Lyle Alzado, the talkative tackle of those boisterous Denver Broncos, was regaling a group of interviewers with tales of his years as a rowdy teenager on Long Island when a Denver assistant coach walked up and whispered in his ear.
This was Thursday, the final day for formal interviews of members of the Super Bowl teams and Alzado was having a grand time. "I'm really enjoying this," he was saying, "but I gotta cut it off. I just got the message. Gotta go to a meeting.It's time get serious again. That's what we're here for, right?"
Notwithstanding all the hoopla and happenings, the tumult in the French Quarter the groping groupies, the slick scalpers, Billy Carter, Phyllis George, the crush of orange-clad mile-high crazies from Denver and the Lear Jet set from Dallas, two teams are here to play a football game Sunday at 6 p.m. (WROP-TV-9, WMAR-TV-2).
And so, Alzado and his teammates trudged back upstairs to the second floor of the Airposrt Sheraton Hotel, turned off the lights and watched football movies, listened to the whrrrrr of the projectors and the froning voices of coaches talking about slots and stacks, stunts and Stauback and all the rest.
For the two teams participating in the Super Bowl, there must be some semblence of business as usual as they make preparation to play the most important football game of the year.
And yet, the Super Bowl format - a two-week interlude between games, a week in a hotel, a 6 p.m. starting time for television is almost totally alien to the normal routine of the previous 22 games.
"You just try and make the best you can out of a tough situation," said Cowboy general manager Tex Schramm. "I'll tell you what, I know 26 other teams who'd love to be in this spot."
Adds Fred Gehrke, the Bronco general manager, "do we like it? You must be kidding. Geez, you wait a lifetime for this. Sure there are problems but you won't hear anybody on our side complaining."
Both teams came to New Orleans Monday, night just about ready to play, with visions of the flex, the 34 defense and the shotgun dancing in their heads. Preparations on both sides began the day after each team had won its respective conference chmpionship.
While most of America was tuning in Woody, Bear and Bo in Jan. 2 bowl games, the coaching staffs of both teams were breaking down the films of the previous day's conference title games, charting plays, formations, blitzes, blocking schemes and tendencies.
Because the Cowboys and Brancos had played each other in the last game of the regular season, the process was a bit easier than usual. Instead of having to break down the films of their opponents' previous games, each team's staff was able to zoom in on the opponents' two playoff games.
Both teams also make heavy use of computer systems in their work, and by the time the players showed up Wednesday after two days off, extensive scouting reports, computer printouts on opponents' tendencies and the tentative game plans were waiting for them when they walked into their first meeting of the day.
The teams held regular practices on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, with meetings in the morning and workouts in the afternoon. Both teams also had light workouts Saturday, just as if they were of play the Super Bowl last Sunday.
"We worked everything in we had to work in," said Cowboy center John Fitzgerald. "It was a normal week, with everything on a very high tempo. To tell you the truth, I was ready to play the game last week. My body kept saying it's time to play, but my head was saying, 'wait a minute, pal, you've got another week to go.'"
But instead of a football game the players and coaches had a rare Sunday off. Both teams had brief get-the-kinks out practices on Monday, then flew to New Orleans Monday afternoon.
The Cowboys got off to a terrible start. A bus carrying three players, two assistant coaches and a reporter broke down on route from the Cowboys practice field to the Dallas For Worth airport, delaying the flight for 45 minutes.
The Cowboys flew to New Orleans in a Braniff plane painted orange, Denver's color. "Just a coincidence, really," a slightly embarrassed airline spokesman said. Most of the Cowboys were in suits and ties and some carried attache cases. The same could not be said for the casually-dressed Broncos.
They, too, flew south in an orange plane with a bumper sticker on the main cabin door reading "Super Bowl or Bust." "We were jumping around, listening to good music, playing cards," Alzado said. "We're loose, that's the way it's been all year."
By the time the teams had arrived, the league office had arranged for hotel space, practice facilities and bus service, and each team had sent down an advance guard of office staffers to make sure there were no slipups.
The Cowboys were quartered directly across the street from the airport in a Hilton hotel complete with putting green, tennis court and movies in the room. The players had choices ranging from Network to the R-rated Cherry Hill High.
