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They’re Going to Kill This Game With Kindness

Prediction: This will be the year that the Super Bowl outlives its usefulness to humanity. I hope I’m wrong, but don’t bet on it.

Unfortunately, it’s too late to cancel the whole thing. You can’t stop an avalanche in mid-slide. But if this turns out to be the most boring Super Bowl in history, don’t say nobody warned you.

The game itself will be terrible, of course, but everybody expects that. The games are always terrible. The Super Bowl game is football’s equivalent of a hangover, the pay-the-price residue after a week of fun.

The real event, Super Bowl Week, has always been a festival of comedy, controversy and commotion. John Riggins shows up in full uniform and cowboy boots. Howie Long and Lester Hayes amaze and amuse. John Matuszak blows curfew, Jim McMahon drops his pants, Joe Namath calls his shot, Dexter Manley alternately dominates and boycotts the interviews. Natural rivalries surface, artificial rivalries are created, great characters are discovered.

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This year, though, it looks as if the fun will be in short supply.

For starters, the opposing head coaches are the very best of pals. You’d think that the National Football League, as long as it has been in business, would take measures to prevent such an occurrence. Nothing is as dull as buddy coaches, unless it’s tennis -buddy coaches.

Bill Walsh and Sam Wyche were tennis pals when Wyche was an assistant under Walsh at San Francisco. Did Walsh make questionable line calls, or fake injuries if he was losing to Wyche? Did Wyche try to quick-serve Walsh, or ruthlessly exploit Bill’s weak backhand? No, to hear them tell it, theirs was an intense yet spirited relationship. They respect and admire one another so much it makes you ill.

Until recently, the 49ers had a dandy quarterback controversy going. Walsh and Joe Montana spent most of the season pouting and glaring at one another. Walsh whipped up the controversy in the first place, then shamelessly blamed it all on the media.

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Now it’s over. Montana played so well, even Walsh couldn’t make a case for thinking about starting Steve Young at quarterback. After one playoff game, Walsh and Joe Montana even put their arms around each other’s shoulders and smiled brightly for the sideline TV camera.

Walsh and team owner Eddie DeBartolo clashed during the season. Would Eddie fire Bill? Would Bill resign? Neither. The 49ers would start winning and Bill and Eddie would rekindle their warm friendship.

You know you’re in big trouble when your most exciting story going into Super Week is whether or not Walsh will retire after the game. That specter has kept me awake many nights. For those similarly afflicted, I recommend warm milk and Lawrence Welk on your Walkman.

The rest of the 49ers, quotewise and controversy-wise, forget it. They give you name, rank and serial number. This is a team that prides itself on holding back from the media. If the old Raiders were the most colorful team ever to infiltrate a Super Bowl, the 49ers may be the blandest and most reserved.

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The most talkative and quotable member of the San Francisco group is Montana’s back surgeon, who is trying to make things interesting by predicting that Montana, should he be sacked from the blind side, will actually break in two.

Interesting concept, except that Montana doesn’t have a blind side. Those aren’t ear holes on the sides of Joe’s helmet; they’re eye holes.

Montana may be the clutchest performer in the history of the Super Bowl, but he’ll never make the all-interview team, featuring such motormouths as Joe Theismann and McMahon and Namath.

Meanwhile, in the Bengals’ camp, you may get some bluster from Boomer this week, but it’s nothing like the good old days when Esiason and Wyche not only were not on the same page, but weren’t even in the same library.

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Now they have enormous respect for one another. They probably play tennis together. Yawn.

Ickey Woods? The rookie with the ponytail and the Ickey Shuffle? OK, Woods is a very promising young runner, but do we need to know any more than we already know about his end-zone dance? In a dance contest, Ickey would get no better than a tie with Dancing Barry. I’ve seen guys show better moves hailing a cab.

The game’s site is no help. When they play the Super Bowl in New Orleans, you can count on two or three players doing something foolish on Bourbon Street, embarrassing the team and generating great interest for the event. In Los Angeles, Sunset Strip is always a temptation. But where can a guy go to get in trouble in Miami? The Everglades?

It will still be party time in Miami for the fans and the corporations that turn Super Bowl Week into one long tax write-off toga party. In America, the Super Bowl is God’s way of telling us we have too much money.

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But the football outlook is bleak. This year we have to rely on the actual game to provide the Super Bowl thrills, and that’s scary.


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