Sunday, January 31, 1999

Mighty windy in Miami before game

The Cincinnati Enquirer

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Complete coverage from Associated Press
        MIAMI — Duane Thomas was on the floor of a hotel ballroom here, back against the wall, legs splayed before him. Frank Luksa of the Fort Worth Star Telegram asked him the question:

        “Duane, is the Super Bowl the ultimate game?”

        Thomas looked up, world weary and skeptical. “If it's the ultimate game,” the Dallas Cowboys halfback asked, “why are they playing it again next year?”

        We are back for this year's ultimate game, 33rd in a series. Not much has changed in the 28 years since Thomas' famous and pointed rhetoric. Political pundits think they've cornered the market on meaningless talk, what with Bill and Monica. They do not know. They have never covered a Super Bowl.

        It has only gotten worse since Thomas. Or better, depending on your ability to take a joke. Having covered 12 (XII) of these games, I approach them with the same gravity I apply to the Jerry Springer Show. It is hard, for example, to take seriously a man who wears a dog collar to Media Day.

        That would be Ray Buchanan, Atlanta Falcons cornerback, who showed up for talk sessions Tuesday and Wednesday wearing a black, studded dog choker because, as he explained to a rapt audience of hungover pen-wielders, “we are the underdogs.”

        Slow down, Ray. Let me get that down.

Sharpe tongue
        On the other side was Shannon Sharpe, Broncos tight end. Sharpe changes out his gums every 50,000 miles, like spark plugs. Don't get me wrong. I love Shannon Sharpe. I love his vowels, to say nothing of his consonants. But man, a week of Shannon is a bit much on the tympanum. After awhile, he starts to sound like The Nanny.

        Because nothing is left unsaid during Super Bowl Week it came down to a smack showdown Thursday between Shannon and Buchanan. Like most Super games, it was a letdown.

        “He looks like a horse,” Buchanan said of Shannon.

        “I'm not going to say he's a cross dresser,” fired back Shannon, “but that's what I heard.”

        Oh, the wit.

        In case you missed it, there were a few indispensable hints as to which team might win tonight. They were provided by Falcons coach Dan Reeves, in his final news conference Friday.

        “The team that is most successful running the ball increases its chance to win,” he said. Also, “The team that doesn't turn it over has the best chance to win.”

        Got that?

        Along the same lines, the local paper ran a couple of huge stories this week, suggesting that NFL players make a lot of money and have a lot of sex. Who'd have guessed?

        At his second Super Bowl, the year after his first, Duane Thomas maintained his year-long silence with the press. At Media Day, Thomas sat on the bleachers at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, circled by the now-familiar horde of mindless reporters. He said nothing, even as he was peppered with questions.

        Near the end of the session, Thomas turned to a scribe and asked a quick question, then got up and left. The horde descended upon the writer, desperate for information. What'd he say?

        The writer obliged: “He said, "Do you know what time it is?'”

More than want to know
        This week, you could have spent six hours talking with Reeves and Denver coach Mike Shanahan. An hour a day, from last Sunday to Friday. That's more time than authorized biographers get. (But less, probably, than the scribes at one Denver paper, who authored an eight-part series on the man that ran all week. Mike Shanahan: The Early Years. At 14 months, young Mike was already diagramming plays in his strained peas and offering his parents this child-rearing advice: “Just play your game.”

        You could have learned that Broncos wideout Willie Green spent $1,900 to rent a Lamborghini for a day, or that Falcons running back Ja mal Anderson got a facial in Miami Beach in advance of Media Day. Preparation is the key, in the Super Bowl and at the salon.

        You'd have learned the Falcons linebacker Cornelius Bennett feels “blessed” to be playing in his fifth Bowl, only months after he spent 36 days in jail for sexually assaulting a woman. Wonder how the woman feels.

        Other things were said, equally vital, but I missed them. You can't be two places at one time without a station wagon.

        After Duane Thomas' second Super, he appeared on live TV in the winning locker room, with CBS' Tom Brookshier. Brookshier offered a long-winded question to Thomas, the meat of which seemed to be, “Duane, you're faster than you look.”

        Thomas looked at Brookshier for an excruciating second or two.

        “Evidently,” he said.

        I tried to reach Thomas all week. I called his southern California home. I left a dozen messages on his answering machine. He never called back. There's poetic justice in that.

        As for the football game — it's tonight, right? — I'm picking the Broncos. They don't have Bennett, who has lost four Bowls, and Reeves, who has lost three, so they have better karma. They have Bill Romanowski at linebacker. He will grind your bones to make his bread. They run better. 27-17.

        “The end is near,” Denver QB John Elway said Tuesday, referring to his football career. I think.

        It's time for another ultimate game. Evidently.

        Columnist Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454.

        Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454.