Symbolically, Super Bowl 14 could not be more ideal for the National Football league. Sport has a unique cyclical nature and now, as if on command, the dawn of the '80s is the exact opposite of the dawn of the '70s.

In the first Super Bowl of the '70s, the NFC Vikings were heavy favorites over the AFC Chiefs desite the Jets having whipped the Colts the year before. The AFC still was the barefoot waif to the Brahmin NFC.

We have come half-cycle in a decade. From that Chiefs' victory, the AFC has turned on its elders with a wicked vengance, to the point where the absolute worst team in the conference and arguably the most awful in the entire league 10 years ago -- the Steelers -- are two-figure favorites over the NFC champion.

Knocking the NFC is as fashionable here this week as belittling the AFC was in New Orleans 10 Super Bowls ago. The Rams? Naw, they ought to be called the ewes. The only way they can beat the Steelers is if Barry Breman, the great imposter, replaces Terry Bradshaw at quarterback and the defense dreams about large dollar signs instead of large sheep all week.

The Rams are difficult to take seriously. Five days before the kickoff in Pasadena Sunday they already have set memorable records.

They are the first team to be leaving the town they represent the season after the Super Bowl; they are the first team to ride the pantyhose of an owner to the Super Bowl; they are the first team that probably will consider firing the coach if he gets embarrassed in the Super Bowl.

Surely, no team ever has gone farther with less owner input than these Rams this season. Poor Ray Malavasi has had Georgia (Rosenbloom) on his mind for too often. Presumably, someone had to tell her there were other drafts than the ones that require a sweater.

But the Rams are not as incompetent as the popular notion insists. Their few strengths play to the few Steeler weaknesses. Their major hope seems to be forcing Pittsburgh into a conservative, lowscoring game.

So be forewarned. This promises to be as dull as one can imagine, the reverse of the exquisite Steeler-Cowboy shootout last year, very likely another time when the Super Bowl game fails to match the Super Bowl hype.

And Super Bowl hype causes the winning coach of Super Bowl 11, John Madden, to be among the accredited reporters. The bearish former Raider coach, who retired when the game began to gnaw too hard on him, was both an interviewer and interviewee today.

The journalistic herd is such that three enormous buses were required simply to transport the ones ambulatory by 7 a.m. the nearly 50 miles to the Steeler practice side.

Of course, except for one or two designated sets of eyes admitted to check for injuries that might well go unreported otherwise, nobody was allowed to watch the Steelers practice. But for 45 minutes the players and coaches allowed themselves to be tackled verbally.

A few minutes before they appeared Madden, seriously, said: "I'm trying to figure out questions to ask. I've never done this (pregame television interviews) before."

"Just ask 'em questions they can't simply say yes to," the new heavy hitter at Sports Illustrated offered. Madden still seemed puzzled.

He was affable, as usual, earlier, alluding to the Raiders' reputation for dirty tricks by saying; "I'm in charge of wetting the field down for the Steelers." He admitted some NFL teams have tried to coax him into unretiring.

"I've said no," he said. "And then I've had to say no to them a second and a third time. Mostly, when you say no they figure it means you want more money. So a guy'll say: "Hey, I'll give you this much. And this much.

"Finally, they realize my no means no."

No long translations are necessary for what the Steelers have in mind this week. They are taking dead aim on history, at offering more testimony to fuel the idea of their being the best NFL team ever.

That bandwagon will get another passenger if they beat the Rams. But the matter ought to be put into some perspective. Super Bowl success is being weighted far too heavily.

For instance, much is made of the Steelers winning one more Super Bowl than the Green Bay Packers at the moment, three to two. But the Super Bowl still is the NFL championship, after all, and in that regard the Packers won five in seven years.

The Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions each won as many NFL titles as the pre-Sunday Steelers. And the '40s Chicago Bears won four.

Twenty of the 45 Steelers have been on all three previous Super Bowl winners. A 21st, Mike Wagner, is on injured reserve. Fifteen players were only on the third Super Bowl team, last year.

They need every incentive possible.

Incredibly, Bradshaw has volunteered that "the Steelers ought to be underdogs. We've never beaten them (in two games that have any relevance). The home-field advantage has always been worth seven points, I figure, I don't see where the separation is. I don't see it anywhere."

The most noticeable separtion, Terry, and don't blush now, is quarterback. If Vince Ferragamo is capable of a Namath-like burst of inspired play -- and even the team doesn't seem to feel he is at this time -- the Rams have a chance.

It was Namath who gave the AFC credibility, with his initial contract and his mouth and his arm in Super Bowl 3. As Ron Mix said: "He made what we had done worthwhile."

That happened against the Colts. And one of the defensive aides on that Colt team was Chuck Noll.

"We were affected by public opinion that year," the Steelers coach said of the Colts being favored by 17 1/2 points. "Everyone said the Jets didn't have a chance. I think this is a little bit different."

But still well worth devising yet, another defense, to halt overconfidence.