, the Redskins will move to a different hotel tonight, possibly because of a rumor that the other hotel uses real whipped cream.

Finally, each Saturday night, the Redskins relax and unwind at an informal get-together, engaging in what Gibbs calls "fellowship," which sounds suspiciously like something that involves hot chocolate and toasted marshmallows.

Then, presumably, the players get into their jammies, brush their teeth, and Joe reads them to sleep from the Redskin play book.

And Monday morning they all check into the Betty Ford Junk-Food Abuse Clinic.

"Those things are important to them," Gibbs said, referring to the food and games.

I don't know how this routine affects the team spiritually. But physically, well, when Dave Butz joined the Redskins 13 years ago, he was a flanker.

For the Redskins, then, each week is a Super Bowl of Snack. Health experts might question the nutritional benefits of this program. But the Redskins are in the Super Bowl, and Jane Fonda isn't.

Summing up the whole week, Gibbs said Friday: "We've enjoyed everything."

As for those of us who have come to San Diego to experience the thrill and excitement of Super Bowl week, we've been driven away from the teams and out into the streets, searching for fellowship.

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