Why did we have to mess around so long with all this extraneous stuff?
Of course, there had to be a Regular Season and Surprising Teams and Resurgent Teams and Disappointing Teams and Experts Calculating Which Team Has A Chance To Sneak In As A Wild-Card Playoff Longshot, and the myriad Pregame Shows and Postgame Wrap-ups and Hope Springing Eternal In Rust-Belt Cities Where Football Is So Much Like Life, and Franchises Looking To The Future and Where Will Georgia Take Her Boys and Blah Blah Blah.
But it was all Nonsense. Had been all season. Only two Real Teams existed: the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers. All others were mobiles hanging in The Classroom Where Football Is Taught.
The 49ers and the Cowboys played each other once this year, on Nov. 13 in San Francisco, and it was a Big Game. None of this Maybe The Little Team From Green Bay Or The Clever Team From Chicago Can Pull Off An Upset. No, these were Men Duking It Out.
The Niners won that game 21-14, and San Francisco quarterback Steve Young vindicated himself nicely, showing skeptics that he was worthy of replacing Joe (St. Joseph the Cowboy Killer) Montana. But Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman had a bad thumb on his throwing hand that day, tossed three interceptions and left town in a bad mood. Observers were filled with a distinct sense that Troy and his Boys would be back.
And now they are, and thank god the swill has finally run off into the gutters where it belongs. The 49ers and the Cowboys are so far above all other NFL teams that it's a pity we can't turn their NFC championship matchup this Sunday into Super Bowl XXIX. Then that anticlimactic thing occurring in Miami on Jan. 29 could be some kind of postseason weenie roast.
Yes, there is an AFC, and a champion will also be declared over there this Sunday. But, really. The San Diego Chargers? The Pittsburgh Steelers? O.K., the Steelers are a rugged team, but they are not Terry Bradshaw-Mean Joe Greene rugged. And anyway, an AFC team hasn't won the Super Bowl since January 1984. As this reviewer's favorite critics, Beavis and Butthead, would put it, the AFC sucks.
So the question is, How did Dallas and San Francisco get so far in front of the pack? Isn't this the era of free agency, the salary cap and parity? Shouldn't other teams be rising up almost overnight to smite these two monsters? They should. and yet between them the Cowboys and the Niners have won the last two Super Bowls (both by Dallas), four of the last six Super Bowls and six of the last 13. One or the other of these two teams has been in a Super Bowl 10 times since 1972.
And then there were the playoff games we had to endure last weekend. Boredom settled in at about the time the 49ers surged ahead of the Chicago Bears 13-3 last Saturday. That was the score early in the second quarter, when you found yourself thinking, Hey, look at the way the bristles of San Francisco center Bart Oates's beard poke through the holes in his chin guard. By 20-3 you had become aware that the 49ers were still wearing their throw-back uniforms, that San Francisco offensive tackle Steve Wallace had some sort of protective salad bowl Velcroed on the top of his helmet and that, golly, look at how well the grass at Candlestick Park was holding up.
By 23-3 you were dozing lightly. A tussle roused you briefly at 30-3—just before the half, Bear safety Shaun Gayle put a late hit on Young in the end zone and was nearly dismembered by angry Niners—and then some scrubs played for a while, and it all ended quietly at 44-15. The 49ers are such a well-oiled machine that they could make a nibbling rabbit seem noisy. The Bears, also a quiet team, but for other reasons, never had a chance.