Oakland coach John Madden said today that the turning point for his club this season probably was its defeat of the Cincinnati Bengals Dec.6.
In previous years, he noted, the Raiders have had relatively easy going the latter part of the season, giving the playoff games something of an anticlimatic air.
"From Cincinnati on we continued to improve," Madden said. "We were better against New England (in the playoffs) then better against Pittsburgh and better yesterday (in their 32-14 rout of Minnesota), when we played as well as we ever had."
Some Steeler followers had predicted the Raiders would go easy on the Bengals, since a Cincinnati victory would have eliminated Pittsburgh from playout contention and Oakland would not have had to contend with the defending champions in postseason play.
"It's good to have two weeks before playing the Super Bowl," said Madden. "The players could enjoy the Pittsburgh victory and the distractions of it without it mattering to our Super Bowl preparations.
"Since we came here, I don't remember our players talking about Pittsburgh. If we had had only one week between games, I don't think that would have been true."
Turning from the course of the season to the course of the Super Bowl game, Madden said, "There was no turning point. The turning points was when we came out here. We had one special teams play that was a thriller (when Fred McNeill of the Vikings blocked Ray Guy's punt in the first quarter) and another when we recovered their ensuing fumblel (at the Oakland two-yard line).
"They were not able to stop us. Even if they had scored on that blocked punt, we would have been able to overcome it. There were two things we didn't want to do. One, we didn't want to be tight. There is a difference between being tight and intensity. Two, the other thing was quote, conservative, unquote, though that is not my word for it, meaning we didn't want to be where the other team could predict what we would do because of the score.
"We wanted to pass on running downs, run on passing downs, run on running downs and pass on passing downs. I think we set that tempo when we came out in the third quarter and passed on first down (despite the 16-0 lead). We were not going to go 'boom-boom (run the ball to maintain control)."
Ken Stbler threw only four passes in the second half, before giving way at quarterback to Mike Rae.
"That was because we didn't need to anymore, because of the interceptions by Willie Hall and Willie Brown," Madden said.
"The Vikings have a defense that makes it unwise to get into pattern. We felt we had to have a mixture. Some of Clarence Davis' biggest runs were on passing downs. His biggest was on third-and-long yardage. Other third-down runs came when the Vikings were expecting a pass."
How confident did the Raiders get looking at films of the Vikings' previous games?
"Pretty confident, and I say that with due respect for the Vikings. There was a very strong air of confidence."
How many AFC teams would have beaten Minnesota?
"Sometimes when you say something about a thing like that it comes out wrong. But, hell, Pittsburgh, they're what they are. New England, they're a great team. Baltimore, I didn't see too much of . There are a lot of strong teams in our conference. But you shouldn't say after a game what you have not before a game."
Did he see the trend - the AFC has won five straight Super Bowls, eight of nine - continuing?
Reflecting on the players, in their joy of finally winning "The Big One," raising him to their shoulders. he said, "That was a hell of an accomplishment, lifting me up at nearly 300 pounds).They'll get a raise."