The point spread for Super Bowl 14 has fluctuated between 10 and 10 1/2 in Las Vegas, between 11 and 11 1/2 in the East. Pittsburgh is favored, obviously, over Los Angeles. The question is not will the Steelers win, but will they cover?
For example, the money line in Vegas offers bettors an opportunity to take a chance on the winner, with no points involved. A player must risk $5 to make $1 profit on the Steelers, while a investment on the Rams would net $3.50.
I cannot make the case for an L.A. victory. The Rams are playing well in the trenches, on both offense and defense, but they are not superior to Pittsburgh on either line of scrimage and they suffer badly when the skill positions are compared, particularly at quarterback (against Terry Bradshaw) and in pass receiving (Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, etc.).
Pittsburgh has performed superbly in its last five playoff appearances, starting with the first round of 1978 postseason competition. The Steelers easily covered against Denver and Houston last season and against Miami this season before being extended by Houston. In last year's Super Bowl when the spread went to four points, they certainly were more than four points better than Dallas, even though the final score was 35-31. With about six minutes left in that game, Pittsburgh led by 18.
The danger Sunday for anyone backing the Steelers is the same as it was last year. If Chuck Noll's squad is ahead by 17 points midway through the fourth quarter, the Rams will still be very much alive in terms of the point spread. There will be a tendency for the favorite to relax slightly and give up yardage in return for running minutes off the clock.
One difference is that Vince Ferragamo is less likely to put a late touchdown on the scoreboard than Roger Staubach. But who wants to risk a bundle giving 11? Not me. It has been too torturous a season for that. I will stick with the Steelers for an imaginary $250, then go hibernate until next fall, grateful for small blessings.
I had hoped that Tampa Bay, somehow, some way, would stagger into the championship game. The thought of taking Pittsburgh and giving 16 against the Buccaneers was quite appealing. That would have been the biggest mismatch in Super Bowl history, although the spread for the Baltimore-New York Jets contest was higher.
Looking back, I guess the biggest play of the season -- from the bettors' point of view -- occurred 12 days ago in Pittsburgh when the Steelers defeated Houston, 27-13. The score was 20-13 with less than a minute remaining. The Oilers had taken their last timeout. Pittsburgh enjoyed a third down at the Houston six-yard line.
Everyone in Three Rivers Stadium knew that Noll wanted Bradshaw to call for a low-risk running play inside the tackle. It stopped, Noll most assuredly was not going to order a fieldgoal attempt on fourth down. So, in all probability, the game was going to end 20-13 with the ball on the Houston three or four -- except that Rocky Bleier found his way into the end zone for a touchdown from the six on third down.
Well, it happens. And, to me, it was the perfect climax of an up-and-down NFL season in which "parity" arrived, the passing game became ridiculously dominant and many point-spread pundits tapped out.