Super Bowl worthy of its name is possibility with 49ers, Dolphins
If you go strictly by the records of the Miami Dolphins and the San Francisco 49ers, who lost only three games between them during the regular season and the playoffs, there are few negatives surrounding Super Bowl XIX. Sunday's 6 p.m. championship clash, which will be televised nationally by ABC, should jell as a game some entertainment expert put together -- either with a computer or in a Hollywood casting office. Music by Rogers and Hammerstein; costumes by Edith Head; mob scenes choreographed by Cecil B. DeMille. Neither team wins by more than a point or, failing that, the score remains in doubt until there are no more than four or five seconds left on the game clock.
The National Football League would vote for that. So would the fans. So would the corporations that are paying $525,000 for each 30-second TV commercial -- a close game being the surest way to have just as many viewers watch their products parade across the screen in the fourth period as in the first.
The alternatives, which aren't nearly as attractive, nevertheless are there. For example, what if Miami quarterback Dan Marino, who threw a record 48 touchdown passes during the regular season, should hit for a couple of early scoring bombs -- most likely to super wide receivers Mark Duper and Mark Clayton, who had 30 TD receptions between them during the regular season?
If San Francisco, which likes to control the football for long periods at a time with a combination running and short-passing game, were forced to play catchup against Miami, the 49ers' chances of winning would be severely reduced.
Of course with the impressive defensive secondary that San Francisco coach Bill Walsh and his aides have put together, that isn't apt to happen. Remember, the 49ers gave up the fewest points overall (227) of any NFL team this season.
And even if San Francisco should fall behind, the 49ers can remind themselves that Miami did demonstrate late-game defensive problems in its two losses, blowing leads in the final period against both San Diego and the Los Angeles Raiders.
Against the Chargers, the Dolphins' defense rested in that last quarter, giving up 14 points en route to a 34-28 overtime loss. It was even worse against the Raiders, who erupted for 21 fourth-period points on a 75-yard pass from Marc Wilson to Dokie Williams, plus two scoring runs by Marcus Allen of 6 and 52 yards.
Obviously, coach Don Shula's defense this year has had enough momentary lapses to suggest that no Dolphin lead is ever completely safe.
For those who keep insisting that Walsh will throw a brand new offense against Miami, that's like saying that pitcher Nolan Ryan is going to rely on something other than his fastball when he needs a strikeout with men on base.
There are only so many places you can run with a football; only so many pass patterns you can rely on to get the job done; only so many options to try to whipsaw the defense in the playbook.
At this point, nobody should have to remind anyone that teams win with people, not systems, an observation often attributed to the late Vince Lombardi, but one Napoleon would occasionally dust off for state occasions.
Holding tightly to this line of reasoning, what better explanation to underscore this belief than some remarks recently uttered by San Francisco assistant coach Bobb McKittrick.
Asked by a reporter partway through the season about the sudden improvement in the 49ers' offensive line, McKittrick replied: ``Somehow the same blocking we had in other years looked better when Wendell Tyler started carrying the football for us.''
Comparing San Francisco and Miami overall, the 49ers have the best defense on paper, the Dolphins the best offense.
But it's not as though there's a tremendous performance gap here. For while San Francisco's defense led the league by allowing just 14 points a game, Miami's was giving up 18.6. And while Miami was scoring 32 an outing, San Francisco's offense was ringing up nearly 30 each week.
The 49ers have a quarterback in Joe Montana for whom the blitz has never been more than a small annoyance. In fact, Montana often throws better on the run than most quarterbacks do from the friendly confines of the pocket.
Those who subscribe to that usually very sound theory --that the team with the best overall defense will win in the Super Bowl 90 percent of the time -- have already picked the 49ers. What still makes Super Bowl Sunday so attractive is that no opponent all year has been able to contain Marino.
Dan set single-season records this year for most touchdown passes (48); most passing yards (5,084); most completions (362); most 300-yard games (9); and most 400-yard games (4). He also threw four TD passes in each of Miami's last three regular-season games against the New York Jets, the L.A. Raiders, and Dallas.
San Francisco will probably try to counter Miami's offense with a lot of sliding zone coverage which will also contain extra safeguards against the bomb. If that works, the 49ers will get their championship Super Bowl rings out of a major jewelry house; otherwise they can always reach for the Crackerjack!