SAN DIEGO, JAN. 30 -- Finally.
For a solid week, the Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos have been scrutinized, publicized, analyzed. Washington fans, some wearing hog snouts, and Broncos boosters in cowboy hats and the color orange have partied big time.
Invading hordes have swarmed to the San Diego Zoo, to Tijuana, to Sea World. National Football League Commissioner Pete Rozelle has done his part, inviting 4,000 of his closest friends Friday night for an intimate gathering in an airplane hangar.
It's time for Super Bowl XXII. Sunday at 6:18 p.m. (EST) will bring the kickoff to the long-awaited match-up between the National Football Conference champion Redskins and the American Football Conference champion Broncos. The Broncos will be 3 1/2-point favorites in a game that will transfix not only two cities (to say nothing of San Diego's anticipated gridlock), but an entire nation.
Since Super Bowl III, when Joe Namath "guaranteed" that his 17-point underdog New York Jets would upset the Baltimore Colts and then delivered on his promise, this game has become fixed in the American culture as the ultimate day in sports, a Fourth of July in January. An estimated 120 million will watch the game on television (WJLA-TV-7). Advertisers will pay ABC up to $675,000 for a 30-second commercial. The NFL's income from TV and radio fees and ticket sales will be $25.36 million.
The field has been pampered, and everyone and everything is in readiness for pregame and halftime extravaganzas: 1,100 entertainers, white doves, mules and camels and 30,000 balloons. About 300 marines have been called in to join forces with 1,000 other security guards, agents and officers. Rich and famous -- from Hollywood to Capitol Hill -- will join everyday fans to fill all 73,500 seats in San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium beneath anticipated favorable skies and a ubiquitous blimp.
Attention will be focused primarily on the rival quarterbacks: Denver's John Elway, regarded as perhaps the premier signal-caller in the league and a potential Hall of Famer, and Washington's Doug Williams, whose proven maturity has helped him weather an intense week of questioning on his feelings about becoming the first black quarterback to play in a Super Bowl. Each will have a lot of help.
Denver boasts an array of excellent receivers headed by their high-flying "Three Amigos" (Ricky Nattiel, Vance Johnson and Mark Jackson); a veteran defense, including end Rulon Jones and linebackers Karl Mecklenburg, Ricky Hunley and Jim Ryan, and the usually steady kicker, Rich Karlis, who will be trying to atone for two missed field goal efforts in the first half of the Broncos' 39-20 defeat by the New York Giants in last year's Super Bowl. The Broncos' attitude is intense -- they don't want a repeat defeat. "For all of us," said serious-looking, serious-sounding punter Mike Horan, "it was a bitter pill to swallow because the taste of it lasted so long."
The Redskins, who appear relaxed, will counter with their own outstanding receivers, including Gary Clark and Art Monk, and a tough defense spearheaded by hard-charging ends Dexter Manley and Charles Mann, and the deft cornerback work of swift Darrell Green. Quarterback Jay Schroeder will be standing by, eager to play.
The Redskins hope to mount a running attack and avoid kicking-game mistakes; in their last Super Bowl appearance, XVIII in Tampa, a blocked punt started their 38-9 rout by the Raiders. A shaky place kicker, Ali Haji-Sheikh, must discover steel nerves at a demanding time, under unimaginable scrutiny at the culmination of what has become America's great picnic and pagan ritual rolled into one.
The Redskins have come to their fourth Super Bowl, displaying confidence and cordiality. At their hotel this week, many mixed easily with fans seeking autographs and offering encouragement. Manley and others posed for pictures, snapped by children and adults.
It's the third Super Bowl for Joe Gibbs, like his opposite number, Dan Reeves, the prototypically successsful NFL coach: young, thorough and dry. Gibbs knows well the importance of preparation, for he said, "The loser of this game takes a giant step backwards in the world's eyes. For whatever reason, that's all that counts -- winning."
To the winner goes a trophy named for the late Green Bay Packers and Redskins coach Vince Lombardi, who said, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing."
Like a migration, victory-hungry fans have come to San Diego by planes, buses, trains, vans, campers, limos, loaded station wagons and overloaded little cars. Fireworks lit the city Friday night; hotel lobbies have become impassable. The cheering isn't expected to stop tonight. All week, fans have made pilgrimmages to the game site; on Thursday alone, 15,475 went to the stadium merely to gaze upon it, as if it were the Colosseum in Rome.
Super Bowls weren't always this way. For the first one, Jan. 15, 1967, only two-thirds of the Los Angeles Coliseum was filled to see the Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs. But Namath's boast and the Jets' stunning upset in III in Miami gave the Super Bowl credibility; teams from the American Football League, which would soon merge with the NFL, could compete with the old-guard NFL teams. Since then, the game has grown so big as to shrink a country to an electronic village for three to four hours once a year.
Presidents get involved, even to the extent of recommending a play, as did Richard Nixon. Coaches' tactics and fiery talks have been likened to Gen. George Patton and Winston Churchill. Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli, Joe DiMaggio, Jimmy Stewart -- the famous have become commonplace during Super Bowl week.
Game pageantry follows days of entertainment and partying. Super Bowl VII, when Miami beat the Redskins, 14-7, may have been one of the dullest of games, but it produced the first mega-party of Super Bowls, on the Queen Mary in Long Beach. Rozelle's bash Friday night spilled out of the hangar into contiguous tents, featured a 1940s Swing Era theme, '40s models posing as mannequins, big bands like Les Brown's, everybody who was anybody -- and Denver's Reeves, but not Gibbs, who passed up the party.
This Super Bowl week has been marked not only by an earthquake but a preposterous change in decor at the elegant Hotel del Coronado, the Victorian historical landmark overlooking the sea, famed for its red turrets and visitors, from Benjamin Harrison to Marilyn Monroe. Its plush lobby carpet has been covered with a green, artificial-surface football field, complete with yard lines and numbers, and a lighted goal post decorated with Redskins, Broncos, NFC and AFC logos.
Reporters' coverage has been relentless. TV sports commentators have done gigs from poolsides. Radio sports talk show hosts have droned on from hotel lobbies, their voices echoing down corridors. Super Bowl III had one press bus; now the press is called the media, which moves by caravan as police stop traffic. A San Diego TV station showed a Washington TV set tuned to a Channel 9 report on a nude beach near San Diego: a case of us watching them watch us.
But when all is said and done, when every last party horn has been blown and both teams have emerged from Saturday night seclusion for Sunday's first whistle, the Redskins will be trying to recapture the most magical moment of their rich history, Super Bowl XVII of Jan. 30, 1983. That's when John Riggins turned the left corner and broke his jersey free of the Dolphins' clutching Don McNeal -- a photograph of which hangs in many Washington homes -- and roared, like a diesel, 43 yards into the end zone. It was a glorious 27-17 Redskins victory, after which the renowned Riggo proclaimed, "Ron may be president, but for tonight I'm king."