TALK ABOUT your football hype: "Outlined against a blue, gray October sky the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore, they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden." And that was 40 years before Super Bowl I!
The last of the Four Horsemen, Jim Crowley, died Jan. 15, 11 days before Super Bowl XX. He often said he wasn't sure which horseman he was -- "you can put me down as Pestilence" -- on that day in 1924 when Notre Dame beat Army and Grantland Rice went to the Book of Revelation for imagery worthy of the four men in the Irish backfield. Jim Crowley came along at a time when the character-building college- boys' game of football was giving birth to the professional leagues, and he played professionally for a few years after college for $500 a game.
We doubt that any player who takes the field in New Orleans today would even suit up for that kind of money, and we doubt that sportswriters will be consulting their Bibles tonight. Any of them who look to a blue-gray sky for inspiration will see only the inside of the Superdome.
But the spectacle may have its apocalyptic side: Walter Payton of the Chicago Bears could by himself carry the roles of Death and Destruction, and William Perry is a standing rebuttal to Famine.
Those two along with other members of the Bears are featured in the "Super Bowl Shuffle," a rap video/record that is being played over and over without mercy on television and radio. It will even be part of a special TV program on the Super Bowl to be shown in two provinces of China, where there is a growing interest in the game known as "olive ball." The show will emphasize the role of football in American life, not the intricacies of the game.
Which is, by a funny coincidence, the same approach NBC is taking in its Super Bowl programming today. The network, realizing that millions of people with little interest in or understanding of olive ball tune in simply because they want to be part of the national TV Super Bowl party, will be staging something called "Super Sunday: An American Celebration." It will have some football, an interview with the president and a lot of show-business things. It will be a long day of television, and the commercials alone will probably consume more time than it took Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death to accomplish their tasks on a Saturday afternoon in October 1924.