The Oakland Raiders, regarded by the National Football League as men molded by a monster, won the Super Bowl today. They won by keeping the Philadelphia Eagles from their season-long pattern of success -- being dull.
Eagle runners could have run more easily in a sea of gumbo than they did against the Raider marauders. Forced to throw, Ron Jaworski was sometimes spectacular and sometimes spectacularly stupid; never was he consistent enough to keep everything but the final Oakland margin of victory in doubt much beyond halftime.
The winning quarterback, of course, was the one loved by nearly everyone whose heart or wallet was not committed to the Eagles. The NFL season's Super Sentimental Saga came true. By completing 13 passes, Jim Plunkett also completed the most special comeback of any player in recent memory.
But Plunkett had what Jaworski did not, time, the most important element in any game. While Plunkett could have counted the times his future was considered hopeless over the years, Jaws was being eaten alive by a Raider defense vastly underrated until today.
The Eagles had feared that what happened just might, that the best secondary in the league might do such a splendid job of man-for-man coverage that their pals could rush Jaworski in waves of six and seven at a time. Instead of stickum, that glue-like substance they smear all over their hands, the Raider defender seemed equipped with magnets today.
Why else would Rod Martin, an otherwise obscure linebacker, set a Super Bowl record with three interceptions? Did Al Davis pull his ultimate prank?
Normally as cautious as a Republican with a welfare budget, Jaworski threw two passes to Martin that the most green high school quarterback would consider ill-advised. The first gave the Raiders the ball on the third play from scrimmage -- and the momentum necessary to take a fine team completely apart.
As the game's most valuable player, Plunkett was quick to praise an offensive line that allowed eight sacks the last time the teams met but just one today. And receivers who ran remarkably precise routes and outwrestled the Eagles for important catches during Plunkett's 13-for-21 performance.
Specifically, left guard Gene Upshaw said the unusual defensive line rush the Eagles used successfully in their three-point victory two months ago ultimately was more a help than a hindrance.
"We were tripping all over ourselves that day," Upshaw admitted. "But once everyone saw on film what the Eagles used so well against us they did it also. So we got to work against it eight more times. San Diego never did stunting like that in their lives.
"So we were ready for it doday. And today it was the Eagles who were tripping over each other. What it amounted to was one guy looping from one end of the line and everyone else on the line jamming us toward the way he was coming. What we did to counter that was jam the jammer, push him into the guy looping. It's sorta like Roller Derby. Today, we had the class act."
And the class postgame gesture was Eagle Coach Dick Vermeil forcing his way through a field-load of slightly loaded Raider fans, shaking Plunkett's hand and affectionately patting his head.
The postgame collision so many thought might be as nasty as any on the field, Davis versus Commissioner Pete Rozelle during the trophy presentation, was tame -- a Super bust. They were polite to the extreme, with Rozelle recognizing the Raiders as the first team to win a Super Bowl championship without winning a divisional championship since the merger of the AFL and NFL, and Davis scoring diplomacy points by mentioning the former hostages first.
Neither said so much as a "see you in court" to the other.
This is a game where nearly everything assumes a magnitude greater than most players have experienced. Today there were ever so many Super "ifs" that made otherwise Super players seem like Super stiffs.
If, for instance, Harold Carmichael had turned toward the line of scrimmage an instant after he did while in motion on third and 10 at the Oakland 41 in the first quarter, Rodney Parker's end-zone catch would have counted and the Eagles would have gained a 7-7 tie.
On the next series, if Raider center Dave Dalby had not gotten away with grabbing Carl Hairston's face mask and tackling him to the ground, Plunkett probably would not have had time to scramble into position to combine with Kenny King on an 80-yard touchdown pass and run.
Poor Hairston. The first half he always seemed either a step too fast or a step too slow at the wrong moments.
On the Raider's first touchdown drive, Hairston was offside on a third-down incompletion. With another chance, from the Eagle 23, Oakland ran for the first down. The next play Art Shell cut Hairston's legs at the line of scrimmage -- and a Plunkett pass that would have hit Hairston in the face had he been standing hit Cliff Branch for a first down.
The difference a game makes was best illustrated in one number -- Wilbert Montgomery's rushing yardage. Against the Cowboys in the NFC championship game, Montgomery ran for 194 years. Today, he rushed for 44 -- in 16 carries.
Whenever there seemed a chance for a rally, the Eagles were a few inches late -- and unlucky. On a kickoff fumble that was not ruled such, when Oakland's Keith Moody might have been out but not down, an Eagle and a Raider dove for the ball. The Raider got it. When Branch and Roynell Young fought in the air for a Plunkett pass, Branch twisted away with it -- and into the end zone.
An Eagle fan dressed as some sort of Super Eagle dashed onto the field midway through the third quarter. Like his team, the man was too slow and too disorganized to evade security for long. Even the Eagle players and coaches were harsh with him as he was being led off.
There also was at least one Super premonition. That came during a pretraining-camp workout, when Superseer Davis approached Matt Millen and said, "You're gonna be the first rookie middle linebacker since Jack Lambert to take a team to the Super Bowl."
Millen, a second-round draft choice from Penn State, tucked that so far away in his mind that he was dumbfounded when Davis came up to him after the Raiders' victory over the Chargers for the AFC title and said, "Told you so, didn't I?"
Then Davis reminded Millen of his prediction so many months before.
Millen is no ordinary rookie on or off the field. Before Davis could leave the dressing room after that bit of bantering, Millen stepped into his path and said:
"Me and (rookie quarterback) Marc Wilson are retiring after the Super Bowl."
Why? Davis wondered.
"Because," Millen said, "we'll never have anything more important to look forward to."