The Cowboys set up a command post in a banquet room, where secretaires and front office people performed a variety of services for Cowboy players and other team personnel. They arranged tours at the King Tut exhibit at the art museum, made finner reservations, helped find hotel rooms for family and friends, tried to locate extra tickets to the game on Sunday, and planned a post-game celebration, win or lose.
The Broncos were quartered about two miles away at the Airport Sheraton, a high-rise hotel. The entire second floor was being used either as office space or meeting rooms, and the Bronco staff also was engaged in making life easier for its players.
At both hotels, security was tight. At Bronco headquarters, a security man was stationed on every floor to make sure no one bothered the players. And after running back Joe Keyworth received a death threat on Wednesday, several extra men were added to the force.
The Broncos seemed to keep a tighter rein on their players than the Cowboys early in the week. On Tuesday through Thursday Denand were required to attend team meals at breakfast and lunch.
From the time they woke up until after practice at 5 p.m., the Broncos had little spare time. There were team meetings in the morning as well as interview sessions Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
There were 90-minute practices at old Tulane stadium Tuesday through Friday, with a morning workout today at the Superdome. For the most part, players were free to make their own dinner arrangements, but the team had a 1 a.m. curfew Monday, with an 11 p.m. bed check Tuesday through Saturday night.
The Bronco wives arrived by charter flight Thursday, and stayed with their husbands the rest of the week. "Hell yes, they'll stay together," said Gehrke. "They're probaly in better hands with their wives than anybody else. Our boys know how to take care of themselves, we're not worried about them carousing or anything like that. They know what's at stake."
Dallas players went through the same daily schedule as the Broncos, with meetings in the morning and practice in the afternoon at the New Orleans Saints' facilities.
The Cowboys had a good laugh when they arrived for their first practice Tuesday and read some of the signs pasted in the Saints' locker room, particlarly the one that began "To win the Super Bowl" and went on to list the Saints goals for 1977.
Among other achievements, the New Orleans defense was being asked to cause three fumbles a game, stop all all third-down plays of two or less yards and give up 14 points a game or less.The offense was expected to "never allow any sacks on th quarterback, never fumble, never throw any interceptions and score 25 points a game."
"Ridiculous, totally unrealistic," sniffed Cowboy assistant Ermal Allen.
Added another Dallas player, "To win the Super Bowl, you got to play for the Cowboys."
The Cowboys were mostly on their own for meals, and from Monday through Wednesday, had no curfew. On Thursday, and Friday, midnight bed checks were in effect, with an 11 p.m. curfew tonight.
Players on both sides took advantage of free time early in the week to eat at various restaurants. But as fans from both sides descended on the city, most of the players insisted they would use room service, or eat in the hotel coffee shop.
"Actually, we're all king of used to this," said Bronco linebacker Tom Jackson. "The city of Denver is a lot wilder for anyone playing on the team right now than New Orleans is. At home, you can't do anything without people shaking your hand, or asking you for an autograph."
"This is nothing compared to some of our trips to the Rose Bowl," added Denver linebacker Randy Gradishar, an Ohio State alumnus. "One year, Woody (Hayes) had us staying in a monastery in the hills. We had a 9 p.m. curfew and we hardly saw anybody for the 10 days we were out there.
This week, all of us have been going out to dinner, but that's about all we've got time for. It's not so much going down to Bourbon Street and having a wild time as much as it is just getting out of the hotel and away from football for a few hours."
The coaching staffs, however, had little time for fancy dinners or viewing Tut early in the week. While the players were mostly free in the evenings, the coaches were having nightly meetings, discussing new plays and making minor adjustments in the game plans.
By Thursday, though, their work-load had decreased considerably, and so there was time for Tom Landry to help his wife Alicia celerate her birthday at the Elmwood Plantation, an old restaurant on the outskirts of town.
"None of us have really left the hotel all week," Bronco receiver coach Fran Polsfoot said Thursday morning. "We're been going until 10:30, 11 o'clock every night. But right now, we're just about complete. We've double and triple-checked everything, and now about all we can do is wait and try to keep their minds concentrating on this game."
