Harry Pappas was more than slightly ahead of his time. Somewhere among all the type and hysteria of the Super Bowl, he reasoned eight years ago, is a football game - and a man can get a fine seat front even to this spectacle if he is brazen enough, more if he has a piece of string.
There is no more brazen two-legged creature on earth than a basketball coach - and Harry Pappas was the junior-college variety in Delaware the morning he decided to crash Super Bowl 5 in Miami. And he was not going to settle for a mere $20 seat in the stands.
The string? Something about six inches long was ideal. Outside the Orange Bowl, he tied one end to a belt keeper and joined a crowd of other men with strings also tied to belt keepers - except theirs had large credentials attached to the other end.
As Pappas was walking boldly into the special gate, an attendant stopped him and asked for his credential. Pappas's face immediately became one of startled innocence. (Anyone who has seen an NBA players just after being called for a foul knows the expression).
"What do you mean? It's right here. Oops. It was here just a minute ago. Look, the string's still there. The credential must have gotten ripped off back there when all of us were jostled together. You know how these things can happen so."
So Harry Pappas talked his way onto the sideline, "damn near the Colt bench," he bragged later. I was about to grill Pappas on more specifics when he - this obscure JUCO basketball coach - wrapped an arm around my shoulder and, bold as you please, escorted me into the rather heavily guarded press room. He had proved his point.
If such as Harry Pappas, Duane ("If this is the ultimate game, how come they play one next year?") Thomas and others keep pricking its bubble, perhaps Super Hyde will again be called what it really is - the championship of the National Football League. Nothing more.
Some teams - and the Dallas Cowboys are one - suggest in their brochures that not much of consequence happened in pro football the four decades before 1967, or Super Bowl I, forgetting that everyone in cleats skipped to the whip of entertainment dollars even in the athletic dark ages before Brent, Phyllis and Irv.
As the NFL championship game, it would have a rich history. As the Super Bowl. Well, it took 12 years for the first death threat to become public. Even a golf tournament - the U.S. Open - had one earlier. Like horses in their stalls before the Triple Crown races, the Super Bowl athletes now are guarded by security personnel at night.
A pattern has taken shape, though. The first time a team makes the Super Bowl it is a delight. "Come back," one of the Oakland Raiders once yelled to the horde of reporters, "we're not through." The second time is a bore, unless the team is as media conscious and committed to young players as the Cowboys.
Teams that consider the Super Bowl the ultimate distraction, the Redskins for instance, usually fail to return. And the Broncos' victory over Oakland for the American Conference championship means the "tradition" of back-to-back Super Bowl successes begun by Miami in '72 and '73 and continued by the Steelers in '74 and '75 has been broken.
Also broken, by NFL edict, has been the flow of week-to-week competition. That tends to snap players concentration and thus detract from the game. As more and more newspaper - and The Post once was the unquestioned leader in Super Bowl overkill - back off from almost blatent fluff, the NFL will sense its hard-sell failing and drop the extra week.
Ironically, as the sports sections of many papers are backing off a bit from Super Saturation, Super Hyde is spilling more and more into other sections. New magazines find it a convenient cover on a slow week; editorial writers do their annnual violence tap dance - and always ignore the fact that the average high school game in infinitely more dangerous than the Super Bowl.
Still, one positive development surfaces now and then - and Sunday's Cowboy-Bronco game ought to see it continued. So many teams in so many important football games play even more conservatively than usual. They play not to lose rather than to win as John Wooden once put it.
Sunday both teams figure to attack to show imagination. That both teams have splendid defenses also suggests this offensive zest will not be especially productive. But one of the fascinations is what Tom Landry has dancing through his mind for the Bronco defense.
Often Landry tries to use the opposition strength against itself. Two instance come to mind. One was against the Vikings in the 1971 NFC championship game. The strength of the Vikings was its quick defensive line - and the quickest Viking was Alan Page.
So the Cowboy blockers, in this situation John Niland, allowed Page to leap whichever way he chose on the snap. At the Viking 11-yard line, Page took an outside rush - and Niland simply blocked him even farther to the outside. Thomas took a delayed handoff, read the block and danced inside Niland's black for the touchdown.
The Cowboys used Viking cornerback Bobby Bryant's unusual flair for alertness and aggressiveness on a screen passes to complete a 32-yard touchdown pass in the NFC title game this year. If Dallas decides to continue that use-the-opposition-strength-against-itself, the obvious target would be linebacker Tom Jackson.
The week after the Cowboys' 14-6 victory over Denver in the final regular-season game Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach said the strategy had been to direct most of the plays away from the unusually quick Jackson.
Could Landry and Staubach have been thinking ahead to the Superdome nearly a month ago? Unlike many coaches, Lanry does not always take them one game at a time.