These NFL playoffs will answer some intriguing questions, such as: Will Randy Gradishar bark before he bites Franco Harris? ... Will Tim the Ex-Bartender give his swizzle stick to the Hall of Fame? ... How many Super Bowl tickets will Pete Rozelle allot for the University of Colorado?
One longs to wax melodic, At the typewriter, one wishes he could tap-tap-tap a rhapsody about the 1978 NFL season. It was a clinker. Even the bellboys in Pittsburgh, whose Steelers were the winningest team of all, know 1978 was a year to forget.
"Nothing like the time (we join Jimmy the Bellboy, bags in hand) when I pulled Bobby Layne out of a car wreck."
"Yeah, the ol' Steeler quarterback. Drinking? Bobby Layne drinking? When didn't he? So it's 10:30 the night before they're going to play the Redskins. And Layne rams his car into the back end of a trolley out here in front of the hotel.
"He climbs out of the car. I'm rushing over to him. His head's bleeding awful. He points at his car and says, 'Jimmy, take care of this.' Last I saw of him.
"Until the next day. He plays against the Redskins -- with a patch over his eye."
One might wish for a patch over both eyes as the NFL playoffs get down to serious business this weekend. If NFL seasons were in a beauty contest, 1978 would be Miss Medusa. Of 26 teams, only nine outscored their opponents (only three titans of the NFC did it). Still, with rigged-for-equality schedules, 20 teams finished at 9500 or one game below.
This is serious. Atlanta makes the playoffs and Oakland doesn't. Denver can't score against the Metropolitan Life benver can't score against the Metropolitan Life benchwarmers and is two victories from the Super Bowl. New England has a coach who needed scratch paper for his game plan and so wrote it on his five-year contract.
That coach is Chuck Fairbanks, who wants now to coach at the University of Colorado, better known now as the University of a Resort Golf Course. An oilman is building the golf course and is said to have cut Fairbanks in for a million-dollar share. All Fairbanks had to do was break his fiveyear contract with New England. So he did. Life is simple when you make decisions by putting a yard-stick against piles of money.
So the biggest story of these NFL playoffs is not the efficency of a Ken Stabler two-minute march. It is a manipulative coach who, having thrown aside honor, now professess to pursue the honor of a Super Bowl victory. His team, the powerful Patriots, can win it.
Fairbanks' leaving means nothing.
Perhaps his physical absence would have hurt the Patriots. His mind created the team. But the Patriots' owner, at first a man consumed by holy outrage, became as cynical as Fairbanks. When he thought of the Super Bowl, the owner, Billy Sullivan, said, in effect, "He's a low-life cad, but he's my low-life cad and he can win football games."
Life is simple when you make decisions according to how you want a football game to turn out.
With Fairbanks secure on the sidelines for these playoffs, one then wondered if the defection-to-come would upset the Patriots so badly they would play poorly.
No way. Hardly anyone coutside a crib is more spoiled and selfish than a professional athlete. The Patriots will play as if inspired, for in fact they have been inspired. The whole NFL game is get what you can while you can. Here's the coach making a million-dollar haul. Way to hum, coach.
We mentioned Tim the Ex-Bartender at the top of the show (sorry, too much Monday night TV). As sleazy as the Fairbanks Follies are, Tim Mazzetti's performance has been wonderful.
Working as a bartender to make ends meet after four NFL teams released him, Mazzetti hired on with the Falcons in midseason. Onw he is a hero. He outright won four contests with late-game field goals. Another victory this weekend, over Dallas, might get Mazzetti elected governor of Georgia, which is a step up from bartending and might lead to better things.
On second thought, should Mazzetti's foot produce victory over the Cowboys, he won't be available for elections.A miracle of that magnitude would cause him to be sainted, right along with Bobby Layne and his eye patch.
The winners this weekend will be Dallas, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and New England. In defeat, Mazzetti will go down beautifically, a halo about his instep. Denver's Randy Gradishar, to answer our very first question last, will go down to defeat yapping at Franco Harris' heels.
A policeman brought an attack dog to a Denver practice last week, a day after the dog ran down and chomped on a burglar. In honor of Denver's mighty linebacker, the policeman named his dog "Gradishar."
"I went to pet him and he bit me on the arm," Gradishar, the person, said. He shrugged. "That's what he's trained to do. The policeman said he named the dog 'Gradishar' for what I do on and off the field."
Maybe Franco could carry a walking stick.