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Super Bowl XXII will be the March of Dimes Super Bowl. Everybody will be asked to make a contribution. Situation substitution will prevail, creating all sorts of alignments and player combinations on both offense and defense. First-and-10, second-and-medium, third-and-long—the down and distance will determine the players who'll be on the field and the formation in which they'll be playing. Coaches love the ins and outs of situation substitution, or as they put it, "We like everybody to make a contribution." Now pass the hat, because this is one Super Bowl in which just about everyone will get to play.
Players you have never heard of will be assigned key roles. Neither the Denver Broncos nor the Washington Redskins come into the game with an aura of greatness. You can say that they're interesting teams. They were tough when they had to be, at times courageous, and they are certainly exciting. But great?
The New York Giants had an air of greatness about them as they entered last year's Super Bowl. Well, they at least had a great defense, which set the tone for the entire team. The Chicago Bears, who won Super Bowl XX, were a great club. The Pittsburgh Steelers fielded four great Super Bowl teams; the Green Bay Packers and Miami Dolphins had a couple each; and the Raiders had their share. Great teams have been upset in Super Bowls—the Baltimore Colts by the New York Jets, the Minnesota Vikings by the Kansas City Chiefs—but before the game, people are usually asking the same question: Who can lick the bully?
It's different this time. For one thing, this Super Bowl matches the team that tied for the NFL's third-best regular-season record (Washington) against the team that had the fourth-best (Denver). In the previous 12 Super Bowls, the team that had the best record or one that had tied for it was in the game. Often those teams didn't do much situation substituting—to wit, the Giants and Bears. But on Sunday in San Diego, you'll see myriad substitutions.
The brightest star going into the game is, of course, Denver quarterback John Elway. Let's look at what he will be working with. In addition to the standard two-wideout formation, the Broncos have a two-tight-end alignment and ones with three, four and even five wideouts. In the five-wideout setup Steve Sewell moves from halfback to wide receiver. Elway will throw to the Three Amigos—Vance Johnson, Mark Jackson and rookie Ricky Nattiel—as well as to Steve Watson.
Defensively, Washington will counter with—let's start up front and work back—a pair of tackles, Dave Butz and Darryl Grant, to stop the run (with Dean Hamel ready to spell either of them) and a pair, Markus Koch and Steve Hamilton, to stop the pass. Against the Vikings in the NFC Championship, all five tackles got serious playing time. At middle linebacker will be either Neal Olkewicz, a run stopper, or Rich Nilot, a pass defender. Then there's Ravin Caldwell, the blitz specialist who lined up all over the place and sometimes replaced Mel Kaufman, the left linebacker. Right linebacker Monte Coleman plays on every down.
Let's see, how many Washington defenders is that? I count 10, and we haven't even gotten to the secondary. The nickelback (or fifth defensive back) is usually the first defensive sub on the field. Three different people have manned the position for the Skins in the last three games, and each has been bigger than his predecessor.
The first was Dennis Woodberry, a slender cornerback. Then, in the playoff victory over the Bears, 190-pound Brian Davis, who intercepted a pass deep in Chicago territory to open the second half, took over. Woodberry also made his presence felt at nickelback with a late interception. In that game, left cornerback Darrell Green suffered a rib-cartilage injury, which, for a while, Washington thought might sideline him for the NFC Championship. The Redskins planned to replace him with Davis and play Woodberry at nickelback. But guess what? Neither Davis nor Wood-berry saw much action. Green played the entire game, and the new nickel man was 202-pound rookie Clarence Vaughn. A converted inside linebacker, Vaughn had a sack against Minnesota.
So what will Washington throw at Denver in San Diego? That remains a mystery. Defensive coach Richie Petitbon spent many years playing for George Allen, who is from the keep-'em-guessing school, so he isn't saying. "It's the old George Allen approach," says Denver coach Dan Reeves. "Present a constantly changing picture. I'm sure a lot of those new people they ran in against the Vikings, like Caldwell and Vaughn, were there to create confusion. When you're getting ready for a team, you base a lot on number recognition, and let's face it, some of those numbers are hard to recognize."
Petitbon employs many of Allen's techniques. He occasionally goes with a five-man line, which shifts to a three-man front; he puts constant pressure on the pocket; and he has a cornerback, in this case Green, cover the opposition's MDR (most dangerous receiver) all over the field. If he's 100% on Sunday, Johnson will be the Broncos' MDR.