"I think we could play this game right now," coach Red Miller added a few hours later. "We're just marking time. You can give the squad too much to think about and we don't want to overload them. So we've eased off and we're letting them go with what they've got."
"I never stop preparing for it mentally, mainly because I call the plays," said Landry. "Every night I'll review the films and check the plays, things I've already done a hundred times. By the time the game starts, that's when I'll be ready."
The waiting game began Friday. Both teams had their final major workouts of the week, and there were no more interview sessions.
"Friday's when it really gets to you," said Cowboy defensive end Ed (Too Tall) Jones. "That's when I'm a real basket case. I'm kind of nervous anyway, and the pressure starts to build Friday. How do I handle it? I don't. I've had trouble sleeping all week. The food isn't going down real good. I'm actually kind of irritable. And it's just going to get worse."
Saturday was more of the same. Both teams worked out at the Superdome in the morning. The Broncos scheduled a final meeting at 1:30 p.m. and the players were on their own after 3 P.m. until 11.
The Cowboys were required to attend a team buffet dinner in the hotel at 6:45 p.m., leaving little time for a night on the town before their 11 p.m. curfew.
Switchboard operaors at both team hotels had instructions not to allow incoming plane calls to players from Saturday night until 8 a.m. Sunday, though most players on both teams had cut off the telephones earlier in the week.
"You get calls from people wanting tickets, people you never even met and suddenly they're you best friend," said Cowboy middle linebacker Bob Bruenig."A lot of people will call just to wish you well and say good luck. You appreciate that, but at the same time you just don't have the time to talk to everyone. We're here for a football game, and that's what you have to keep telling yourself."
Sunday, of course, is the most difficult time. Both teams have enough events scheduled to help ease the pain of waiting. Breakfast is served at 9:30. Players are taped in the hotel by the trainers after breakfast.
The Broncos will hold a chapel service at 12:30 p.m. and serve a pregame meal at 1 p.m. Steak, eggs and pancakes are available, though several players with queasy stomachs do not eat.
The Cowboys will hold a devotional service at 12:30 p.m., and also eat the pregame meal at 1. The Broncos board buses for the 25-minute ride to the Superdome at 2:30 p.m., the Cowboys depart at 2:45.
Last-minute refresher meetings are held in the locker room, but mostly the players sit and wait. Cowboy receiver Drew Pearson says he probably will visit the bathroom several times for his pregame throw-up. Harvy Martin sits in his locker stall with a headset tuned in to a favorite piece of music. Cliff Harris will meditate.
Warm-ups begin an hour before the kickoff, then it is back to the locker room for a final message from the coach.
"I'm sure it's going to be a very emotional kind of thin for us," said the Broncos' Jackson. "We're played with tremendous emotion all year, and I'm sure Red's gonna' be pretty excited. We will be too."
"Coach Landry never gets wild or crazy in the locker room," said Dallas linebacker Thomas Henderson. "He doesn't really have to. We know what we have to do, we know how important it is. And we'll be just as psyched as they (Denver) will."
Once the game begins, there is still work to be done. In the press box, the Cowboys have four assistant coachs, offensive coordinater Dan Reaves, linebacker coach Jerry Tubbs, special assignments man Ermal Allen and conditioning coach Ron Ward. The Broncos use there aides, Polsfoot, backfield coach Paul Roach and secondary coach Bob Gambold, in the press box.
Both staffs are doing basically the same thing: charting tendencies, diagramming bitzes, stunts, and coverages and relaying that information to the sidelines. Landry does not wear a headset, but is constantly being fed information from assistants. Miller wears ear phones, an dis in direct contact with his men.
Four minutes before halftime, the assistants in the press box go to the locker room and begin charting on bulletin boards the information they have been collecting.
"When our team walks in the door at halftime," said Cowboy assistant Allen, "everything is there waiting for them. You make adjustments, talk about a play that might work, things like that. It's all very businesslike, just because you don't have time (about 25 minutes).
And, finally, after two weeks of waiting and three hours of playing, the National Football League will have a new champion.