The Super Bowl is where the NFL serves Bud Grant, well done, with scrambled eggs and John Madden, over lightly, with crepes, where Don Rickles gets second billing to Windlan Hall, where it nearly is impossible for the event itself to live up to the buildup.
At the Super Bowl, the pitchpersons (hustling long has been a liberated profession) vastly outnumber the athletes. And here the combatants in this XIth celebration of hype - the Vikings and Raiders - were asked to evaluate one another before their coaches seriously considered the question.
Mostly, the days before the Super Bowl are a collection of snippets, impressions of and by players exposed to cameras and questions for 45 minutes per team Monday through today. Unlike the second most overpromoted event, the Kentucky Derby, even the workouts are closed. So one flits through the maze of bodies and cables and sees:
Alan Page, his pride wounded.
"The first time I was here," the Viking tackle said, "there was pressure, a little fear of the unknown. The second time there was less and the third time hardly any. Now I'm honestly just looking forward to getting back to Minneapolis. Maybe the fifth or sixth or seventh or eighth time to the Super Bowl I'll get religion again."
Page is irritated - and properly so - at interviewer upon interviewer lifting a microphone inches from his lips and insisting his and the Vikings' remarkable record over the last decade will be seriously flawed by losing another "big one."
Page's coach, Grant, is more wily. In his appearance, Grant anticipates the snipers, asks the obvious questions himself at his breakfast sessions and then answers them. He is a man barely able to keep a rein on a sharp tongue.
The other day an out-of-breath radio type asked: "Coach, what's the difference in going from cold weather to hot weather?" For several seconds, Grant was silent, although his eyes showed he already had formed the answer the question deserved. He thought better of it, though, and mumbled something harmless.
His counterpart, Madden, has been a delight, quick to respond and more open then expected.
"Minnesota doesn't say we're dirty, do they?" he said, smiling. "I wouldn't have said that if I didn't know the answer."
How will the Raiders counter the tigers on the Viking special team?
Madden is a bear of a man about whom little is known. He is largely unappreciated despite winning 79 per cent of his games during eight years as Raider coach, because it usually is assumed even his on-the-field actions are controlled by owner Al Davis.
"He (Madden) is an honestly compassionate man," said articulate guard George Buehler. And a cunning man, with a wit as biting as Grant's.
"I remember when I was a rookie we were practicing against linebacker stunts," Buehler said, "and I let my man get by me several times. John said to me: 'We don't have enough insurance on the quarterback to let you play yet.'"
Once during practice Madden walked up to Beuhler on the sideline and said: "Bet you I blow up in less than five minutes."
"You mean you can plan something like that?" Buehler said.
Yes, Madden revealed, he can rationally determine what will be best for the team at a given moment and, if a tantrum is needed, work himself to the appropriate mental pitch on command.
"Sure enough," said Buehler, "he exploded at the guys with three minutes."
Buehler's is a more orderly mind, although it has its devilish moments. He tinkers with radio-controlled toys when not trying to find ways to keep defensive linemen from his quarterback, Ken Stabler, and sometimes frets at the impact some of his teammates have on his sport.
"Some attitudes football creates in people do not seem to be healthy for mature people living with each other," he said. "It makes us money, but is it right?"
A few feet away, the NFL's best-known head-hunter, George Atkinson, was offering another lecture on the art of intimidation. And a few feet from Atkinson, Buehler's guard partner, Gene Upshaw, continued to hone his put-one act.
Well, said another radio man, you guys sure have come a long way to get here to the Super Bowl.
"Actually," said Upshaw, "it was only was about a 30-minute flight from Oakland." And another public appearance by the Raiders quickly came to a close.