THE WAR in the Gulf caused the 25th Super Bowl to be played in an atmosphere of what passes for austerity in the National Football League: no monster pregame party with whole hogs on a spit, no blimp overhead, a slight modulation of the pre-, mid- and post-game festivities, and a rigorous attention to security that caused fans to be temporarily deprived of various electronic aids they have become accustomed to toting into the stadium.

Despite or perhaps because of all this, the game turned out to be a beaut: probably the best of the Super Bowls. Two very good teams bumped and rolled in real dirt for the better part of three hours, disputing which of their diametrically opposed philosophies of football -- the New York Giants' power and possession game or the Buffalo Bills' freewheeling, fast-moving offensive -- was superior. In the end, of course, it was decided by whether one rather lonely specialist for the Bills could kick a ball through two upright beams 140 feet away while most of his larger colleagues on both teams fretted helplessly or, in the case of a pious few, prayed that he would miss.

He did, but the Giants' coach, Bill Parcells, was having none of that theology in trying afterward to explain his team's 20-19 victory. "Power wins football games," he said, adding for emphasis: "Power wins football games." He should know, we suppose, but for most who watch these things, it also helps to have a few touches of personality just to make things interesting.

Something like the brave performance of Jeff Hostetler, for example. A longtime understudy quarterback suddenly elevated by another's injury to starting status late this season, he took quite a battering and kept bouncing back while leading the Giants, for the second Sunday in a row, over the team (and the quarterback) currently thought to be the best in football. There was also the job done by Ottis Anderson, the reliable old running back (at 33, a running back is old) who, to nearly everyone's astonishment, pounded out 104 yards and was named the game's most valuable player. They were suitable low-key heroes for this toned-down Super Bowl, the sort who win not only games but respect.