Chuck Noll and Ray Malavasi started their last pre-Super Bowl press briefing today looking as if they had ingested the depressing front-page news with their morning coffee rather than the fun and games of the sport pages.
Eventually, however, as if it finally dawned on the coaches that this would be their next-to-last go-round with the inquisitors of the media until next year, their somber moods softened and even a little humor appeared, although on the forced side.
Droll Noll of the Pittsburgh Steelers even offered to perform a soft-shoe routine as he departed from the microphone.
Ray Malavasi, once a student of warfare -- psychological and otherwise -- as a cadet at West Point, persisted in saying "it's just another game" for his Los Angeles Rams, although it will be their first Super Bowl appearance.
He expressed concern about whether cornerback Rod Perry could come off sick call and be ready to play after being sent home with the flu before Thursday's workout.
He disclosed that "10 to 12" Rams had been stricken over the past two weeeks with what he described as "two-day flu."
The coach remarked that Ram practices this week had been conducted on a wet field, and the workouts were not as hard as he would have preferred.
Malavasi was asked if he thinks it is better for the players to stay at home or to live in the Rams' hotel headquarters.
He said, "An 'X' number of players are going to run around no matter what, while others are more dedicated." The Rams were allowed to live at home, with no curfews, this week until Saturday night, when they all stay at a hotel.
"You try not to do anything different from the regular season," Malavasi said.
The coach said again that his players felt "insulted" by the 11 points by which the Steelers are favored.
"I'd bet on the Rams if I could," he said, alluding to the National Football League's prohibition of that.
"The Rams are not as bad as they have been made out to be and the Steelers are not as good as they have been made out to be."
Is there a feeling among the first-time Super Bowl participants that they are satisfied just to be here?
"I don't think so. When you finally get to the top of the mountain, you want to knock the other guy off. You've got to concentrate on that and not be bothered by distractions," Malavasi said.
"Rumors I was going to be fired. In this field (coaching), you expect anything, but Mrs. (Georgia) Rosenbloom (club owner) has assured me several times that my job is not in peril.
"I was nervous when we were 5-6. I'm a lot more comfortable now."
Wasn't the Rams' playoff victory over Dallas more important in terms of measuring significant progress than a victory might be on Sunday?
"I don't think so," he said. "Winning this week is going to be our biggest victory ever."
Earlier, he was asked if he would "guarantee" a victory, as Joe Namath did before his New York Jets upset the Baltimore Colts in the third Super Bowl. Malavasi said, "It wouldn't surprise me. This is what I've been waiting for all my life."
Mischievously, in his low-key way, Noll left a message about his team's massive reserve strength.
It is touch and go whether (guard) Steve Courson (ankle) will play," the coach said with a straight face. "If he and (guard) Sam Davis (hamstring-muscle pull) can't go, we'll use Gerry Mullins, Jon Kolb and Ted Petersen," all of whom have been starters.
When asked to comment on the odds, Noll said, "Long ago, I stated that such talk encouraged gambling, and we're (the NFL) out to discourage gambling, so I ignore the 'spread.' We respond well in big games."
Normally impassive, the coach winced when he was asked if the Steelers were going to play "conservatively" on offense "again."
"I challenge that question," he said. "I thought all of our Super Bowl games were wide open, with John Stallworth, Lynn Swann and Franco Harris making very big plays."
His eyes twinkled as he went on: "I've seen some exciting games on television but when I read the newspaper stories about them the next day, I thought I must have seen a different game."