If the Super Bowl eliminations had ended three months ago, the Dallas Cowboys would be NFL champs. If they had ended three weeks ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers would have won. Because they end here Sunday, the Oakland Raiders will reign supreme. In the NFL's answer to Armegeddon, evil triumphs, 31-20.
This has a chance to be a most entertaining title game, with conservative play going the way of the Republicans. Even Bud Grant said so, in his fashion. He did not boldly declare a wide-open affair, of course, for the NFL way is to mask honest opinions and zone defense with equal intensity.
The Viking coach did drop several significant clues, though, including his belief that the Raiders have "good balance between offense and defense." The translation: We can move the ball. And the Raiders could score against Patton's army.
The Super Bowl tends to bring out the least in offenses a driving desire to play not to lose rather than to win. That ought not to be the case with the Vikings, simply because they managed to lose three prior Super Bowls with that sort of style.
Super Bowl experience, the ability to cope with suddenly being thrust into the intense spotlight created by the media and fans, is not to be underrated. And that would be an advantage for the Vikings against nearly every other AFC team except the Raiders.
The Raiders have been under serious national scrutiny all season, as coach John Madden emphasized earlier this week.
"We've had hoopla and controversy from the first game," said Madden, "when Pittsburgh accused us of diety play. Then there was the inadvertent whistle in Chicago, and then all that talk about us laying down against Cincinnati and the stuff about the calls against New England in the playoffs."
So the Raiders will be able to take care of themselves, and they ought to be able to take care of the Vikings with their excellent offensive line and the best quarterback in football at that moment, Ken Stabler.
Much of the sporting world is unaware of Art Shell, Gene Upshaw, Dave Dalby, George Buehler and John Vella, but they are excellent blockers, fully capable of allowing Raiders runners to continue the assault on Minnesota's defense that the Rams began in the NFC finals.
"We like to take people at their strength," said right guard Buehler. "We take special joy in breaking a team's spirit and backs at the point where they're most proud.
"And the area in which the Vikings seem to take special pride is when the defense gets close to the goal line. Teams can move the ball on them, up to a point, and sometimes they get a bit complacent doing it.
"The Vikings are good at rising to the occasion. They put the punch on you when they have to. Inside the 20 or so, it's an emotional thing, a lot easier to put out 100 per cent when you know you must.
"The fact that we'd put Pittsburgh in the playoffs gave us something to prove against them. We were very intent in that. Ego is not a good quality always, but when I talk of pride I don't mean the ugly kind, if there is such a thing.
The Raider's special is keeping the defensive riffraff from Settlers, allowing him to stand unmolested in the pocket, pumping the ball until Fred Biletniknff, Cliff Branch or Dave Casper breaks free.
Mostly, Stabler throws unusually safe passes, although there are whispers within the NFL that he has a bit of Duryle Lamonica in him, a tendency to force a pass he should not now and then.
And how can the Vikings win?
"Patience," said a general manager familiar with both the Raiders and Vikings, "especially (Fran) Tarkenton. Good as he is he still can be very impatient. In fact, he's the most impatient outstanding player in the league.
"If the Vikes get behind, or his personal production doesn't surface quickly, watch out. You can argue all you want about that interception he threw down near the end zone that cost Minnesota a win against the Rams in the regular season, but I've seen him do something like that time and time again."
Also, the Vikings have a far superior runner, Chuck Foreman, one thoroughly motivated by the essence of inspiration, money. Foreman wants to renegotiate his contract, and what better lever than a memorable performance Sunday?
Much of the attention will be riveted on George Atkinson, his pregame talk of intimidation and his past sins, real and imagined. Will someone pound him senseless into the Rose Bowl turf, as the Packers did the Kansas City loudmouth, Fred Williamson. Or will safety Atkinson's reputation make the Viking receivers a bit coutious, as Lynn Swann appeared to be in the AFC title game?
Whatever, Super Hype will end shortly after 3:30 p.mSunday, and for that the world is grateful once again.