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Pro Football Turns in a Gem of an Anniversary Season

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IF any pro sports league has enjoyed a more glorious anniversary season than the National Football League, it must exist in another solar system.

To begin with, much of the sports-overlap that fragments public attention was wiped away by baseball and hockey labor problems, meaning extra attention on the NFL's 75th birthday celebration. Then, throughout the season, the league has been on a roll with high TV ratings and in-stadium attendance. And now, only four teams remain in the playoffs, and three of those look as thought they were handpicked by anniversary promoters. San Francisco, Dallas, and Pittsburgh own 12 Super Bowl victories among them. They are the established iron.

The only fly in the ointment appears to be San Diego, which scored a thrilling 22-21 victory over Miami on Sunday.

The Charger win keeps Miami's Don Shula, the league's all-time winningest coach, and Dan Marino, one of its greatest career passers, from making it to this year's Super Bowl, which will be played on the Dolphins' home field (Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami) on Jan. 29.

The Chargers, however, represent the all-important Cinderella element needed to bring added flavor to any postseason.

The Chargers and Dolphins teamed up to salvage a weekend of playoff action otherwise devoid of suspense. Pittsburgh crushed Cleveland, 29-9, San Francisco walloped Chicago, 44-15, and Dallas dominated Green Bay, 35-9.

San Diego came from behind in the second half, and scored the game-winning touchdown and extra point in the last minute - the eight-yard TD toss hauled in by an incredibly wide-open Mark Seay. But then the Chargers practically handed the game to the Dolphins with a squibbed kickoff that gave Miami excellent field position and a 32-yard pass interference penalty. But wait, normally sure-footed Dolphins kicker Pete Stoyanovich sailed a makeable 48-field goal attempt wide in the last seconds. The conference championship games will be played Sunday, Jan. 15. L.A. Clippers in basketball backseat


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