Some kind being must either have a soft spot for the National Football League or cannot bear to see the playoffs end without one last tingle of anticipation. A season that featured all manner of ways for less-than-inspiring teams to stay in contention actually ends with the best offensive team playing the best defensive team in Super Hype 12.
That would be the Dallas Cowboys, who only needed to be imaginative twice during a 17-point victory over Minnesota for the NFC championship, versus the Denver Broncos, who found lying and an unfamiliar 8-2-2 goal-line defense helpful in slipping by Oakland for the AFC title.
In truth, some postseason consistency would have been shattered if at least on team, in this instance the Broncos, had not tried to hide a serious injury to a key player. In past playoffs, the Redskins and Steelers - like the Broncos - have been caught only after successfully fooling everyone into believing something almost crippling was almost harmless.
Will the Orange Crush blush about the Craig Morton cover-up? Of course not. As the Redskins' Diron Talbert so eloquently put it, while commenting on an entirely different matter: "If you got to do it (cheat) to win, then you got to do it. That's the way it is."
The way it always has been is that the NFL refuses to allow anyone impartial to watch practices immediately before its showcase game, the Super Bowl. This recent history screams for a change in that policy when the Cowboys and Broncos begin preparations in New Orleans next week.
The 8-2-2 alignment is not part of the Bronco defensive arsenal because one of the "players" happens to be an NFL official. Lately, the phantom fumble, the bobble everyone but a kev official sees, has almost become a regular feature of significant games.
The Dolphins yelled when Fred Silva missed an important fumble by quarterback Bert Jones of the Colts. The Raiders were just as correct in wailing when head linesman Ed Martin missed Rob Lytle's fumble Sunday, although Al Davis' likening of the NFL's explanation to "Vietnam" was tasteless.
Commissioner Pete Rozelle is right in not allowing NFL games to be cluttered by dozens of instant replays. But when something as blatant as these two calls happens, with the television cameras in exactly the proper position to see the error, somebody with authority ought to be able to say: "Hey, let's stop and get this right."
An official with a better angle is able to over-rule another official on the field at times. Why can't an official with access to replays do the same thing when the call is so obviously wrong?
Whatever, the Broncos clearly can play, and Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach may have tipped Cowboy strategy two weeks ago during a routine interview after the playoff victory over the Bears.
Staubach said there had been a difference in the way the Cowboys attacked Chicago and the way they attacked the Broncos the week before. "Then we just ran everything away from (line-backer) Tom Jackson," he said.
The Cowboys won that final regular-season game, 14-6, when the Broncos also did a verbal sturt about how much an injured Morton would play. He hardly played at all - and the Cowboys controlled the game.
"But they didn't have to win that one," Cowboy coach Tom Landry said. "Sunday, they had to win. That makes a difference."
Although this team might capture the honor with one more victory over Denver, the Cowboy team closest to Landry's heart (and medical evidence insists he has one) is the '75 team that lost to the Steelers by four points in Super Bowl 10.
"Nobody gave that team a chance to get where it got," he said. "Nobody gave that team a chance to get where it got," he said. "No one thought that one would even win the division - and we got all the way to the Super Bowl."
Still, this year's team is special, in part because it is so young in so many important positions. Pat Donovan and Tom Rafferty were forced to man the right side of the offensive line when Rayfield Wright was injured and Blaine Nye retired.
Also, there were four new defensive starters before the season began: Aaron Kyle at right corner-back, Randy White at right tackle, Thomas Henderson at left linebacker and Bob Breuning in place of the retired Lee Roy Jordan at middle line-backer.
"We've had some real good defenses around here," said veteran left linebacker D. D. Lewis. "But as far as I'm concerned, this is the best one. We've played two playoff games and allowed one touchdown . . . I said early in the year you'd have to wait until the playoffs before you could measure anything. That's when a lot of people determine how good a defense is. I'm just gonna say for the record I think this one is best."